It’s been a season where a lot of firsts has happened to National University (NU) in quite a long while. First loss after 20 straight wins. First back-to-back defeats in a long time. First time in recent memory that Bella Belen had been held scoreless.
The defending champions have had enough of that.
“We have moved on. We talked about it and made a promise that it will never happen again,” said Belen.
It will take more than bold statements, however, for NU to regain the fearsome form it flashed last season when the Lady Bulldogs went undefeated on the way to claiming the UAAP women’s volleyball crown.
“We are a champion team and we have to regain our character,” said team captain Princess Robles after the Lady Bulldogs began the road to redemption with a 25-21, 27-25, 25-19 beating of the University of the Philippines (UP) Maroons on Saturday.
The Lady Bulldogs mustered a lot more bite this time compared to last week when they were badly bruised by the tournament-leading and undefeated La Salle Lady Spikers twice in a row last week.
Belen showed the way against UP, the school that held her scoreless during their first-round meeting.
“That was one of my goals today. Not just to bounce back as a team but also to redeem myself because I remember that I didn’t play [well and my usual minutes] during our first-round game against them. I’m happy that our team performed today,” said last season’s rookie-MVP, who scattered 19 points built around 18 attacks and had 11 excellent receptions.
The Lady Bulldogs began the healing process from those back-to-back, straight-set losses to La Salle long before they took the court—they started by figuring out what went wrong in the first place.
“During the past few days, we focused our preparation on the things that we lack. We have to bring back who we are as a team,” said Robles, who scored 11 points, highlighted by 10 attacks after seeing limited action against La Salle due to a swollen right knee.
Alyssa Solomon added nine points with the NU offensive generated effectively by setter Camilla Lamina, who tossed 18 excellent sets.
Those perfectly lobbed sets gave Belen several open looks and she pounced on them as NU took control early in first set. The Maroons fought back as Nikha Cabasac scored a kill of NU’s blockers while Solomon sent a kill long, allowing Up to come within 22-21.
But a deflection by Sheena Toring on a charging Abi Goc popped UP’s bubble just as quick and Belen again rose to the occasion and delivered a down-the-line kill that closed out the set.
“We started out slow and we cannot afford that in our succeeding games,” said Robles.
Belen sustained the assault in the succeeding frame, helping the Lady Bulldogs reverse a three-point deficit with a variety of potent hits that knotted the count at 23.
Aly Bertolano’s push and a powerful crosscourt smash by Nina Ytang kept the Maroons afloat, but an unforced error by Marianne Sotomil at the net and Erin Pangilinan’s block on Cabasac quashed UP’s efforts.
There was little doubt on NU’s ability to end the match in the third set as the Lady Bulldogs rushed to an 11-5 advantage anchored on Belen and Solomon.
Dannica Celis joined forces with Cabasac and Ytang and coupled by the miscues committed by the Lady Bulldogs, UP leveled the count at 15 before Pangilinan, Solomon and Belen again put order on the NU floor.
Ytang’s attack produced an error and a hit by Goc went wide, accelerating UP’s fifth straight defeat and eighth overall in nine games.
The Lady Bulldogs will have an 11-day respite as the tournament takes a break in observance of Holy Week. They’ll face the second-running Adamson Lady Falcons (7-2, win-loss) on April 12.
“We’ll prepare physically and mentally for this game. We had them in five sets [during the first round],” said Belen, who watched the Lady Falcons bring down the Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles in straight sets, 25-23, 25-17, 26-24, in the other game.
The Blue Eagles absorbed their sixth defeat in nine outings.
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