The Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team garner their third consecutive championship

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THE ATENEO Blue Eagles triumphed in their five-set match against the National University Bulldogs (NU), 18-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18, 15-13, Saturday, May 6, at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

The Blue Eagles complete their sweep of their finals series against NU in the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 79 Men's Volleyball tournament final round. This win gives them their third consecutive championship.

The Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team was also given a total of five individual awards in the UAAP Season 79. Chumason Njigha, the only freshman player on Ateneo’s UAAP roster, took home the Rookie of the Year honors. Ish Polvorosa, who averaged 11.93 excellent sets per set, won his fourth consecutive Best Setter award. Marck Espejo took the Best Scorer, Best Spiker, and his fourth Most Valuable Player award. Espejo has won the Most Valuable Player award in all seasons he has played in.

Head Coach Oliver Almadro went with his usual starting lineup: Karl Baysa, Marck Espejo, Ish Polvorosa, Tony Koyfman, Josh Villanueva, Rex Intal, and libero Manuel Sumanguid. The first set started poorly for the Blue Eagles, as errors and blocked attacks allowed NU to go into the first technical timeout with the early lead (4-8). The trend continued and the Bulldogs would go on to take the first set (18-25).

The second set was saw improvements with the Blue and White, as errors on NU’s part allowed them to keep the score close early on. A service ace by Koyfman gave his team the lead for the first time in the set since the opening point (10-9). Excellent serving by Marck Espejo allowed the Blue Eagles to notch three consecutive kill blocks which prompted the Bulldogs to call timeout (14-10). Ateneo continued their run and excellent setting by Polvorosa allowed his attackers to score with high efficiency. A service ace by Villanueva pushed the lead to seven (21-14). Another good serve by Espejo and an error by Ismail ended the second set (25-16).

The defending champions had a very poor start to the third set. An attack error by Intal pushed the deficit to six points heading into the first technical timeout (2-8). The Blue Eagles would rally back, however, and two consecutive attacks by Espejo cut the deficit to one (14-15). Unfortunately for them, good defense by NU prevented them for taking the lead and a late NU scoring run closed the third set (20-25).

The fourth set started neck-and-neck, neither team leading by more than two points until Baysa made two consecutive service aces to get the early lead (9-7). A strong scoring run by the Blue Eagles gave them the huge lead and a back-row attack by Espejo pushed the lead to eight (21-13). Intal’s powerful quick attack finished the fourth set (25-18).

The fifth set saw the Blue Eagles with another poor start and an illegal block meant NU would take the early lead (1-4). The Katipunan-based squad made another comeback thanks to crucial points by Intal and errors by NU. A service ace by Polvorosa tied the game (8-8). Baysa scored off a combination to tie the score yet again (9-9). The Blue Eagles then went on to score three consecutive points to inch closer to the championship. However, NU made a comeback of their own and a kill block by Saura tied the game again (13-13). Intal then scored off the block in the next rally to bring the gold to within just one point. A strong serve by Koyfman on the following rally put the NU setter out of position, which allowed Espejo to deny Ismail’s attack and finish the fifth set (15-13)

Now four-time MVP Marck Espejo finished the game with 27 points, a spiking efficiency of 51%, and 18 of 31 excellent receives. Four-time Best Setter Ish Polvorosa recorded 62 of 125 excellent sets and five points. Graduating players Josh Villanueva and Rex Intal finished with 10 points apiece.

Tony Koyfman, who recorded a total of 29 points across both finals games, won the Finals Most Valuable Player award for his exemplary performance.

“Ever since the start of the season [we’ve always had] slow [starts],” said Ateneo Head Coach Oliver Almadro. The team had always struggled at the beginning of sets, especially against NU.

When asked about the perfect 16-0 record this season, Coach Almadro said: “we just took it one game at a time. Sometimes it’s not about the points, it’s about the intensity you give to your teammates, it’s about the inspiration you give to your team.”

The head coach also discussed how his inspiration to work hard had always been the claim that he was the weakest link back when he coached Ateneo before the Espejo era. After finally accomplishing more than those that doubted him, he promised to aim for the fourth straight championship of Ateneo Men’s Volleyball. He also made comparisons of his key players Espejo and Polvorosa to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, as the they are major contributors to the success of the dynasty. The tandem has won the championship in all seasons they have played in.

“We’re gunning for four, I promise,” said Coach Almadro.

Box Scores

Ateneo: Espejo-27, Koyfman-11, Intal-10, Villanueva-10, Baysa-7, Polvorosa-5, Medalla-1

NU: Ismail-24, Bagunas-20, Malabunga-11, Natividad-6, Saura-5, Dayandante-1

The Ateneo Men's Volleyball Team seals their undefeated Season 79 run with their third straight championship!">

The Ateneo Men's Volleyball Team seals their undefeated Season 79 run with their third straight championship!

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