MANILA, Philippines -- Arellano University racked up its third straight NCAA women's volleyball crown on Tuesday, but not before falling apart in the first set of the deciding Game 3 against University of Perpetual Help at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
The Lady Chiefs were already well in control, 14-7, before succumbing to defensive miscues that allowed Perpetual Help to make a comeback. The Lady Altas pounced on their slow floor defense late in the set, with Cindy Imbo sparking her team to a 25-22 triumph.
It gave Arellano coach Obet Javier flashbacks to how they lost Set 1 of Game 2 last Friday, where they were also leading before Perpetual Help stole a 25-23 triumph.
"Noong Game 2, nangyari 'yun eh. Lamang na naman kami ng first set, bago mag-end 'yung first set nakuha nila," he noted.
Javier offered some advice to his players after the loss, which had threatened to sap all momentum for the three-peat seeking team.
"Ang sinabi ko lang naman sa kanila, kung talagang gusto nating manalo, 'wag natin pahirapan ang sarili natin, kunin natin," he said.
The Lady Chiefs clearly heeded their coach's call. In the succeeding sets, they built large leads, and held onto them. In the end, Arellano secured a 22-25, 25-15, 25-18, 25-18 triumph to seal their three-peat.
"Siguro talagang 'yung bata, willing na willing manalo. Kaya kahit na sabihin natin na down kami ng first set, pinilit naming makuha," said Javier.
For the Lady Chiefs, they were simply displaying the killer instinct that their coaches had asked of them as they prepared for the do-or-die game against Lady Altas.
"Ayun nga po, sinabi namin sa sarili namin noong nag-usap po kami. Sabi namin na, binibigay na sa atin eh, eto na. Kunin na natin," said Regine Arocha, who finished with 16 points and was named Finals MVP.
"Tapos noong nakakalamang na po kami, katulad po ng sinabi ng mga coaches sa meeting, 'Kapag nakita niyo ng nakadapa, huwag niyo ng patayuin pa. Tapakan niyo pa para hindi na makabangon pa,'" she added.
That was exactly what they did, particularly in the fourth set where they uncorked 11 straight points to turn a slim 13-11 deficit into a commanding 22-13 advantage. The Lady Altas made one last-ditch attempt at a comeback, but they were dismissed by Arocha and Season 94 MVP Necole Ebuen.
"Pakiramdam po namin kanina, parang sabi po namin, ayaw ng lumaban ng Perpetual," Ebuen observed of their opponents during the second set onward, after seeing her team pull away early.
"Siyempre po 'yung key player nila, si (Cindy) Imbo, naba-block na rin po, napipigilan na rin po siya kanina. Parang sabi namin, i-grab na po namin 'yung opportunity na hindi na po sila lumalaban," she explained.
"Magtuloy-tuloy lang tayo, tayo ang mananalo, sabi po namin kanina. Lumaban po kami."
Javier was not surprised to see his players step up after the debacle in the opening set. At the same time, however, he was somewhat disappointed that they failed to win in straight sets -- something that he felt his team was perfectly capable of doing.
"Nanghihinayang din ako kasi, alam mo 'yun, dapat sana nai-straight. 'Di ba? Sayang, bakit mo pa kailangan pahirapan 'yung sarili mo, kung kaya mo naman?" he pointed out. "Kumbaga, 'yung mga pagkakataon, andoon na."
On the other hand, it made sense for his team to encounter one final obstacle before reaching their goal.
"Talagang 'yung team ko, gusto nila laging tine-test eh. Buti na lang, sa bandang huli, pumapasa naman kami sa test na 'yun," he said.
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