Last March 3, Ria Nabalan played her final game for the National University Lady Bulldogs.
During the UAAP Season 81 3×3 tournament, Nabalan, who ended her 5-on-5 career with an 80-0 record, also went unbeaten in the 3×3 scene as the Lady Bulldogs swept the tournament as well for their 15th straight win in the demo sport.
Yes, the 22-year-old guard might be the only student-athlete in league history to go unbeaten in two sports.
Nabalan though had mixed emotions after the tournament.
“Malungkot na masaya.
“Malungkot kasi hindi ko na makakasama yung teammates ko at makakalaro sa NU pero masaya rin kasi haharapin ko na yung labas ng UAAP at makikipagsabayan na ako sa mga beterano sa mundo,” said Nabalan.
And there was no better troika to join her in her final tournament as a Lady Bulldog than incoming NU super seniors Jack Animam, Rhena Itesi, and Monique del Carmen.
Once realizing that this was their final time to play with Nabalan, the trio were saddened with the fact that there won’t be a next game with her.
“It’s sad. Because she is one of our best players,” said Itesi.
“But it’s okay, five years na.”
“Hindi ko pa rin ma-imagine. Sobrang bilis ng panahon. Parang kahapon lang,” quipped Animam.
“Isa sa motivation namin yun na ipanalo lahat ng lalaruin namin with Ate Ria,” added Del Carmen. “Gusto namin siya bigyan ng magandang exit.
“Maganda yung entrance niya e kaya kailangan namin siya bigyan ng magandang exit.”
“She has those powerful movements. She always drives strong and with power,” recalls Itesi. “She always tells me to do power moves when I’m inside the paint.”
“Go hard. Lagi siyang go hard. Kahit may sakit siya, nandun pa rin yung willingness niya,” shared Animam.
“Yun yung natutunan namin sa kanya the last four years.”
“Sobrang shy type niya. Kailangan pang i-push siya para magsalita siya,” Del Carmen disclosed.
“Hindi kapanipaniwala pero ayaw niya magsalita sa labas ng court.
“Tsaka sobrang humble niya. Kahit sobrang galing niya, hindi siya nagyayabang. Tulad nung nag-forty points siya, kami na nagsasabi na, ‘Uy, magyabang ka ng konte!’ Pero wala talaga,” Del Carmen continued as Nabalan dropped the third-ever 40-point game in UAAP Women’s Basketball history back in October 20.
Besides this, Nabalan has always looked out for her teammates off the court. And she is particularly protective of Itesi.
“We are classmates and she really is a good person.
“When I first got here in 2013 and she got to NU in 2014, she was helping me a lot in class because it was difficult for me to understand English and the Filipino subjects,” shared Itesi, who came from Congo and is now fluent in both English and Filipino.
Even with Nabalan out, the pressure will still be there for the Lady Bulldogs as they gun for their sixth straight crown come the UAAP Season 82 tournament. Moreover, their chase for the all-time streak in women’s collegiate basketball is still on.
And Nabalan is confident that with Animam, Itesi, and Del Carmen steering the wheel, the Lady Bulldogs will be in good hands.
“Ito yung getting ready moment nila e. Ito yung last na namin magkakasama at next year sila na yung leader ng Lady Bulldogs,” the seven-time UAAP gold medalist said.
“Alam ko kakayanin nila.”