By Luisa Morales
The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons closed their surprising UAAP Season 78 campaigns on Saturday as they fell short in their respective semifinal matches all against defending men’s and women’s division titlists Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles at the Mall Of Asia Arena.
The men’s volleyball team was swept by the Eagles, 12-25, 13-25, 16-25, with team captain Alfred Valbuena serving as the lone bright spot for the Maroons with eight points.
Last year’s Most Valuable Player Marck Espejo led the charge for the Katipunan-based spikers with 12 points while team captain Ysrael Marasigan added 11 points.
The win by top seed Ateneo against fourth seed UP sent the former to their third straight finals appearance. The Eagles are also gunning for back-to-back titles this season.
The veteran experience of the Eagles dominated the flow of the game as they scored 39 spikes against the 17 made by the Maroons.
“I think the intimidation factor of facing Ateneo (the number one seed) was one of the reasons why our game was like that. We didn’t play like this in the previous matches,” Julius Raymundo, the Maroons’ sole graduating player said after the game.
UP finished the season with an 8-6 record which is a big improvement from their 4-10 slate in Season 77.
Meanwhile, the Lady Maroons failed to duplicate their shock second round win against the Jhoana Maraguinot-led Lady Eagles by losing also in three sets, 19-25, 16-25, 21-25.
Maraguinot topped the scoring department for the Lady Eagles with 17 points while MVP Alyssa Valdez contributed 16 points, 14 of which were through spikes.
Veterans Nicole Tiamzon and Kathy Bersola scored 13 and eight points respectively for the Diliman-based spikers.
Ateneo asserted their might in the first set with dominating spikes from Valdez and Maraguinot and defensive prowess of 2015 Finals MVP Amy Ahomiro.
The Tai Bundit-mentored squad impressed more during the second set where Ahomiro and Bea de Leon employed their towering inside defense to block shots from UP rookies Isa Molde and Diana Carlos.
Errors from the Lady Maroons also stretched the Lady Eagles’ far lead in this set too.
In the final set, UP seemed lax in their plays which gave a nine-point lead for Ateneo going into the second technical timeout.
However, a mini scoring run led by Bersola and Tiamzon pumped up the crowd as they cut Ateneo’s lead to one, 19-18.
But scoring attacks from crowd darling Valdez earned her team’s fifth straight finals trip and a possible three-peat championship conquest.
The Lady Maroons also finished with an 8-6 slate in the eliminations, which earned them their first Final Four appearance since 2003.