Beautiful in blue

Ateneo Lady Eagles
ATENEO LADY EAGLES: Champs again. (Ramon Vecina, PJ)

MORE than the skills, it was faith, trust and courage that put Ateneo back in the UAAP women’s volleyball throne.

The Lady Eagles completed a comeback from a 0-1 series deficit with a 25-17, 25-22, 25-22 win over University of Santo Tomas yesterday before 21,347 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Kat Tolentino scored 15 points, while Maddie Madayag added 10 points, including four blocks in her swan song for Ateneo to play the biggest role  in the sweet, sweet victory.

It was Madayag who broke the match’s final deadlock ( 22-22 ) with back-to-back drop balls that the Tigresses failed to save before Jules Samonte produced the championship-clinching kill.

Ateneo annexed its first crown since winning back-to-back with phenom Alyssa Valdez in 2014-15 -- and the third overall— to become the sixth winningest program in the league.

The Lady Eagles’ campaign under first-year coach Oliver Almadro was relatively injury-free. They never lost back-to-back games this season.

To think that Ateneo had to endure a season-opening loss to fierce rival La Salle, a Final Four defeat to Far Eastern University and the Game 1 setback to UST that pundits virtually counted the Katipunan-based spikers out.

“We work as a team and we work as a family,” said Almadro, a three-time men’s volleyball champion coach before taking over from Tai Bundit exactly a year ago. “The players trusted my system. They trusted kung ano ang ipapagawa sa kanila.”

Bea de Leon, who along with Madayag were rookies when the Lady Eagles won the title via 16-0 sweep, exited in style by hoisting the Finals MVP award.    

De Leon, whose decision to play her fifth and final year was worth it to steer Ateneo back on top, came through with six points on five attacks and a block.

“It was the best decision that I have ever made,” said De Leon.  ”I’m just grateful, honestly. It was the best feeling.”

Samonte had four blocks to finish with six points to go with 10 receptions for Ateneo.

Season MVP Sisi Rondina led UST with 18 hits, 11 digs and seven receptions in her final collegiate game while Eya Laure chipped in 10 markers despite not having been in full strength.

It was the Tigresses’ best finish since also capturing the runner-up honors in the 2010-11 season. Despite falling short, the España-based squad is expected to be a force to reckon with even without Rondina with Laure now taking charge.

“UST pushed us forward,” said Almadro. “Sisi Rondina. Eya Laure, I really admire them.”

Boasting the league’s dreaded net defense, the Lady Eagles had 14 blocks.  The Tigresses had 29 errors, with 13 coming in the opening frame.