(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
1 p.m. — La Salle vs UST
3 p.m. — NU vs Adamson
Repeat-seeking National University and De La Salle University try to set up a championship rematch when they tangle with separate foes as hostilities in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 women’s volleyball Final Four begin today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Armed with twice-to-beat advantages after closing the elimination round at the top two spots, the Lady Bulldogs and the No. 1 seed Lady Spikers only need one win to advance to the best-of-three Finals for a second serving of last year’s title showdown.
First to try its luck is La Salle in a faceoff against the only team that defeated the 11-time champion so far this season — University of Santo Tomas — in the scheduled 1 p.m. duel.
Meanwhile, NU crosses paths with No. 3 seed Adamson University at 3 p.m. The Lady Bulldogs are favored to once again emerge on top against an opponent they have beaten twice in their first two meetings.
If necessary, the do-or-die game will be played on Sunday at the same venue.
Our mindset is to be ready and to keep our composure as a team.
The Lady Spikers, who carved out an impressive 13-1 win-loss record for their best elims finish in nine years, are marching into the battle extra motivated not only for payback for its second round defeat to the Tigresses but also to avenge the painful Final Four loss to the same team back in 2019 that denied the Ramil de Jesus-mentored squad a four-peat.
La Salle has already built good momentum heading into its 22nd postseason appearance overall after winning its last four games.
Prized recruit winger Angel Canino, which has a strong case for the Most Valuable Player award aside from being a favorite to win Rookie of the Year, will again be at the forefront of the Lady Spikers’ charge alongside Jolina de la Cruz, Thea Gagate, Fifi Sharma and skipper setter Mars Alba.
“Our mindset is to be ready and to keep our composure as a team. We have to be cohesive inside the court. And always, always stick to the system,” Canino said.
But UST is no pushover team despite ending up as No. 4 seed.
The Tigresses, who tied the Lady Falcons with identical 10-4 slates but ended up at the fourth spot via tiebreak, are coming off a challenging five-set win over University of the Philippines last Sunday.
MVP contender Eya Laure and the rest of the UST side are ready to take on the challenge of La Salle
“Of course, La Salle is La Salle. They have a strong system but we’ll also show them the system that UST has,” she said.
“La Salle and UST also have a storied rivalry even before. So, we are motivated to face a very skilled team like La Salle. We have high respect for them and we know they prepared well for us, so do we.”
Laure will have Imee Hernandez, rookie Regina Jurado, Milena Alessandrini, Cassie Carballo and top libero Detdet Pepito, who is expected to return after skipping the last game due to a bum stomach, to back her up.
In the other pairing, NU hopes to ride the momentum of its six-game winning streak to dispose of Adamson to keep its title-retention bid alive.
The Lady Bulldogs, who ended a 65-year title drought with an amazing 16-0 season sweep last year, have a huge advantage in firepower with reigning MVP Bella Belen, Alyssa Solomon, Erin Pangilinan, Ces Robles, Sheena Toring, setter Lams Lamina and libero Jen Nierva leading the way.
“Having a twice-to-beat advantage somehow gives us confidence but our mindset is to not allow Adamson to beat us twice. We want to finish it right in our first game,” Belen said.
The Lady Falcons, on the other hand, are in unfamiliar territory being in their first Final Four stint in nine years.
Much is expected of prolific scorers Kate Santiago and rookie Trisha Tubu and playmaker Louie Romero as they try to extend the series.
“We’re already here. We worked hard for this so we’ll try to make the most of it. We’ll take it one game at a time,” Tubu said.
“They have a twice-to-beat so all we need to do is to beat them twice.”