After the Ateneo de Manila University bagged their fourth straight UAAP championship in Season 80, graduating senior Aldo Batungbacal had openly announced his desire to forgo a fifth and final playing year in Season 81, while Jessie Lacuna kept mum on his future plans.
Fast forward to the 81st UAAP Swimming Championship, where both potential Ateneo sports hall of famers played key roles in helping Ateneo accumulate 475 points and delivering a fifth straight UAAP men’s division championship for the Blue Eagles.
This is Ateneo’s third championship for the season and sixth overall in the Men’s Swimming Championships.
Ultimately, the emergence of the De La Salle University – who ended up second this season with 380 points – helped in convincing both swimmers to play out their final year.
Two-time Olympian Lacuna capped a remarkable five year stint in the UAAP by collecting his 33rd individual gold medal in the 200m butterfly with a record-breaking performance. His time of 2:02.69 broke his old mark of 2:03.93 established in his debut season back in 2014.
Lacuna also had two relay golds to his name for a total of 35 gold medals in the UAAP, the most any participant in the UAAP can get. He was also named this season’s Most Valuable Player, his fourth in five years.
DLSU’s super-rookie Sacho Ilustre continued to challenge Lacuna by clocking in at 2:05.96 in the 200m butterfly to collect his fifth silver medal. All his silver medals were in events Lacuna swam in. UP’s Andrae Pogiongko took the bronze medal in 2:12.77.
Batungbacal also made his final day in the UAAP memorable by topping the 200m breaststroke at 2:21.75, and the 1500m freestyle with a new UAAP record time of 16:35.33, resetting his old 16:42.42 record.
He also graduates as the most-decorated athlete in modern UAAP history by bagging his ninth overall championship with the same university – four with the Ateneo Juniors’ squad in its 11-title reign and five with the seniors’ team.
Ateneo’s own super-rookie Ianiko Limfilipino tried to stay close to Batungbacal in both the 200m breaststroke (2:24.62) and 1500m freestyle (17:02.17) to collect his third and fourth silver medals. Another DLSU rookie Yuri Ilustre, who happens to be Sacho’s cousin, and UST’s former rookie of the year Jux Solita, brought home the bronze medals in the 200m breaststroke (2:28.00) and the 1500m freestyle (17:27.94), respectively.
In the other events of the final day, Red Silvestre of DLSU flexed his muscles in the sprint events by ruling the 50m backstroke (27.88 seconds) and 50m freestyle (24.35 seconds) while the 400m medley relay team of Aki Cariño, Carlo Silva, Getty Reyes, and Jethro Chua pocketed the gold with a new UAAP record to boot as they finished in 4:03.49.
DLSU rookies Christian Sy (28.26 seconds) and Jexter Chua (28.46 seoconds) finished the 50m backstroke in second and third place, respectively. Ateneo’s Drei Buhain (24.58 seconds) took the silver in the 50m freestyle to sneak past Sacho Ilustre (24.60 seconds), who finished 3rd. In the 400m medley relay, UST landed second at 4:04.72, while UP were third at 4:04.80.
Although there were numerous rookies who made waves this season, it was Sacho Ilustre who claimed the Rookie of the Year award for collecting five silver medals and 2 bronze medals.
While Ateneo enjoy their fifth straight UAAP championship in Season 81, it is DLSU and their slew of top caliber rookies who are considered as favorites to finally dethrone the champions in the 82nd UAAP season. Ateneo are set to rebuild their swimming program after the graduation of a number of their mainstays.
Jessie Lacuna (ADMU) – 105
Aldo Batungbacal (ADMU) – 95
Sacho Ilustre (DLSU) – 80
Ianiko Limfilipino (ADMU) – 69
Christian Anor (UST) – 51
ADMU – 475
DLSU – 380
UST – 182
UP – 173
UE – 24