From Season 74 until now, Season 78, the Lady Eagles and the Lady Spikers have been slugging it out for the much-coveted crown. The best-of-three Finals series kicks off on Saturday at Araneta Coliseum.
In the first two seasons, the girls from Taft led by Michele Gumabao, Aby Marano, Melissa Gohing, Ara Galang, Mika Reyes, and Kim Fajardo dominated the tourney, but things have changed entirely two seasons after. Season 76 saw Alyssa Valdez leading a rookie-laden Lady Eagles team to erase a thrice-to-beat disadvantage and cop Ateneo's maiden title since joining the league in 1978. They girls from Katipunan defended the title the following season, punctuated by a rare 16-0 season sweep.
But all these belong to history now. This season's championship series is, as the old sports cliche goes, an entirely new ball game. And who will win this time around? Here are what coaches, former players, and sports scribes have to say about the highly anticipated matchup:
"[The] Keys for La Salle are [their] blocking and libero. Ateneo's weakeess is having only one high gunner which is Valdez. Kung ta-target-in nila (DLSU) sa service receive si Valdez, mapapagod yun at mahihirapan makapaglaro ng usual game niya." —Francis Vicente, head coach, University of the East Lady Warriors, former national team coach
"Mas pabor ako sa La Salle. Mas uhaw sila. Mas gutom. Mas handa na silang manalo ngayon lalo na at tinalo sila ng Ateneo for the past two years. Knowing La Salle, parang leon yan na tumatapang kapag nasusugatan. Ateneo naman, matindi rin ang drive niyan. Nangako si Alyssa na bibigyan ng tatlong titles ang Ateneo para mapantayan ginawa niya nung high school. Eto na yun. Lalaban din sila.
"Although La Salle ako diyan, tingin ko magiging pukpukan ang labanan. Aabot sa Game 3 yan. Walang susuko. Wala nang maiitago ang dalawang teams na yan. Nagkabistuhan na. Kung sino na lang gustong manalo at mas uhaw ay siya ang makakakuha ng korona." —Kungfu Reyes, head coach, University of Santo Tomas Tigress and Junior Tigresses and Philippine Army Lady Troopers
"My bet is on La Salle. Advantage sila sa blocking compared to Ateneo, mas malalaki ang blockers nila. Andyan si Reyes, Kim Dy, Mary Joy Baron. Pero aabot ng Game 3 yan." —George Pascua, head coach, Petron Tri-Activ Spikers
"In my opinion, it's La Salle. Because they have the height advantage and the setter can create good set plays. However, La Salle has a disadvantage. When their opponent gets a set, it makes it hard for them to keep up. Sa nakikita ko kasi, sa condition nila, pag tumatagal ang laban nauubusan sila, unlike Ateneo. Ang Ateneo naman kasi parang diesel. But for me, it's La Salle." —Sammy Acaylar, head coach, Cignal HD Spikers
"I'll go for La Salle for the reason na kumpleto ang lineup. Pride ng DLSU ang at stake—more than the title, school pride lang talaga. Kumpleto ang lineup nila and wala nang may advantage or thrice-to-beat. Level playing field. Ateneo lalaban din yan for pride, pero 'di na sila kasing solid gaya last year." —Mark Escarlote, volleyball sports editor, ABS-CBN Sports
"Let's put it in perspective. Experience, La Salle is making its eighth Finals appearance while it's Ateneo's fifth. So it's La Salle. Head to head, La Salle won their first two Finals meeting, Ateneo the last two, so it's Ateneo.
"Stats-wise, La Salle dominated most of the team statistics, most notably blocking, setting, serving and receiving. So La Salle. Go-to girl, anyone who has Alyssa Valdez, the best player on this side of the Earth, has the massive edge. So Ateneo. Hunger, Ateneo has beaten La Salle the last two seasons and the latter is famished for a championship. They will use it as a motivation to get back at Ateneo, so it's La Salle.
"Considering all that, La Salle, on paper, could win it this year. The operational word is could, not would. In the end, heart is hard to measure and the one who has it will win it. Another thing: Don't ever underestimate the heart of the champion." —Joey Villar, veteran sportswriter, The Philippine Star and Sportsmaryosep
"La Salle. Mas gutom ang La Salle. Bokya sila the past two seasons. I'm sure mas gusto nila bumawi. At the same time, madami sa kanila ga-graduate na gustong mag-exit as champions." —Julius Manicad, assistant sports editor, The Daily Tribune
"I believe Ateneo will win the Finals pero malaking struggle and obstacle ang matalo ang La Salle. Kaya mas exciting. Dominant pa rin naman yung Ateneo when it comes to attacks, service and setting. Kailangan lang talaga reception.
"Pero I believe kayang-kaya yan kasi super double-time sila sa defense, pinapatay sila sa depensa sa training. I think lahat kailangan mag-step up. Wala naman nang rookie sa kanila and everyone has championship experience. Of course teamwork talaga and siyempre puso to win!" —Fille Cainglet-Cayetano, former Ateneo Lady Eagle (2009-2013)
"Both teams may championship experience. Depende na kung sino talaga ang mas gustong manalo. Yung dadating sa venue na physically and mentally prepared. For Ateneo, they just need to do their thing. Play happy inside the court. Focus on their reception and digs.
"Alyssa will be an advantage with her ability to put up a lot of points for the team. They need to be consistent inside the court. Mas malalim ang bench ng La Salle so the first six must double their efforts." —Jem Ferrer, former Ateneo Lady Eagle (2009-2013)
"I think keys for winning the third straight title are reception and defense. This way, Ateneo would have more options with combination plays. Having much taller blockers for DLSU, Ateneo would have to execute their combo plays well, and one big factor in order to do that is to give Jia (Morado) a good first ball.
"Alyssa Valdez is a constant leader and no doubt an amazing player. She will definitely play her heart out and continue to lead the team, especially since it's her last year of playing for the UAAP." —Charo Soriano, former Ateneo Lady Eagle (2003-2008)
"Match lang sa skills and championship experience, pero advantage for La Salle na mas maraming graduating. Iba kasi kapag last (campaign) mo na, ibibigay mo na lahat-lahat. Tinuro kasi sa amin ni coach Ramil (de Jesus) na iba kapag sa UAAP ka nag-champion. You may go to other leagues like PSL, but years from now, you will look back and sasabihin mo na, 'Ang ganda ng exit ko sa UAAP'" —Cha Cruz, former DLSU Lady Spiker
"The games will be fun to watch, I'm sure lahat ng tao ito ang inaantay this season. Whoever team came prepared, whoever team wants it more, yun ang mag-uuwi ng championship. Sabi nga nila 'di ba, champions are not made during the game but in training. I wish both teams luck; of course, I want La Salle to win, but I'll be happy for either team because nakita ko yung pinagdaanan nila ngayong season. I may not have the chance to watch the championships live, but I know I'll be cheering no matter what." —Michelle Gumabao, former DLSU Lady Spiker