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PFFWL Roundup: Freshly-minted UAAP champion La Salle stretches unbeaten run

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Martinez hat-trick helps lift GAU FC up to third overall


PFF Womens League - GAU def Fuego Espanya - MartinezThe PFF Women’s League returned Saturday morning since pausing for the UAAP season last January. Club teams Green Archers United FC and Fuego Espanya opened proceedings for the weekend, with the Alabang-based squad claiming a commanding 5-nil victory.

New transfer Glynnes Dela Cruz put GAU FC ahead inside 9 minutes after some confusion in the box.

Four minutes later, Annalie Martinez gathered a loose ball before darting past the Fuego Espanya defense for the first of her three goals.

In the 29th minute, Marielle Benitez’s pass to Jill Panganiban running down the left flank looked like she would score the club’s third goal but she passed it off to Martinez at the last second who tapped it in. Martinez completed the hat-trick six minutes later after taking advantage of a bad clearance.

With five minutes remaining, Bea Delos Reyes spotted new teammate Michaela Maligalig sprinting down the left. Delos Reyes made the pass and Maligalig zeroed in the Green Archers’ fifth and final goal.

Coach Eleonora Dillera was pleased with the win that pushed her side up the league rankings to third, happy that the ladies had stayed competitive even after the very long layoff. “The players practiced this week, Tuesday and Thursday, so I think that helped,” she said.

Playing mornings — and at 8:00am, no less — was a first for this league, but GAU FC didn’t let it bother them.

“I think the girls did what they can with the heat. They just passed the ball, less running, more of passing, letting the ball do the work more than them,” Dillera added.

The team has a lot to be excited for in the coming games, with new additions to their squad, particularly members of youth national teams.

“We’re happy they joined GAU now. Gly and Val (Polido) were my players last time sa UFL, so I know how they play. Em (Maligalig) and TJ (Isulat) are really good players,” Dillera shared.

Martinez was just as happy, later admitting it was the best game of her career.

“Masaya kasi naka-goal, para sa buong team. Masaya na nanalo yung team namin. Maganda lahat na nilaro namin,” she said.

No championship hangover as La Salle dispatches closest challengers OutKast FC


PFF Womens League - DLSU def OutKast - Inquig

The second game took place the following Sunday morning, and featured the only two teams who had then been unbeaten: De La Salle University, fresh off their successful UAAP stint, and OutKast FC.

Within five minutes, Irish Navaja made a forward pass that looked like it was meant for striker Kyra Dimaandal. Recognizing that Dimaandal was offside, and with OutKast defense distracted from a downed teammate, Chelo Hodges scurried for the ball after hearing no whistle, which led to a one-on-one situation with keeper Yasmin Elauria who she got the better of to put La Salle up by 1.

Six minutes after halftime, Dimaandal made a run from the halfway line before passing to Hodges, whose shot was blocked. Hodges gathered the ball and after a short pass, Dimaandal slotted in the team’s second. The goal also means Dimaandal has extended her scoring streak to six games.

La Salle’s third and final goal came in the 74th minute via Kyla Inquig. The MVP of the recently-concluded UAAP season combined with Dimaandal for a couple of quick passes before finishing at a tight angle.

OutKast FC did manage a consolation goal that came from Mea Bernal. The defender combined with Stacey Arthur and Barbie Sobredo for some nifty passing before scoring with seven minutes to go.

La Salle may have already won a title this season, but it looks like they are hungry for more.

“Coach Hans would always tell us every training na, ‘Tapos na UAAP, you gotta focus now on what we have,'” Meryll Ledesma shared after the game. The co-captain admits that it has become the motivation for the team, along with the chance to make history as champions of the new league.

Ledesma also revealed that nothing has changed for them since winning the UAAP title before turning wistful, sharing that the seniors are making the most out of their last games together.

“Ganun pa din, training, same. Same drills, polishing lang, and I guess stamina, running. Besides UAAP, we still want it to end with a bang. Kasi siyempre, we’ll never get to play with our teammates ever again,” she added.

Head coach Hans-Peter Smit joked it was timely that the league had restarted that weekend instead of the week before. “We’re lucky, I think all my girls would have hangovers, they were celebrating the whole week.”

Smit reiterated what Ledesma said about focusing on the league with the UAAP done. “Now this is the priority. I don’t like living in the past even if it’s very recent. We joined this, let’s commit.”

Determined to keep his side’s winning streak going, Smit is eyeing no less than the top. “People already know that we swept the UAAP [so] we need to live up to our reputation as far as the UAAP has gone. I think we have two more games left, if we can win both we’ll get six points from those. Then that means we topped already the first round. So, one foot inside already.”

Young reinforcements power TYFA past shocked UP


PFF Womens League - TYFA def UP - Ramores

The last fixture involved two teams that were struggling — The Younghusband FA, who were coming off successive losses in the league, and the University of the Philippines, who had finished second to last in the UAAP. It eventually turned into a back-and-forth goalfest with the club team prevailing, 4-2.

A handball after a corner in the 10th minute led to a penalty situation for TYFA, which newly transferred Kaitlyn Dabalos duly converted.

Three minutes into the second half, Cristina De Los Reyes cancelled out TYFA’s lead. Two minutes later, the captain outran her defender for a shot and UP were ahead.

UP seemed to relax afterwards and this would prove to be their undoing as TYFA decided to fight back spurred on by the club’s new younger members. In the 67th minute, Krizha Guteza Morgan leveled things up after a lapse in judgment by goalie Vanessa Estrada.

With ten minutes to go, it was Nicole Ramores who saw TYFA through, fighting for possession inside the box before slamming in the go-ahead. Six minutes later she consolidated after being left wide open.

“Masaya kasi may mga bago kaming players na nag-reinforce sa amin,” assistant coach Rodney Leyble said, delighted of his squad after the game, especially commending the team’s new young additions.

“Silang nag-create ng game yung mga bago. So nag-aadjust lang yung mga dati, sila na nag-adjust dun sa mga bago. So that’s why nakikita naman nila na lumalaban yung mga bata. That’s why, thank you sa PFF na ginawa nila yung ganun na desisiyon,” he added, referring to the Philippine Football Federation’s special provision to allow the addition of players before the resumption of the league.

The win over a UAAP team came as a surprise and Leyble acknowledged this. “Hindi namin inexpect na mananalo kami kasi this is the first time na mag-meet lahat. So yun sabi namin huwag lang tayo sasabay sa game nila kasi sila, fresh pa from UAAP.”

Leyble also said that they recognized his side actually had an advantage around early on. “Nakita namin na mas aggressive yung team namin dahil parang coming out of tryouts yung pinalaro nila. Naninibago [yung kalaban], so kailangan tayo maka-force ng laro,” he added.

ON DECK


The PFF Women’s League continues this weekend at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

On Saturday, June 10, three matches are lined up: UST (5) vs. FEU (8) at 2:00 p.m., Hiraya FC (9) vs. OutKast FC (2) at 4:00 p.m., GAU FC (3) vs. TYFA (7) at 7:00 p.m.

On Sunday, June 11, there will be two games: Hiraya FC (9) vs. UP (4) at 2:00 p.m., UST (5) vs. GAU FC (3) at 4:00 p.m.

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Aldin Ayo brushes off Tab Baldwin’s admiration of his system

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It took two years for the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin to devise schemes and strategies to get past the De La Salle University Green Archers. And after nine tries, the well-traveled tactician was finally able to close out this chapter by outlasting the defending champions in three grueling yet epic games on Sunday evening.

“They never take the pressure off. You know, they’re confident in their system—and that comes from Aldin [Ayo],” shared Baldwin, who has 35 years of experience under his belt. “They believe in their players, they believe in their system and they’re just not gonna take their foot off your throat for one minute.

“I admire that so much.”

After getting a chance to see and experience the holistic system that Ayo has developed last season, the former Gilas Pilipinas head coach shared that their physical training just to keep up with La Salle started as early as January. But even with this preparation, the Blue Eagles needed to dig deep in each of their five meetings this season.

“We had to rise to their level. They set the bar. So I have to congratulate them for that.

“Losing is always tough and I’m happy it’s them not us but there’s no lack of respect and admiration for who they are and what they did to get here, what they did today,” beamed Baldwin.

“They fought back again. We had them down and again they fought back. You know, we had them down ten and then they cut it to I don’t know, three or something, two?,” he pointed out.

“They’re champions, they’re still champions. You can’t take that away from them. But now, so are we.”

Fresh off his first series loss in two years, Ayo shrugged off the kind words that the American-Kiwi mentor said about him and his system, saying it is all part of the build-up for next season.

“He’s playing mind games.

“Ganoon naman palagi eh. Ako naiintindihan ko naman because he’s just competing. He’s going to say nice things and those things are preparation for next year,” the highly-competitive coach said.

“Everything that we say here to all of you, lahat yan may purpose, and that purpose is to compete,” Ayo added. “Kung titignan mo yung motive, he’s just competing. On our part, walang problema. We just want to compete.”

This, however, stems from how other coaches perceive him, according to the youthful mentor. Aware of what his peers have been saying about him, Ayo feels like he is still undermined despite the accomplishments he has achieved.

“There are other coaches, they are trying to ridicule you, bully you,” disclosed Ayo.

“I have one message to them, ‘I forgive, I forgive, I forgive’ because it’s part of the competition naman. Since tapos na rin naman yung season, there’s a difference, basketball lang naman ito.”

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Ricci Rivero finds solace in family, faith after tough Finals loss

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In his second season, Ricci Rivero made a huge leap during the De La Salle University Green Archers’ title defense campaign. The 19-year-old embraced the role of one of the team’s scorers, helping ease the loss of Jeron Teng.

Even with the graduation of Teng and three other Green Archers — namely bruiser Jason Perkins, stopper Julian Sargent, and floor general Thomas Torres — the Green Archers were pegged to repeat their title win, as they still had world-talent Ben Mbala, leader Kib Montalbo, and young guns Ricci Rivero and Aljun Melecio unraveling their potential.

And it was Rivero shone the most, especially in the Finals, averaging 14.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.33 assists in the classic three-game series. Moreover, his emotional turnaround was also pivotal to winning Game Two and forcing a rubber match.

This time around, the Green Archers were not the last team standing, as the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles found a way to subdue them, 88-86.

Though he was saddened by the outcome, Rivero has no regrets, saying that they had already accepted the outcome moments after the game.

“At this point, we gave everything naman. Siguro [Ateneo] are more deserving than us lang. Siguro mas will na rin ni God na nanalo sila,” said the All-UAAP team member. “Hindi kami kaya nag pray na sana manalo kami.

“Nag-pray kami na whatever happens, sana yung will ni Papa Jesus yung mangyari and help niya lang kami sa mga situations na mahihirapan kami.”

Immediately after the awarding ceremony, he gathered with his older brother Prince and their parents near the cross in the dugout to console each other. The La Salle lifer is fortunate to have his family backing him up as he move on from this defeat.

Now that the Season 80’s Most Improved Player has experienced both winning and losing on the big stage, he wants to reflect from this experience and be back more mature as ever.

“Sobrang hirap lang ng feeling kasi yun, may ups and down talaga pero ngayon nasa down kami,” said Rivero as he tried to buck tears. “Laking factor siguro ng pagkatalong ito kasi pag natalo mas dun lahat dadating yung mas sincere na prayers mo. Parang mag lolook back ka, bakit nangyari ‘to and all.

“Titignan namin yung mga pagkakamali namin throughout the process tapos pipilitin namin maitama.”

And as he left the venue, Rivero granted a few supporters’ requests for a photo op before returning to the arms of his parents.

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Aljun Melecio, Andrei Caracut speak on behalf of devastated Kib Montalbo

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A loss in the finals will always be a bitter pill to swallow. All those hours put into practice and the process to get there could end up for naught with a loss.

This year, it was the De La Salle University Green Archers’ turn to taste defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in a grueling three-game series.

Isaac Go’s dagger three in the last 50 seconds of the contest sealed the deal for the Blue Eagles, as they had an 85-80 cushion against the Green Archers. La Salle tried to make a comeback, but it was just not the Green Archers’ day. Ateneo eventually prevailed 88-86 to clinch their first championship in five years.

“Breaks of the game siguro,” lamented La Salle point guard Aljun Melecio, who averaged 17.33 points and 1.3 steals in the epic three-game series.

“Congratulations to Ateneo.”

Melecio’s fellow guard Andrei Caracut echoed his sentiments.

“Breaks of the game. Ganun talaga yung buhay sa basketball pero marami kaming natutunan ngayong game na ito. Sana madala namin next season.”

With the game tied 66-66 at the end of the third period, La Salle sought to seize an early advantage and forced three after three to no avail early in the fourth quarter. By contrast, Ateneo sunk three of their seven three-point attempts that doomed La Salle.

“Hindi lang pumapasok shots namin,” rued Melecio, a sophomore.

Come the final buzzer, it was the Blue and White who emerged victorious after 40 minutes of basketball. As the confetti rained down on center court, the Green Archers were either weeping or standing in disbelief. One of those most devastated was skipper Kib Montalbo.

“Speechless. Wala ako masabi talaga,” shared a downcast Montalbo, who posted norms of 5.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in the series.

Overall, Ateneo simply outscored and outlasted La Salle, and a big reason for that was the Blue Eagles’ overall efficiency from the downtown. The newly crowned champions went 10-for-25 from downtown compared to La Salle’s 8-of-33.

Still, Caracut — speaking on behalf of his two closest teammates — expressed that they had given it their all even if the result did not go in their favor.

“Binigay naman namin yung best namin,” said the third-year guard, who put up 8.67 points per game in the season finale.

La Salle will have a mostly intact lineup next year, as it is only Abu Tratter who has played out his eligibility. Cameroonian star Ben Mbala is still eligible for one more year based on the current eligibility rules. Redemption mode is officially on for the Green Archers.

“For sure siyempre kailangan talaga double yung effort and hardwork. Mag-prepare kami (for) next year,” vowed Caracut. “Bounce back kami.”

Meanwhile, Montalbo declared, “I don’t know what to think right now man but we’ll bounce back. Yun lang.”

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Ben Mbala reflects on Finals heartbreak: ‘You can also learn by losing’

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As the buzzer sounded and confetti rained at center court of the SMART-Araneta Coliseum, one half of the venue was stunned. Some were in tears, while some stood in silence.

The De La Salle University Green Archers, the team that were pegged to repeat as champions this season, had just been handed a heartbreaking 88-86 loss in the title-decider.

Standing out from the sea of green was two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala. At 6-foot-7, the Cameroonian student-athlete openly wept on the floor.

“This has to be a learning experience for me. You can’t just learn by winning, you can also learn by losing.

“This is a situation that you have to learn by losing and I take it as a man,” the 22-year-old shared.

Having come off a stint with the Cameroonian national team in the 2017 FIBA Afrobasket last August, Mbala added new weapons to his arsenal. He was faster, more dangerous, and more experienced compared to his first year in La Salle. However, the league — and specifically, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles — has also improved.

During the Finals, Mbala averaged 15.67 points on 52.78 percent shooting to go along with 14.0 rebounds, 1.67 steals, and 2.67 blocks. But during Game Three, the Green Archers faltered at the most crucial of times, allowing the Blue Eagles to bomb threes all over them while settling for tough shots. This gave Ateneo a 78-70 cushion with 4:30 left in the season.

“Ateneo played better as a team. They stuck to their game plan.

“We didn’t get to play our game, we didn’t have our rhythm,” admitted Mbala. “We just played within the flow and we took a lot of bad shots, turned the ball over when it was the most important.”

Mbala has vowed to come back stronger next season once he clears things up with the Green Archers’ brass. But as of now, he just plans to move on from this painful defeat.

“It’s a game after all, just not because it’s Ateneo or La Salle you have to hate each other,” Mbala said.

“After the game, we still have our lives and we have to keep going on with our lives.”

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