No one probably enjoyed this season’s UAAP women’s football more than the UP Lady Maroons. After winning their first games, the UPWFT became championship contenders, something they weren’t for at least a decade. Eventually, they did make it to the last dance albeit sadly as they missed out in winning it all. An individual who witnessed half of that barren period was Christiana Mendoza. In this edition of The Final Whistle, the 23-year-old footballer-slash-teacher spills a lot about her playing the sport and how she was transformed by representing State U in the UAAP.
Family introduced Tin, as she is called by many, to the beautiful game. She recalled, “My brother, he was the one that started playing first. Every weekend, me and my dad, we bring him to Ateneo, and then ‘yun, parang nainggit ako. It looked so fun. They bump each other; they were running, kicking the ball–that, for me, was fun.” As she grew older, her fascination led to her giving it a try during her days at Assumption College Antipolo, her high school. “I like that it wasn’t the typical girl-type sport. When I started playing, there weren’t a lot of girls that were into the sport, so that’s another thing I like about it. I felt special because not a lot of us got to play it,” Mendoza shared extensively.
Aside from her affection for football, Tin has a greater appreciation for basketball. She may be a fan of Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, but nothing compares to her favorite UAAP basketball team-the Ateneo Blue Eagles, whom she followed even before she got to college. In fact, she almost became an Atenean. “I actually reserved my slot in Ateneo. It’s a good school. I tried out for Ateneo. I think I went to two or three training sessions.” But the dream was so near yet so far for Tin as studying in Ateneo would mean a financial burden her family has to go through. “I talked to her [then-Ateneo WFT coach Buda Bautista], I told her about my situation and then she was honest enough to tell me that the most that she can give me at the moment was a 50% scholarship and she said that if ever I chose to enroll in Ateneo tapos ituloy-tuloy ko, may chance na maging 100% ‘yung scholarship,” Mendoza retraced.
However, it was clearly not the case as in June of that academic year, she found herself in the neighbouring Diliman campus of UP, which served as her second home for six sweet years. “This whole thing for me was a culture shock. It was so hard for me,” Tin thought of her first year in State U. Naturally, it took some time to adjust for a girl whose childhood once thrived within the comfortable walls of an exclusive Catholic institution. The foreign feel she had with the place only lasted momentarily, as she soon got to enjoy everything about UP. “After a year, I don’t recall a time I regretted being here,” she furthered.
The same could be said of her adjustment into collegiate football. Not exposed to a lot of tournaments in her first years with the sport, Tin was glad to have represented State U in the UAAP, considered as the toughest league in Philippine women’s football. “Kapag nakalaro ka rito parang mafefeel mo, ’Ay magaling ako!’ At saka you see that the hard work doesn’t really go nowhere. You get better and you play against people who are so good as well,” she added. However, Mendoza admitted that her relationship with teammates was not as strong as it had been when she left. “All I really wanted to do was to get to play because it seems like a big achievement to be in the lineup and play in the UAAP. I spent a lot of my time with my friends in high school and blockmates [more than with teammates].” Inevitably, the team grew on her and it transformed her social life. “Parang hinahatak ako ng teammates ko. My relationship with my teammates [became] something else. Before pilit siya, pero ngayon parang it comes so natural that in my free time I look for them. Dati kung yung mga kasama ko yung blockmates ko or friends from high school, ito I make it a point to text my teammates first. I realized that there really wasn’t anything that can fill the void like the team did,” she continued.
She had established a good rapport with all of her teammates, but among them were two special individuals who touched her the most in her six-year stay in Diliman: One was a captain in the past and another may possibly be a captain in the future—Monique Resurreccion and Kali Navea-Huff. “Her love for all of us was really something else. She wasn’t the most yabang. Sobrang simple lang niya. There’s something in her that I find comforting. Every time, hanggang ngayon, na kapag nahihirapan ako or nalulungkot ako, I always go to her and parang [consult her]. In a way I see her as someone I can consider as a mentor although we weren’t able to spend a whole lot of playing time together,” Tin spoke of Monique. As for Kali, Mendoza had this to say about the person who plays on the same side as her on the pitch. “I see [Kali] as a little sister. For me, parang she’s really one of the most special ones in the team. Apart from the fact that I can talk to her, I think it was only me that was able to get her completely in how to talk to her on and off the field. That’s why on the field it’s easy for us din to play together. Parang iba rin kami together kahit hindi kami laging magkasama. Parang nafi-feel ko na special siya sa akin.”
Playing for UP was not all rainbows and butterflies for Mendoza. The team struggled to make it to the finals, often languishing in fourth or fifth place at the end of her earlier seasons. “It’s super hard to lose. Ayaw ko ‘yung natatalo. Ang sakit. Although sa akin, isa rin sa magandang points ‘yung natatalo kami kasi doon ko na feel na kailangan kong magtrabaho pa. It means that kaya kami natatalo kasi I’m not doing enough for my team and I’m not working hard enough so all of the losses pushed me to work harder,” she said.
While in her first year, Mendoza bared that she laid out a five-year plan that includes her team making it to the UAAP finals. “I wanted to reach far. I wanted to take a step forward in each of the years. I thought that by the time I was in third year or fourth year that we would have gotten that far so it came as a shock to me in the year that I didn’t play that they were last. Na-motivate ako even further kasi hindi ako nakalaro noon eh.”
The season they finished in last place was the year she missed out on. In her return, the UP Women’s Football Team entered a new era. Shortly prior to the start of Season 76, Pachanga-Diliman player, UP men’s football team coach and a former UP men’s football team player Anto Gonzales took over as the UPWFT’s coach. It looked to have turned the Lady Maroons’ fortunes around but it had to get worse before it got better. After a poor first round last season, UP racked up enough points to overtake DLSU and nearly went above Ateneo had it not been for an inferior goal difference. “Tingin ko, we needed a little more time to get the results that we did during the second round, kasi napapansin ni Coach Anto na medyo uptight kami sa training. Kapag nagiging tense kami, [he tells us to] relax. Nahirapan siguro kami kasi hindi na lang kami tumatakbo, kasi we had to do something with the ball. Although it was a little hard to adapt to the way that he wanted us to play, it was so much better for all of us. When we got the groove, when we got to understand, when our football understanding got deeper, siguro kaya lumabas ‘yung better results in the second round,” Mendoza expressed. The gallant second half run inspired an already graduating Mendoza to consider the option of maximizing her years of eligibility in the UAAP. “Malaking, malaking difference ’yung nangyari noong second round. Doon ko nafeel na hindi pa ako tapos. I was graduating na eh as in wala na talaga akong units. Pagkatapos noong results noong second round, ang dami kong kinausap. Nagtanong ako ng advice kung paano ko gagawin na makakapaglaro pa ako. I had to talk to my parents because I had to ask permission to play. I had to look for a job because my parents didn’t want to support me anymore. Apart from the good turnout of the second round, we also had a lot of players coming in na parang minamataan na talaga sila ng iba. Marie [Navea-Huff] and Cristina [Delos Reyes]. When I found out na makakalaro sila, tumaas ‘yung chances namin na makalayo. Siguro lahat kami sa team inisip na magcha-champion kami talaga.” It appears that Mendoza regrets nothing a year later.
Even if she only played two years under Gonzales’ tutelage, Tin thinks her love for football deepened in that brief period. “Nainspire ako manood ng football stuff online, I read stuff. Tapos hindi lang ako ‘yung kapag nanoood ng game ‘wow ang galing ang ganda’ parang kay Coach Anto natutunan ko kung paano naging maganda. At saka paano ko ‘yun i-aapply sa akin and which one is best suited for our team. Nakakahawa ‘yung love niya for the game. Tingin ko nag-increase [love for football]. Hindi ako required mag-training. Gusto ko lang siya. It’s something that I love.”
Outside of football, she reckons that Gonzales changed her life too. “With Coach Anto, I feel like I have more compassion, patience, more understanding because that’s how he is.”
Her sweetest moment in the UAAP came when they pulled out a comeback win against UST in Season 77’s second round. “I didn’t really perform exemplary in that game but after the final whistle, doon nagsink-in sa akin na heto na ‘yun, ’yung pinagtatrabahuan mo, heto na ‘yun. Tuwang-tuwa ako kasi doon ko nafeel na lahat ng pera na ininvest sa akin ng mga magulang ko hindi nasayang, lahat ng winork hard ko hindi nasayang. For me, malaking achievement na ‘yung nakarating kami sa finals. ‘yung naging tool ako para makarating kami sa finals.” Mendoza felt an overwhelming amount of pride having been a member of a finals-bound UP women’s football team. Prior to 2015, there were only two times when UP made it to the finals. Presently, UP is still in search of a crown in UAAP women’s football. “When I watched the semifinals of the men’s team, I was sweating. My heart was palpitating. I can’t breathe properly and I was just so nervous. A week after for our game, I was able to keep myself calm completely. It was just pride. I’m here and no other school got here but us and FEU. I felt so much pride not for me but for my team and my school. Sayang lang hindi kami nanalo but siguro big thing na rin na we got as far as we did,” she elaborated.
Losing to FEU, who became three-straight champions this season, was enough for Mendoza to say that in her playing years, it was the Lady Tamaraws who gave her and UP the hardest time on the pitch. “FEU lang talaga. Iba rin talaga ‘yung coaching ni Coach Let. I mean there’s something that she does that makes them extraordinary. Iba rin si Coach Let magturo,” she said while also recognizing the challenge of marking Lady Tamaraw and national team member Sharmine Siaotong. “She was smart and she was also fast. At times, she knew how to position herself well na hindi ko siya mahuhuli.”
In her last playing year, Mendoza also devoted her time teaching kids while taking up a master’s degree to prolong her stay in the university. By teaching children in their formative years, Mendoza said she is living a dream she had in high school. “I really wanted to become a teacher when I got to high school. I like kids. I wanted to… sobrang optimistic ‘yung view ko na alam ko naman na hindi ko kayang baguhin ‘yung mundo but I can be a difference to one person and that one person may be the difference in the world. Honest ako sa sarili ko, hindi ko kaya ‘yun so ‘yung gagawin ko na lang magututuro na lang ako ng iba para ma-inspire sila to become more than they can be,” Tin told after sharing an earlier goal of becoming a cash register crew member.
“Parang ang fun noon eh. Nakakatuwa lang kasi kapag nandoon ka sa counter… *ka-ching* tapos ang daming pera. Akala ko sa kanila napupunta ‘yun eh. Hindi pala totoo,” she hilariously confessed.
Mendoza stresses the importance of education to the children whom she is teaching. “I told them I have a scholarship because I do well in sports so I encourage them to get into sports. I also tell them to study hard because it’s important to get into college. It’s cute that a lot of them are fascinated.”
Now that she is done with UAAP football, Mendoza acknowledges the things football has helped her to learn along the way. “Hard work goes a long way. I think one of the things that football in the collegiate level taught me is that what you don’t have in talent you really can make up for with hard work. I’m not one of the most talented. I actually had to work really, really hard to reach the level I was able to reach in my last year. Coach Anto din he always tells us that kahit lamang ‘yung kalaban sa skill, basta hindi ka matatalo sa puso at saka sa trabaho hindi ka talaga matatalo. Tingin ko dahil nagtrabaho ako ng maigi at natuto akong mag sakripisyo, kaya nakamit ko ‘yung mga gusto kong makamit. I guess it’s to have a good work ethic kasi natatalo rin ng taong maayos magtrabaho or masipag ‘yung magaling,” she emphasized. In addition, she credits her involvement in football in helping her become more responsible, enthusiastic and understanding. “Apart from that, there’s discipline. Now that I’m working I see the importance of discipline, especially with time. Learning to adjust to other people, because the ones in my team aren’t really the same as me and dito rin sa UP hindi rin talaga lahat ng tao magkakapareho. A lot of the times we clash, so natutunan ko na sometimes it’s not really about voicing everything that you want to say or being right all the time. Sometimes to keep the peace because I love my team so [I] give way,” she furthered.
Though unfortunate not to have won gold in her stint with UP, Tin remains confident that her teammates will be able to take one before she joins the workforce. “I have very high expectations for them. I want them to go as far as we did this year. Given the drive they have now, how close-knit they are now, I have very high expectations and I know they won’t disappoint me. They won’t give anything less than a perfect effort and that’s been our motto for this year,” she believes.
Asked about her legacy on the team, she had one thing to say. “I never stop pushing them. Regardless of how hard I’m working, I want her to work harder than I am because I want her to be better than me because it’s when there are people that are better than you that you get better as well. Kung makikipaglaro ka lang naman sa mga tao na wala lang sa kanila yun edi ikaw wala ka lang din [sa kanila].”
Football after the UAAP is tough for girls like her who have never gained any kind of experience playing outside school representation. Nonetheless, Mendoza plans to remain in the sport in order to stay fit. “The other alumni invited me to play every Wednesday. I also don’t want to get fat, eh tabain ako so I really have to find a way to work with. Yun yung biggest fear ko actually,” she revealed.
Another thing that lingers in her mind at the moment is mentoring the squad she has left. “Actually ngayon gusto ko i-coach ‘yung team ko kaso hindi ako qualified eh. Wala akong license for that. Given the opportunity, siguro kung every afternoon lang ‘yung training namin siguro kaya kong gawan na paraan. Fleeting thought. It’s just something I could consider.”
Having been through thick and thin, Mendoza leaves the walls of UP a step short of leading the Lady Maroons towards a first UAAP championship in its history. Just like most athletes whose sports don’t have professional leagues in the country, Tin is set to embark on a journey totally different to her time in college. Although the greens of football fields may be replaced by the greens of the chalkboard and the spectators watching her now substituted by children interested in learning more about stuff, Mendoza remains on the spotlight—whether be it on the pitch or in the classroom—and is continuing her mission of making sure that everyone witnessing her perform will always be inspired.