LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA — Just when everyone thought that Ateneo’s dominant reign in the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Swimming Championships had reached its end, it pulled off a remarkable turnaround to sneak past erstwhile leader La Salle, Sunday at the Trace Aquatics Center.
This is Ateneo’s sixth straight championship in the competition.
Despite losing to graduation key cogs Jessie Lacuna and Aldo Batungbacal, the Blue Eagles were able to keep La Salle from pulling away for three days. They then unleashed a fourth-day storm like no other, to emerge a mere 10 points ahead of La Salle and celebrate another UAAP title.
Ateneo was able to amass 353 points against La Salle’s 343 points. University of Santo Tomas (322 points) and University of the Philippines (193 points) completed the cast.
“It was really one of our best championships. Sobrang daming naging roadblocks talaga, not just our MVPs graduating, but also meron kami swimmer nagka-appendicitis, meron went into depression, and other problems na… For a time, we almost lost that belief na we could still win,” shared Ateneo swimming program director Archie Lim.
Ianiko Limfilipino led the way for Ateneo registering a time of 17:27.56 in the 1500m Freestyle to bring home the gold medal. La Salle’s Antoine Mendoza surprised everyone with a silver medal finish in 17:30.91, while UP’s Keane Ting finished third in 17:36.54.
While everyone expected Limfilipino to swim and rule the 200m Breaststroke, he sacrificed participating in the said event to better help his team in the 200m Butterfly. He finished in 2:13.51 and an all-important third place.
The favorite to win the 200m Butterfly was none other than La Salle ace Sacho Ilustre, who did not disappoint with his dominant swim of 2:05.65 en route to his seventh gold medal. UST’s Reynald Cullentas took the silver in 2:12.50.
La Salle also ruled the 200m Breaststroke with their rookie EJ Jayme (2:27.31), keeping Ateneo rookie Jiron Rotoni (2:27.89) and UST’s Dyrham Palfry (2:27.92) at bay. UST also produced a gold medal in the 50m Backstroke, as Christian Anor ruled the event in 27.81 seconds. He topped Ateneo’s Miguel Barlisan (28.36 seconds) and DLSU’s Christian Sy (28.41 seconds).
The Blue Eagles ultimately turned things around when they completed a 1-2 finish in the 50m Freestyle behind Drei Buhain’s 24.06-second and Barlisan’s 24.11-second performance. UST’s Renz Gawidan rounded out the podium with his time of 24.92 seconds.
Entering the 400m Medley Relay, the final event of the tournament, Ateneo was already sporting a six-point lead and only needed a bronze medal finish to secure another championship. La Salle, on the other hand, needed a golden finish to have a shot at dethroning the defending champions.
UST’s Kevin Dagum, Jay Cabulit, Reynald Cullentas, and Renz Gawidan played spoilers to the Green Tankers, topping the event in UAAP record fashion. They erased Ateneo’s old mark of 4:03.49 with their own time of 4:01.13. Ateneo finished second in 4:04.93 while UP took third in 4:06.33.
“Obviously, the swimmers stepped up big time. So, super happy and satisfying not only for winning the championship but more importantly, lumabas or na-build ‘yung championship character nila,” said Lim.
It was also a down-the-wire race for the Rookie of the Year award, as Rotoni’s 47 points squeaked past Ting’s 46 points.
La Salle did not go home empty-handed, though. Ilustre secured his first UAAP Men’s Most Valuable Player award, sporting a flawless seven for seven performance.