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Ateneo captures men’s title

Ateneo de Manila edged National University in five tense-filled sets to complete a perfect season and a rare three-peat in the UAAP men’s volleyball tournament before a roaring crowd yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

With Mark Espejo towering on both ends, the Blue Eagles outlasted the Bulldogs, 18-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18, 15-13, for a two-game sweep of their UAAP best-of-three volleyball title series.

Ateneo’s series-clinching win also extended its streak this season to 16 games and 30th overall since last season’s elims.

The three-peat made Espejo’s coronation as the league MVP doubly special as it was also his fourth since becoming the first rookie to win the highest individual award in 2014.

Trailing the Bulldogs 7-4, the Blue Eagles leaned heavily on Espejo’s howitzers to help rally the Eagles who eventually took a 12-9 lead.

They held on to their lead like a leech to keep the Bulldogs at bay before exploding in sheer delight after hammering the final nail on NU’s coffin.

Ateneo also took the opening game the hard way, needing also five sets to prevail, 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13.

“That 16-0 (record this season) was a result of hard work. We just took it one game at a time. Hindi nga namin napapansin na hindi kami natatalo eh,” said Ateneo Coach Oliver Almadro, who also clinched his third title as a mentor of the Eagles over the last four years.

Ateneo scored four straight points bannered by Espejo to grab the 12-10 upperhand in the fifth to serve the match’s turning point.

NU answered back with three points including a solid block from Francis Saura to tie it at 13-all, but an off-the-block spike from Rex Intal and a block from Espejo on Fauzi Ismail’s corner attack sealed the win for Ateneo.

Espejo exploded with 27 points including 25 attacks.

But for the sheer impact, it was Tony Koyfman, who was adjudged as the Finals MVP after chipping in 11 points highlighted by nine kills.