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Lea Inlayo: UP’s Badminton Wunderkind

Eleanor “Lea” Christine Inlayo is one of the more impressive newcomers in the UAAP 78 Women’s Badminton Tournament.

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Five rounds of the UAAP Badminton Tournament have passed, and a handful of rookie players have made their presence felt in Season 78 of the UAAP badminton tournament. One of the more impressive newcomers is from the UP Lady Fighting Maroons, Eleanor “Lea” Christine Inlayo.

The 17-year old Junior National Team Player, who hails from Angels of Mary Academy, Antipolo, displays versatility in all aspects of the sport and has the potential to be crowned both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

Mainly a doubles player with long-time partner UAAP Season 77 Women’s Badminton MVP Jessie Francisco, Lea has so far won all five of her doubles matches with Francisco this season without dropping a single set to any team. The closest the Inlayo-Francisco tandem had as a challenge was their match against DLSU’s Kristelle Salatan and Ysa Leonardo, 21-19 and 22-20, which played a crucial role in last Wednesday’s game, ultimately clinching the match for the Fighting Maroons.

Apart from her doubles assignment, Lea is also deployed as a singles player.

The Lady Maroon was tested in their first tie against FEU’s veteran, Hannah Tudtud in the Final Singles match and pulled through in a tight sets game 21-18, 22-20. The second tie showcased Lea’s true grit when she faced UST’s best, Anna Patricia Barredo. It was a tough hurdle as she dropped the opening set 14-21. However, she stormed her way back to win the second and third sets in close set scores, 23-21, 21-18. With the win, she drew attention as she was able to beat not only UST’s core player, but FEU’s as well.

On the third day, the tides turned against the Lady Maroon as her team faced the Lady Shuttlers from Taft, one of the top contenders this year. With the team ties clinched early, she was set to battle her fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Nicole Albo in the third singles match. Inlayo secured the first set, 21-19, but she was beginning to show signs of fatigue. The second set saw her trail and midway into the set, the match was halted by the officials as Inlayo sustained an open wound from a floor dive. The interval break was of no help for the Lady Maroon, as she further dropped the set and match through multiple errors. Despite the loss, the rookie continued to keep a positive mindset in the following days; and celebrated her well-earned points with a doubles victory against Adamson University on the fourth team tie. She also won both her designated matches against the University of the East the next day.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Lea Inlayo: UP’s Badminton Wunderkind

Ever the fighter, Inlayo keeps moving forward; well aware that the season is about to reach its climax, with more matches to play, and more points to celebrate.

Badminton Journey

Lea inherited her passion for badminton from her family. The rookie started playing badminton at the age of 9, influenced by her mom, who was once a competitive player herself. Liza Inlayo, Lea’s mother shared with Tiebreaker Times “[Noong] maliit lang siya, sama-sama ko lang siya ‘pag naglalaro ako. Siyempre wala naman akong katulong, eh ‘di binibitbit ko [siya]. Kapag walang tao sa court, sabi niya ‘mama palo tayo’, papaluan ko siya, ang liit pa niya. Palo-palo ayun, hanggang sa nagustuhan na niya.”

The rookie even recalled the moment when she found her calling. “Naalala ko pa noon, pag kahawak ko palang ng unang racket, na-inlove na agad ako sa badminton, as in na-addict maglaro.” Since then, she began to play the sport constantly and participated in intramurals until she transitioned to train in a competitive level.

“May nagsabi sa ‘kin nung mga kalaro ko, ‘uy may potential nakakapalo’, ‘yun talagang nakakapalo siya ng bola. Sabi ko sige, so ayun pina-training ko siya. Training nang saglit, tapos ang pinakaunang tournament niya ay ang Toby’s 10-under. Nag runner-up kaagad siya, unang-unang sali niya ‘yon. Tapos ayun nagtuluy-tuloy na. Toby’s sa SM Megamall, kaya nagdire-diretso na, sunod Yonex.” her mother shared.

Truly, Lea is destined to excel in the sport. She took her family’s enthusiasm to heart and incorporated it into her training, to become one of the strongest competitors to date. Her mom elates, “iba talaga siya eh. Nasa puso niya ang paglalaro niya ng badminton. Kaya gusto niya, kahit nahirapan na siya sa training.”

Inspiration to the game

Lea confided to Tiebreaker Times that her greatest inspiration and support all throughout her badminton career is her mother, Liza Inlayo, who is often seen watching from the bleachers area and cheering for UP, but most of all for her daughter. “My mom, siya ang strength ko and inspiration every time nahihirapan ako, or gusto ko nang sumuko sa hirap ng training and problems sa school. Iisipin ko lang siya and kakausapin, nagkakalakas na agad ako. Dine-dedicate ko lahat ng games ko sa kanya. As in lahat para sa kanya.”

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Lea Inlayo: UP’s Badminton Wunderkind

Her mother reiterates that aside from being a Lady Maroon, Lea is also a member of the national team. Due to the constant training involved, it is required for the players to live in Rizal Memorial Badminton Hall dormitories. And for a mother, it is an ordeal to give her child independence at a young age.

In spite of all her worries and doubts, Mrs. Inlayo is overjoyed about her daughter’s progress as an athlete. “Basta ang sa akin lang, naglalaro akong badminton nagustuhan niya, sige go! Suportahan ko lang siya, pero di ko rin akalain na mas mararating niya yung na di namin inaakala. Nagpa-Palarong Pambansa siya, lahat, kaya akala namin ‘yun lang, ito na of course ‘yung UAAP. “

UP Student-Athlete Life and UAAP so far

Being the top Junior Player in the country is an honor, but it also comes with some tough compromises: particularly, the decision of where to pursue college. Lea, beforehand, had already instilled in herself that she desired to go to State U. “Dream school ko na din kasi ang UP eh, siyempre UP [ang] number one school sa Pilipinas.” Apart from UP, there were other universities such as DLSU, ADMU and NU, who also caught sight of the wunderkind and invited her to be part of their respective teams. However, her choosing to join the Maroon squad was resolute.

When asked about how it feels to be an student-athlete, she exclaims “Fun! Pero mahirap at the same time and kabado lagi pag pumapasok, siguro freshie feels talaga.”

On the other hand, playing in big tournaments is not a new thing for Lea, as she has already represented the country many times before. Recently, she competed in the Australian Junior Championship under 19; and together with the Junior Philippine National Team, brought home the Championship trophy. However, she expressed that playing in a collegiate level remains to be a completely different endeavor. “Sobrang saya as in, [kung] i-compare ko ito sa International. Parang mas iba maglaro eh, ang sarap.”

Armed with experience from playing in the international circuit, Lea feels she all set to compete in the senior leagues, “Okay naman siya, kasi naglalaro din kami ng open tournament sa international. Sobrang tulong nun kasi, unlike sa international players sa pagkalaban mo iba talaga, as in iba. So parang dito madali nang mag-adjust ‘pag dito na sa UAAP or National Tournament.”

Lea challenges herself to push harder in training stating “lumalaban akong Rookie of the Year eh! And sana swertehin, MVP.” Also, she added that the team’s goal this season is mainly the Championship, “Lahat kami gusto mag back to back champion” she said. Garnering a talented crop of players, it’s evident that UP is a favorite this season; and with Lea on board, they are ready to defend their Champion throne in the UAAP Women’s Badminton division.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Lea Inlayo: UP’s Badminton Wunderkind

Awards and Achievements

2014 Batang Pinoy National, Singles and Doubles Champion
March 2014 7th Prima Pasta Open-Doubles Champion
May 2014 Palarong Pambansa-Doubles and Team Champion
May 2014 Philippine National Games-Open Doubles Champion
August 2014 Sun Cellular National Juniors-Doubles Champion
December 2014 Bingo Bonanza National Open-Mixed Doubles Champion
December 2014 Sun Cellular National Finals-Doubles Champion
February 2015 8th Prima Pasta National Open-Doubles Champion
August 2015 OUE Li-ning Singapore Open-Mixed Doubles Bronze
September 2015 Victor Australian Junior-Doubles Champion Mixed Doubles Runner-Up

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