After the final whistle was blown and the University of the Philippines had clinched its first-ever UAAP Women’s Football title, it dawned on everyone that the UAAP careers of a handful of girls in maroon and white have ended.
Last year the atmosphere was totally different for the Lady Maroons. It had been full of pain, of sorrow. As graduating midfielder Christille Ardiente put it, “Masakit, kasi pinaghirapan namin yun.”
Batchmate Molly Manalansan even admitted that they hadn’t been able to watch a game for almost half a year. “It was just so hurtful for us,” the defender said.
At the back of their minds, however, Ardiente, Manalansan, and even the whole team only thought of one thing. Manalansan best put it into words: “We couldn’t wait for the next season.”
True enough, the team worked hard during the off-season; recruiting several new players, participating in different tournaments, and getting their groove on for the then upcoming UAAP season. Nevertheless, it was not smooth-sailing going into the season. One of their brother-in-arms, men’s team’s Rogie Maglinas, succumbed to rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
The demise of Maglinas inspired the girls to work harder to get that championship for the his memory and legacy. Ardiente said, “Dahil kay Rogie, nainspire kami lahat, lumaban kami lahat para sa kanya.” Fellow senior midfielder Martha Dagdag also shared that how she was on the pitch has been inspired of the work ethic of the former UP MFT winger. After all, Dagdag and Maglinas play the same position.
Months turned into days, days turned into hours, until it turned into seconds. The inevitable UAAP Season 78 then happened. After a rousing start of two wins, the Lady Maroons faltered in their next two matches. Also, during the first round match against Far Eastern University, third-year winger Kali Huff suffered a freak injury that put her on the sidelines. Worse, the UP Oval, where the team has been training, was dug up as the construction of the new football field has started.
However, these obstacles only strengthened their belief that they could make it all the way. The most important factor in this faith is their head coach, Anto Gonzales. Ardiente believes it was Gonzales’ presence that changed the culture and mentality of the team that had suffered so many heart breaks and last-place finishes before. She said, “Simula nung nag-coach si Coach Anto sa amin, parati niyang sinasabi sa amin na, ‘Tiwala lang sa sarili, naniniwala kami sa inyo.’ Para din yung every game, hindi lang panalo yung nasa utak namin, how to improve every game, yun lang.”
Little by little, UP were able to turn things around; having needed only a win against Ateneo to return to the Finals, they did just that. Senior goalkeeper AJ Javier confirmed that they had talked about their problems after the second round draw with De La Salle University. She said, “Di pa kami sure sa Finals, so kami, ginawa namin kailangan naming (gawin, para) manalo against Ateneo. Achievement na naka-abot kami sa Finals.”
Fast forward to May 5 and after 90 minutes or so, UP finally laid their hands on the elusive women’s football title. When asked to comment on the match, eventual Most Valuable Player Manalansan said, “This is the hardest game ever. We couldn’t beat La Salle. We lost then, we had a draw. I guess this was the perfect time that we won. Nothing worth it comes easy.”
For Ardiente, the championship was a fulfillment of a promise they had made last year. She shared, “Kasi last year dapat ibibigay namin to sa mga seniors namin. So, sinabi namin, ‘Babawi kami this year.’”
And with the thought of the “dark ages” and the past, Javier even commented, “Sinabi ko na, sayang naman, ayaw na naming matalo. By this time, pagod na kaming matalo, ilang beses na kaming natalo, ilang beses na yung downside namin, so this time, ito na yung year namin.”
Unfortunately, it was the last hurrah for Manalansan, Ardiente, Dagdag, along with Kathy Orsolino. The UAAP Season 78 MVP, however, is proud of what her batchmates and fellow seniors have done. Manalansan said it was the leadership of the seniors that was key to their title run. “Usually we only looked up to the Captain, but now our batchmate (Cristina de los Reyes) is our Captain and so we all had to help her. We (seniors) helped her, the team helped her.” The graduating defender and Ardiente are both of the opinion that the greatest legacy they have left the team is this maiden crown for UP.
As they go on to other pastures, Manalansan looks ahead for the future of the squad. “I believe the team will still be in good hands,” she said. She also added, “The rookies played well, and even the subs can perform well.”
It is also welcoming news that the undoubted heroine of the Finals win, keeper Javier, might come back next year. “I say, it’s 80-20 (to stay),” she said. Javier explained, “Graduating na kasi ko, pero may isang taon pa ko [sa UAAP]. Baka mag-Masters ako [para makalaro].” The goal marshal also said that De Los Reyes is also thinking of playing another year. The Team Captain is also at the tail end of her Industrial Engineering degree.
From wooden spoons to the first-ever UAAP title, UP WFT’s Batch 11 have seen everything. There might be more in those tears they shed when they hear the last final whistle of their UAAP career – maybe joy (for winning it all), maybe relief (for FINALLY getting the title), maybe anxiety (for the team they will be leaving behind). Whatever it is, they left an imprint on the minds and hearts of the whole UP community as they ended our longing for a women’s football crown.