The Ateneo Lady Eagles ended their elimination round campaign with a straight-sets defeat to archrivals De La Salle Lady Spikers.
It was a must-win game for the Lady Eagles to force a playoff versus Far Eastern University for the number two spot. The loss relegated them to third place, causing them to miss the twice-to-beat bonus in the Final Four for the first time in four years.
Ateneo has always landed on top of the league standings at the end of the elimination round since Season 77, which means all the players on the current roster have not yet experienced this kind of setback.
Top spiker Jho Maraguinot, who delivered a season-low output of six points on Sunday, could not hide her frustration. She was averaging 15.2 points per outing prior to the rivalry matchup, but she could not get any rhythm against La Salle's defense.
"Of course I'm disappointed especially at myself because I know I could do better. But I fell short and I think I just have to accept it," she said.
Team captain Maddie Madayag and playmaker Deanna Wong both said that it's their mindset that they need to change. Their straight-sets loss to University of the Philippines last Saturday, which snapped their five-game streak, might have affected their performance against the defending champions.
"We were too pre-occupied, like we weren't working as a team. I think we carried over what happened in our previous game against UP," explained Wong. "It's like we lost our way, we lost our composure."
"I guess we just need to regroup," said Madayag. "The focus is there, we just need to change our mindset."
The Ateneo skipper shared that they've been doing well in their practices, so it's really their mental preparation that they need to improve on.
"We perform well in training, but we fall short during games. I told them that we already know what we need to work on," she said. "For us, we just need to move on because we can no longer do anything about it."
Wong considers having a twice-to-win disadvantage as a challenge for their team, which already exceeded expectations by reaching the semifinals.
"No one really expected us to even be part of the Final Four," said Wong. "We'll just play our game and train in the next five days."
Madayag assured that they remain confident despite the outcome of their elimination round campaign. After all, they still have a chance to recover and bounce back as they face the Lady Tamaraws in the Final Four.
"We're not gonna be complacent but we're gonna be confident despite the loss," she said. "We just need to play happy. We just really need to enjoy."