There are athletes, then there are student-athletes.
During the past decade, the country saw special men and women serve their family, school, and country at the same time while also balancing academics. Whew!
Here are some of the best student-athletes from the decade that was.
Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team
Valdez, a proud daughter of Batangas who was then coming from UST’s powerhouse high school program, brought her innate prowess to Katipunan, donning the blue and white for Ateneo. She immediately made her presence felt in the collegiate landscape. But more than anything, she embraced a crucial role in transcending the sport to its current stature.
Her brand of volleyball caught the league and the country by storm. It was stellar and charismatic, drawing huge crowds to the games as her collegiate career unfolded. She then helped elevate the sport even further by simply laying it all on the line for Ateneo in the then-fledgling rivalry against La Salle, fueling the local scene like never before.
As the support began to flourish, Valdez slowly but surely cemented her reputation as one of the finest collegiate athletes. Her bemedaled stint as a Lady Eagle was a testament to that, after having earned a couple of titles for Ateneo, as well as three MVP trophies, multiple Best Scorer and Best Server recognitions, and a UAAP Athlete of the Year plum to boot. But her ascent was far from over.
Not to mention the fact that she has carried the flag and country behind her back on numerous occasions throughout the decade.
There’s no guarantee that Valdez will be the same dominant force for the years to come. But without a shadow of a doubt, she is the face of Philippine volleyball in the 2010s, and her story, as well as her contributions to the sport, will live on through the next generations.
DLSU Women’s Football Team
By: Lorenzo del Carmen
Because of the landscape of Philippine sports, a few individuals have to juggle life as a student in school, a varsity player and a national team athlete. Only a few get a chance to do so and less successful find ways of doing so. One player who proved that it is indeed possible to be all three is De La Salle University alumna Inna Palacios.
As a student-athlete of the Taft-based school, the 25-year-old finished with degrees in Sports Management and Psychology. She cemented her legacy as one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the institution’s football program with Beat Goalkeeper awards in UAAP Seasons 75, 77, 78 and 79 as well as a gold medal in her last playing year, which was memorable because she scored a penalty against UST to seal the championship for her alma mater.
In terms of being a national team player, the 5-foot-5 stopper competed in six international tournaments while being enrolled in school. These were the 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 editions of the AFF Women’s Football Championship, the 2013 SEA Games and the 2013 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualification tourney.
The fact that Palacios managed to accomplish her role inside the classroom and function on the pitch for school and country is a testament to her being a model student-athlete despite some personal setbacks that came her way such as injuries and the death of her grandmother. She demonstrated that success under both roles is indeed attainable if one puts in the work and sacrifice.
NU Women’s Basketball Team
A class above the rest during her final year in National University, Afril Bernardino almost produced the country’s first quadruple-double in 17 years back in 2016. Back in October 8, 2016, the 5-foot-7 guard tallied 22 points, 11 steals, 10 assists, and seven rebounds versus UST. Twenty-eight days later, Bernardino was at it again, this time scattering 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine steals.
Safe to say, she was the MVP of the season while leading the Lady Bulldogs to their third straight UAAP crown.
Outside of her collegiate endeavors, the native of Cainta, Rizal was also a pivotal part of the then-Perlas Pilipinas. She was instrumental in leading the national team to Level I status back in 2016.
And for the next decade, Bernardino will continue to be the face of Philippine women’s basketball.
UE Men’s Fencing Team
By: Aeron Valderrama
Starting the sport of fencing with virtually zero knowledge of it and with health conditions hampering his physical activity, Nathaniel Perez eventually rose as one of the best student-athletes of the decade.
With his success as high school fencer, Perez ultimately helped University of the East extend its dynasty in the UAAP. Gold medals here and there came the way of the fencing prodigy despite having to play in multiple weapons, sometimes all three, in single UAAP season.
Perez showed his potential early on winning both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in Season 75 at a very young age of 15. He then went on to win two more MVP titles in Seasons 77 and 78 and taking home five of the individual foil mints in his five years in the league. Moreover, he went home with championships every single season.
Nonetheless, his impact extended to the international level as he paced the Philippine team with successes at the regional and continental levels.
He almost made the quarterfinals of the 2014 Asian Games, placing 9th, but went on to build on this in his first foray in the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore the following year. The then-Financial Management junior went on to bag a silver and bronze in the team and individual foil events, respectively.
Queeny Sabobo and Dimpo Benjamen
Adamson Softball Team
For Adamson University, this decade can be separated into two — the 73-game winning streak era and the post-streak era. And two Lady Falcons made sure that even if the streak was broken, the championship tradition lives on.
Back in March 2, 2016, power hitter Queeny Sabobo and pitcher Dimpo Benjamen gave it their all to preserve the streak against University of Santo Tomas. Despite all their strength, the inevitable happened as the Lady Falcons lost, 2-6.
The two though did not let this loss get into their heads, leading Adamson to their sixth straight championship. Fittingly, Sabobo and Benjamen were named as the co-Finals MVP with the former also being hailed as the league’s Athlete of the Year.
The streak ended during their run but the two made sure that the championship rush continued for the next batches of Lady Falcons.
Besides their collegiate endeavor, the two were also part of the RP Blu Girls squad that won gold back in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
UP Taekwondo Team
By: Aeron Valderrama
When the UAAP decided to include poomsae as a regular medal event in UAAP Season 76, things looked well for University of the Philippines as it already had freshman and national team member Dustin Mella in their wings.
It has not been a smooth path for the poomsae prodigy as he later admitted his struggles of getting into the Philippine team just the year before. Nonetheless, with such a generational talent, the Fighting Maroons went on to succeed that year and especially in the years to come, with UAAP Season 77 ending with a very hard-fought championship.
Mella went on to win medals not just as a Maroon, but moreover as a national athlete.
The most notable of which is his three gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games in team male, all while dealing with the rigors of his Business Economics degree.
He also competed in the Asian and World level garnering success in the Asian Games, Asian Championships, Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, and even the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships.
FEU Men’s Track and Field Team
By: Aeron Valderrama
Jesson Cid, who has played basketball most of his childhood, never imagined that taking up another sport and excelling at it would ever happen, but it did. From his humble beginnings in Dingras, Ilocos Norte – a legend was born.
He entered Far Eastern University with passable credentials but went on to turn in exceptional results.
Despite having to deal with decathlon (ten events by itself) and several other individual events in the UAAP, Cid powered through it all as he eventually broke the decathlon record in 2011 with 6137 points and even taking the Most Valuable Player plums in 2010 and 2012.
Cid gradually developed being the ultimate all-around athletics athlete as he continued to improve in the decathlon, ending the 2011 Philippine National Games with a better 6287-point performance and eventually landed a spot in the national team.
The education major did not waste the opportunity and he ended with his biggest achievement as a student-athlete in the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Naypyidaw in Myanmar. In a day where the Philippines are struggling for medals, the then-22-year-old surprised everyone with his golden performance in the decathlon with a new Philippine record to boot at 7038 points.
And yes, the UAAP even created the Jesson Cid-rule that limits the number of events a trackster can compete per season.
Ateneo Men’s Swimming Team
Before even entering Ateneo, Lacuna was the youngest member of Team Pilipinas during the 2012 London Games. Then in his senior year, he made his return to the big stage during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In the UAAP, Lacuna was dominant, winning 35 golds in his five-year stay in Katipunan.
And rightfully so, he is the only three-time UAAP Athlete of the Year in history.
Ateneo Men’s Basketball Team
During his five-year stay in Ateneo, Kiefer never missed a Southeast Asian Games call-up, starting his national team career during his freshman year. He was just 18 years old then.
On the other hand, Thirdy was the youngest out of the 33 players that suited up for Gilas Pilipinas during the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. And this happened during his senior year in Ateneo.
In the collegiate level, Kiefer won two Regular Season Most Valuable Player crowns while Thirdy became the league’s first-ever three-time Finals MVP. Moreover, they were pivotal in five of the six championships won by the Blue Eagles this decade.
Definitely, the two brothers have a penchant for winning gold.
DLSU Women’s Table Tennis Team
By: Lorenzo del Carmen
Yanyan Lariba was a bonafide superstar for De La Salle University in the UAAP.
Lariba never lost a match in her five playing years for the Green and White and she earned the Season 74 Rookie of the Year gong, Most Valuable Player awards in Seasons 75, 77 and 78 alongside three championships and two silver medals.
Lariba was so talented that she was able to translate her domestic success to international glory. Alongside her schoolmate Jamaica Sy, she carried the Philippines to first place in Division 4 of the 2014 World Table Tennis Team Championships in Japan.
She was also a national team player in the 2013 and 2015 editions of the SEA Games while taking up a business degree.
Her exploits inspired her alma mater to retire her jersey posthumously.