MANILA, Philippines – While the Ateneo Lady Eagles are no strangers to playing in front of big crowds, their experience in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball Finals was quite new.
The Ateneo supporters were greatly outnumbered by the fans of University of Santo Tomas on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena, and every single one of them was ready to celebrate.
The Golden Tigresses, after all, had a 1-0 lead over the Lady Eagles in the best-of-3 Finals series.
At the end of Game 2, however, Ateneo had given their side of the crowd something to celebrate. The Lady Eagles secured a hard-earned 26-24, 14-25, 25-21, 25-15 triumph to send the Finals to a deciding third game.
"Today's game, we really played our best," said Maddie Madayag, who led Ateneo with 17 points including 4 kill blocks. "We really worked as a team. And every point, we just gave it to the Lord. That's it."
Nearly 20,000 fans watched Game 2, more than half of whom were cheering for the Sisi Rondina-led Tigresses.
They grew louder with every hit uncorked by Rondina, and were at their most raucous when Rookie of the Year Eya Laure returned late in the third set after suffering an injury.
The Lady Eagles, however, refused to let the UST crowd get to them.
"I think it's a good experience nga, na we've been here a couple of times," said Ateneo captain Bea de Leon, who is playing in the Finals for the fourth time in her UAAP career.
"And it's not just during the Finals – it's Ateneo-La Salle, or Ateneo-UP," she added.
Having played in front of big crowds – and hostile crowds – several times before, de Leon says the Lady Eagles have "learned to tune the crowd out, regardless."
"We know na kailangan lang rin talagang mag-focus, stay close and stay together, so we hear each other," she added.
Moreover, it was not as if their own fans let them down in Game 2.
"Kahit kain 'yung crowd [namin], sobrang thankful namin sa crowd namin kasi it's like also they're in competition eh," said De Leon. "They really, really tried to overpower, and really cheer for us whatever time they can, losing or winning."
"Sobrang thankful namin sa kanila, kasi kahit 'yun, nilalabanan nila for us," she added.
Another massive crowd is expected to show up at the MOA Arena on Saturday, when Ateneo and UST battle for one last time with the title on the line.
Ateneo is eyeing its first title since Season 77 – when De Leon and Madayag were rookies – while UST hopes to end a nine-year championship drought.
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