Ateneo, UST collide in crucial stepladder tiff

Reigning champion Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas begin their postseason clash tonight with both squads seeking a crucial win to move up in the stepladder of the UAAP Season 84 women's volleyball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Faith Nisperos of Ateneo attacks Eya Laure and KC Galdones of University of Santo Tomas on the net (UAAP Media Bureau)

The Blue Eagles are hoping to ride the momentum of their playoff win against the gritty Adamson Lady Falcons last June 11 when they meet the Tigresses who had a four-day rest after absorbing a straight-set loss at the hands of the undefeated and top seed National University Lady Bulldogs two days prior.

Ateneo and UST are also set to settle the real score in their 6:30 p.m. encounter after a tie in the elimination round.

The winning team gets to play against No. 2 squad and twice-to-beat advantage holder De La Salle on Thursday, June 16 while top-ranked and unbeaten NU, which gained an outright Finals berth, may begin its conquest as early as Saturday, June 19.

Eagles head coach Oliver Almadro was quick to recognize the Tigresses as a powerhouse but also drew strength from the challenge posed by the third-seeded squad.

"UST is a great team and palagi namin sinasabi, 'great teams will just push us forward,'" said Almadro. "And they are an intact team. They have a deep bench and they are well-coached.

"Kami, we just follow our system and we have to be sound fundamentally and do things right. That's it," added the three-time UAAP champion coach.

Expect more fireworks when high school rivals Faith Nisperos and Eya Laure clash in the Final Four of the collegiate scene.

Nisperos, who used to suit up for the Lady Bullpups, however, is wary of the threat brought by Laure but shifts her focus in teamwork.

"We have to consider that (Laure), is one of the best scorers. But as I said, we have to prepare as a team so we prepare for the team," added the two-time juniors' season and Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Aside from Nisperos, Vannie Gandler and AC Miner are also out to provide firepower for Ateneo following consistent showing the past couple of games.

The veteran presence of Laure, who emerged as the top scorer in the pre-season, is already a given for the Tigresses but head tactician Kungfu Reyes insisted that the rookies should step up this time.

"Hopefully, 'pag pasok ng stepladder 'mas complete' na kami," said the long-time UST mentor. "'Yong experience, 'yong 14 (elimination) games, especially sa rookies, 'yong mga learning na nakuha namin ang bitbit namin towards stepladder."

Imee Hernandez and Camille Victoria are likely to backstop Laure while Ypril Tapia's explosiveness is also needed for UST.