When the final buzzer sounded, the National University Lady Bulldogs celebrated as if they had won their fifth straight UAAP Women’s Basketball championship.
It was no title they celebrated, though, but perhaps something more significant. Teams win championships year in and year out, but none – at least in this collegiate league – can say that they’ve won their 74th straight game.
“Siyempre masaya. Pero alam ko it’s a long way to go. Wala pang Final Four pero every game, tini-treat namin siya as a championship game – lalo na itong game na ito kasi madami kaming naririnig na matatalo kami, ganyan,” said NU stalwart Jack Animam.
Animam had been inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City the last time NU had lost in the competition. It was Game 3 of the Season 76 finals against the De La Salle University Lady Archers, who eventually won the gold.
“Sabi ko sa sarili ko na kung five years lalaruin ko sa NU, I don’t want to feel that kind of situation.
“Ayoko mapunta sa ganoong situation. Kaya as long as maglalaro ako sa NU, gusto ko palagi kami manalo,” said the post player.
With their 74-game winning streak, NU have officially eclipsed the fabled Adamson University Softball Team who managed to go spotless for 73 contests.
“Masaya kasi simula noong una nandoon na ako. Pero ‘di naman namin magagawa yun kung hindi kami sama-sama. Kami may tiwala kami sa isa’t isa, together kami naglalaro. Yung focus namin is manalo sa game,” shared Lady Bulldogs skipper Ria Nabalan.
“One game at a time.”
Perhaps, for the Lady Bulldogs, this game was as big as the finals games they’ve experienced throughout the years. Just to get finally through it led to a sense of euphoria and relief at the same time.
“Sobrang laking bagay kasi history na eh. Naka-break kami ng record. Hindi man forever, pero nasa history books na kami. Pero tapos na ito, next game naman,” added Nabalan, who later shared that the team’s alumnae had pleaded with them to protect what they had started.
“Over na, move on na.”
While Animam, Nabalan, and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs are the invincibles of the UAAP, they themselves are regular student-athletes who experienced a huge weight on their shoulders to achieve this feat.
Nabalan narrated, “Inaamin kong pressured ako kaya kinausap ko isa isa yung teammates ko. Kinausap ko silang lahat.
“Bilang captain ball, ako pa ang mape-pressure, so shine-share ko sa teammates ko hindi yung pressure but pampalakas ng loob para lumakas yung loob naming lahat.”
Likewise, Animam stepped up to condition her teammates’ mindsets before the big dance.
“Kagabi we had team dinner sa room namin and then habang kumakain kami tinananong ko sila, ‘How do you feel right now?’ Sabi nila, ‘Excited!’
“Sabi ko excited (din ako) pero low-key excited lang kasi too much excitement medyo (not good). Siguro yung excitement namin kagabi, dinala namin sa game and yung outcome ng game, sobrang masaya kami,” explained the 19-year-old center.
Throughout the streak, numerous teams tried and failed to be the one to finally NU’s dominance. Ultimately, the Lady Bulldogs’ mentality lifted them through difficult times.
“Hindi ko inisip na matatalo kami kahit dumikit yung laban namin. Hindi ko naisip yun. Parang sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na, ‘Matatalo ba kami? Hindi! Not today!’ Not today as long as we keep fighting.
“Yung pride namin, talagang lalaban kami hanggang sa mag-end ng buzzer,” said Animam.
In the end, though, all eyes were set on the immediate and distant future. “Next game muna. Hanggang together kami, walang makakatalo sa amin,” assured Nabalan.
“Kasi yung program talaga sa NU Women’s Basketball program, sobrang grabe nila kaming tutukan. Meron na kaming recruits nga for 2020. Imagine that. Hindi ko masasabi hanggang kailan, pero I assure you na hindi lang hundreds ito,” warned Animam.
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