Improved floor defense not enough to lift UP past hard-hitting NU

A breakthrough win remains elusive for the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons as they logged their fourth consecutive loss in the UAAP Season 86 Collegiate Volleyball Tournaments against the National University (NU) on Sunday, March 2, at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena. 

Almost, but not quite

The UP Men’s Volleyball Team (UP MVT) duked it out with defending champions NU Bulldogs before eventually succumbing in three tightly-contested sets, 20-25, 23-25, 25-27. 

State U could not replicate their magic last season when they dragged the mighty Bulldogs to the limit in their round-one encounter in the elimination round.

This time, it was a show of dominant form for NU, which outscored UP in all scoring departments: 45 to 34 in attacks, 11 to seven in blocks, and seven to three in aces. 

The maroon squad had the chance to steal the third set after ace hitter Louis Gamban pummeled a down-the-line hit from the pin at 23-24.

But NU’s Jade Disquitado responded with two straight kills to put their squad at match point, 25-24.

Angelo Lagando’s crosscourt hit gave the Maroons another lifeline before a pipe attack and a massive block by the Bulldogs ultimately sealed the deal.  

Gamban’s team-high 13 points were backstopped by Jessie Rubin, who added 11 markers. Libero Erl Eusebio manned the UP floor defense with 6 digs and 19 receptions on a 51% efficiency.

On the flip side, four players from NU scored in double-digits, including setter Joshua Retamar, who dished out 20 excellent sets on top of 12 points.

Still in a slump

The UP Women’s Volleyball Team (UP WVT) also suffered the same fate at the hands of the NU Lady Bulldogs, 17-25, 16-25, 17-25.

The lopsided affair marked the maroon shirts’ 14th consecutive defeat in the UAAP dating back to last season.

UP managed to stay poised in the opening minutes of the first set at 9-7, courtesy of a pair of blocks by Dannica Celis and Heart Magsombol on NU’s Bella Belen. 

That was the only time the Maroons ever had the upper hand in the match as the Lady Bulldogs, powered by playmaker Camila Lamina, began clicking and firing on all cylinders.

Niña Ytang fortifies UP’s three-man block against NU. Photo by Athena Altiche

State U hoped to stage a comeback in the same set when Joan Monares ended an intense 42-second rally at the 14-17 mark, but their attempt was only thwarted by Belen and company, who took turns scoring in front of the net and from the service line.

It was all NU in the next parts of the match as the Lady Bulldogs buried the struggling Maroons by as many as nine points in the second and third frames. 

Despite the loss, the maroon shirts went toe-to-toe against the blue-and-gold in terms of floor defense, registering 26 digs and 25 receptions. 

However, their offensive game proved subpar again, with setter Magsombol only producing 7 excellent sets against Lamina’s 19. 

Niña Ytang paced the loss with a quiet 7 points. Magsombol, Irah Jaboneta and  Steph Bustrillo chipped in 5 points apiece.

Meanwhile, NU banked on its lethal troika in Belen, Alyssa Solomon and Vangie Alinsug, with the latter producing a game-high 15 points. 

The Fighting Maroons will return to the MOA Arena on March 10 to go against De La Salle University, with the UP MVT seeing action at 12 noon and the UP WVT at 4 p.m.