The Adamson Softball team has been the most dominant team that the seniors division of the UAAP has ever seen.
Even National University Women’s Basketball head coach Patrick Aquino, whose team owns the current longest streak in the league, shared that they are chasing them. And why not?
The program Ana Santiago built has been the benchmark for every collegiate team in the country for its consistency and excellence.
Since Santiago took over the program back in 2004, the Lady Falcons have won 11 UAAP championships and three silver medals. Moreover, the team has produced national team members who have won gold in international tournaments.
Not known to many, though, is that her program has also created leaders.
One Saturday afternoon, Santiago, Angelie Ursabia, Dimpo Benjamen, and Clariz Palma were inside the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium. However, they were all sporting different colors.
Benjamen, who last played in the UAAP back in Season 78, had been tapped as an assistant coach by the National University Lady Bulldogs. On that day, the Lady Bulldogs were facing the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons — a team that had Palma as assistant coach.
Beyond the rails, Ursabia, the UAAP Season 79 Athlete of the Year, was in charge of the Lady Falcons’ practice session.
For her part, Santiago was inside the VIP box of the stadium, as she was also the tournament director of hosts Adamson University.
As the youthful strategist peeked at the diamond, she could not help but beam over the career track that her former players had chosen.
“Ako, I’m happy for them kasi gusto ko talaga sila mag-grow. Sobrang nakakatuwa na nakikita mo yung product mo na may sarisariling team na,” Santiago expressed.
“Talagang nakakataba ng puso.”
Though a surprise to many, Santiago knew from the day she recruited them that one day they would give back to the sport that had honed them to the persons they are today.
“Si Benjamen at si Palma talaga gusto ng mag-coach dati pa. Nasa puso nila yung softball e.”
Out of the three, Palma — who used to play catcher — was the first to enter coaching. After finishing her collegiate career back in Season 77, she was immediately promoted by Santiago to be part of her coaching staff.
A new opportunity then came knocking for the 25-year-old, as the Lady Maroons needed a fresh face on their staff.
“Nung high school pa ako, ramdam ko talaga na ito yung passion ko.
“Sabi ko after college, talagang magcocoach ako tapos ayun napamahal talaga ako sa mga bata,” the native of Bacolod shared. “Pero nakakapanibago kasi sanay ako sa Adamson. Kung ano yung natutunan ko kay Ate Ana, yun yung naapply ko naman ngayon.”
Benjamen, Palma’s pitcher back in the day, had a different route back to the UAAP.
After playing her final year in 2016, the UAAP Season 78 Finals Most Valuable Player went to Laguna to coach a high school team.
But the Lady Bulldogs wanted to get over the hump they have been since 2012. That is why Coach Egay delos Reyes and his all-male staff deemed that the team needed a female voice. Enter Benjamen.
“Siyempre, hindi ko talaga inexpect na makakapag-coach ako kaagad sa UAAP. So blessing lang talaga ito na marami lang na nag-ooffer sa akin maging coach,” the 25-year-old expressed.
Ursabia, on the other hand, knew that she was going to continue to be under Santiago’s tutelage until her playing days were over.
A born leader, the infielder had been groomed by Santiago during her final year back in Season 79 to be the team’s voice out on the field. It was a big responsibility, but Ursabia was up to the task.
And it eventually paid off as she was named to Adamson’s staff to start Season 80.
“Sobrang saya kasi lahat ng pinaghirapan ko eto na yun,” the 22-year-old said.
“Lahat ng hirap na dinanas ko sa limang taon ko may bayad na.”
Even if they are now in the next stage of their lives, all three Adamsonians shared that it would not have been possible without the discipline instilled in them by their-now Ate Ana.
“Yung disiplina talaga at yung pagiging respectful kahit kanino at kahit saan ka man narating ang pinakanatutunan ko kay Ate Ana,” expressed Palma.
“Yung mga natutunan ko kay coach Ana — kung paano lumaban ang isang player, ang natuturo ko sa kanila,” added Ursabia.
“Hindi naman kami gagaling kung hindi dahil kay coach Ana,” shared Benjamen.
But Palma’s and Benjamen’s teams were not able to make it to the big dance. The Lady Maroons were not able to make it to the Final Four, while the Lady Bulldogs were eliminated by the Lady Falcons during the semifinals.
Once their squads were ousted, the two shed the colors they had worn all season long, cheering for the Lady Falcons up in the gallery during the Finals.
“Siyempre sa akin, yung blood namin talaga, kami nila Palma, kahit anong mangyari Adamson talaga kami. Kung ano yung trabaho namin, yun lang ginagawa namin,” admitted Benjamen.
“‘Pag panalo kami, happy kami. ‘Pag panalo yung Adamson, happy rin kami.”
Last Friday, four days after Adamson achieved a rare eight-peat, Lady Falcons from different batches returned back home to their nest in San Marcelino.
At the end of the day, they are still Adamsonians.
“Kahit ganun, magkakaibigan pa rin kami. So, trabaho lang. Pagkatapos ng trabaho, family pa rin kami,” Santiago declared.