The last decade saw the rise of the Phenoms at Ateneo de Manila University.
It all started when former Ateneo High School head coach Jamike Jarin christened Kiefer Ravena as “The Phenom”.
“I was the one who told everyone that this kid is special,” recalled Jarin back in 2013.
“Eventually everyone started calling him a Phenom. He was special.”
Then came a wave of transcendent athletes that donned the blue and white.
There’s Alyssa Valdez of Women’s Volleyball (2010), Bianca Carlos of Women’s Badminton (2013), Marck Espejo of Men’s Volleyball (2013), Jessie Lacuna of Men’s Swimming (2014), Jarvey Gayoso of Men’s Football (2016), and Maxine Esteban of Women’s Fencing (2018).
But who among them is the best Phenom ever?
For Ravena and Valdez, the answer is easy: Marck Espejo, hands down.
“Ako naniniwala ako ito rin isasagot ni Alyssa, the best Phenom ever sa Ateneo si Marck Espejo,” opined Ravena during the Prospects Pod, presented by SMART Sport and supported by Chris Sports.
“Si Marck Espejo talaga kasi wala ng makakagawa ng limang beses ka nag-MVP.”
“Sobrang agree,” said Bea de Leon.
Just how rare is the five-for-five club in the UAAP? Only two other student-athletes have achieved that feat — Grand Master John Paul Gomez of the DLSU Green Woodpushers, and Luica Dacanay of UP Women’s Swimming.
Ella De Jesus recalled the time when the Lady Eagles first met Espejo in 2013. Back then, they already knew that he was going to be something special.
“Naalala niyo ba ‘yung pagpasok niya sa Ateneo, pilay pa siya?” recalled De Jesus, as Espejo broke his arm after a pick-up basketball game. “Sobrang tagal niya pa naka-training. Hindi namin siya nakikita ta’s nung pagkatanggal nung cast niya, bigla siyang nag-spiking.
“Nagulat tayo grabe bounce ng ball niya — abot sa ceiling ‘yung bola! Parang naglalakad sa ere si Marck ‘pag pinapanood mo. Parang ang dali-dali mag-volleyball.”
Though they fell to National University in the Finals of Season 76, Espejo powered the Blue Eagles to a three-peat.
But if there’s one flaw in Espejo, according to Valdez, it’s not winning the crown during his final year. Ateneo lost to NU in Season 80.
“Ang flaw lang ni Marck, hindi siya nanalo nung last year niya,” said Valdez, a two-time UAAP champion.
“Pero ‘yan ang mark ng totoong Phenom, hindi nacha-champion ng final year,” quipped two-time UAAP champ Ravena, since neither he nor Valdez were able to steer Ateneo to the championship during their final years of duty.
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