A steady presence in the middle of the park, Cecilia Milagros Dayrit was one of the Ateneo Women’s Football Team’s (AWFT) most experienced players on the field in UAAP Season 77. Dayrit is known to be eager in retrieving balls and possessing the awareness to distribute the ball towards teammates up front. Often involved in the game, the 23-year-old midfielder has had her ups and downs representing Ateneo throughout the years. After a long and uphill battle, as she has described it, the AWFT’s skipper this season shares her crusade from the moment she learned to play, until the last time she heard the final whistle for the last time in the UAAP.
Coming from a family of Ateneans, Dayrit started her love affair with football in grade school. “When I first tried out in grade school I was thinking of a sport ‘what sport can I join that will allow me to run’ because we don’t have track in our school,” she pondered. At first, she gave volleyball a try but she determined that height was an issue. It led her to playing football—a good fit to satisfy her running needs. “I always just like the feeling of being able to control the ball. I love the sound of thumping the ball. I also love stealing the ball from the opponent, [when] you read the play right,” added Cecille, who is a fan of Lionel Messi and an admirer of Chelsea FC’s style of play. Actually, football was almost a forgotten passion of hers. In her elementary days, the BFA Art Management graduate now taking an MA in Anthropology also pursued ballet alongside football. She drew praise from her mentors and was even considered to be sent overseas to hone her ballet skills, but that did not materialize. Time caught up with her and by the time she reached high school, she had to choose between tutus and cleats; eventually she had to leave the stage for the pitch. As a result, it gave her the opportunity to play football for Ateneo.
The Colegio de San Agustin-Makati alumna entered Ateneo back in 2009 with her twin sister Camille. Having played football in high school, Cecille thought she’d had enough and would no longer play the sport come college. Clearly, it was not the case. “Originally, I never planned on playing for college…[but] it helped us get into Ateneo so we decided to play football and we couldn’t stay away,” revealed Cecille. Soon after her inclusion to the team, Dayrit faced many players in what was rated as the country’s most competitive women’s football league. “That [freshman year] was crazy. The first time I played for the UAAP I was so nervous that all I told myself is just run,” shared Dayrit with a slight, nostalgic chuckle. Back then, Ateneo was the league’s whipping girls who often lost by big margins. “We weren’t a winning team talaga but at the same time it helped you to think about ‘okay we’re not the best team but what you can do to make things better’ so I think for me that was like to practice consistently,” said Cecille who, in her UAAP career, has seen her team gradually climb out of championship irrelevance. In her debut season, Dayrit’s efforts were recognized as she was awarded the Rookie of the Year honors. Although individual glory appeared nice, it was not something Cecille was satisfied with. “When I started out, we weren’t thought of as a competitor. From there, I grew with the team that wanted to show everyone, our opponents and ourselves, that we can be a competitor and here we are now,” as she cited the team’s emergence as perennial championship contenders.
Cecille has played in a lot of football tournaments such as RIFA and one-day football festivals but the dedication required in the UAAP made it special. “A lot of it for me is the competition and training with the team all throughout the year just to compete for the top spot for two months,” she said. Having been the main tournament for collegiate women’s football, everyone took the UAAP more seriously than other tournaments. In the process, Dayrit learned important lessons along the way. “Hardwork pays off. If you want to get something done, you have to give the extra effort every now and then and sometimes you have got to let go of the things you can’t control,” she recounted. It also shaped her to become more disciplined particularly when it came to academics. “[I was a] boring student. I’d go out very rarely. I’d stay up to finish my studies. I’d do assignments a week in advance so I can do them on time and submit them on time,” she furthered. There were also a couple of valuable lessons she picked up from Coach Buda Bautista and Bob Manlulo. “From Coach Buda it was do the work don’t complain just do what you’re told. Coach Bob: Know your teammates. Adjust to them, and they’ll adjust to you. Work within the system and while you’re in the system find your own creativity within,” she recalled.
With the team for six years including one year she sat out, she developed special ties with four players apart from her sister. They were batchmate JJ Matalam, Frankie Abraham, Camille Rodriguez, and Gely Tiu. “They were always the ones who I could go to and talk to about my insecurities and my problems especially in my captain years. They were the ones I could open up to,” stated Dayrit. At the same time, she tagged FEU and this year’s UP team as the toughest teams she went up against. “UP honestly because they’re a well-rounded team. Three years in the making so they’re a pretty solid team. They deserved it [making the finals this year]. Siguro the most consistent physical team is FEU kasi well they’re a really solid team. They knew each other well.” Add to that FEU’s Barbie Sobredo, whom for Dayrit is the most difficult individual she has ever encountered on the pitch, “Barbie in her previous years was really good, very fast, [and] hard to get the ball from her.”
Her sweetest moments in the league came thrice—all of those at times she found the back of the net. Not a natural goal scorer, Dayrit felt happy whenever she manages to give her team a goal. “Wow! Incredible,” is how Dayrit classified all the goal-scoring moments that came against DLSU, FEU, and UST, which was also her last game in the league. “I was hungry for a win, that game. There were instances when a foul will be called [and] I could have just stayed down and not move, but the idea of it’s your last game, ‘get up.’ Even though my head was super hurting and I was losing vision in my left eye, ‘get up, finish this game.’ It helps that we ended on a good note. It really makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I put in the work just like I did in the UAAP,” she continued. The opposite of it came a season ago when Dayrit was devastatingly ruled out for the season, not because she was injured but because she made a fatal mistake on the run-in of Season 76. “I came into that season super confident, super positive that Ateneo will make it to the finals. Summer pa lang I was already thinking we’re gonna win. In the first semester I joined the track team so I could do better on the field. I’d be able to breathe properly and wouldn’t be as tired. It really paid off but when I came to the second semester I found out that I couldn’t play because I dropped a class in the first semester which I didn’t know in masters, if you do that you wouldn’t be eligible to play. When I found out, I was so heartbroken that I lost the will to play for a while. I’d just go to training to help out, but the whole time I was like ‘I should be with them.’ It felt so bad that it carried over to this season. At some point of this school year I felt kind of lost I didn’t know what I was doing I didn’t know who I was as a player anymore.” In both seasons, Ateneo finished in third but in contrasting fashion. Last year, Ateneo had the opportunity of making it to the finals but did not earn enough points in the end to overtake UST in second place. This time, the AWFT struggled early and their late-season surge was in vain as it merely secured a repeat of last year’s bronze finish.
Football is definitely a part of Cecille’s life. Now that the UAAP is over, she still wants to be associated with the sport but is unsure of how to do so at the moment. “I’m thinking about playing for fun, playing with friends who’ve been inviting me for the past six years to play with them. There’s also the thought of maybe trying out for the national team. I’ll think about it,” she expressed. She is also looking towards pursuing a career outside of football in two ways. “I want to somewhat become an entrepreneur, but the more solid one is to find a career within the museum world. My undergraduate was art management and my thesis was putting up an exhibit and I super enjoyed doing those things,” she told. Regardless of what path she walks into, Dayrit will always feel proud of her football stint with Ateneo. “Oh it’s really big. If I think about Ateneo, I’m going to think of football. It’s what got me through my worst times, it’s what gave me my worst times so I’m going cherish it. I’m going to enjoy looking back and say I did that,” she ended with conviction.