After sacrificing his body through the entire course of the Finals, Matt Nieto was filled with emotions as he looked at the gold medal resting on his chest.
“Mission accomplished,” the third-year Atenean said after the Blue Eagles’ 88-86 triumph over the defending champions, De La Salle University.
The championship was the result of all the blood, sweat, and tears that the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles had shed all throughout the year. And they were sorely tested during a highly-physical and emotional best-of-three Finals series against arch-rivals DLSU Green Archers.
Game after game, players from both squads went home with cuts, scratches, bruises, and sore muscles. But for Nieto, he sees his battle scars as a reminder of this specific fighting moment.
“About the physicality of the game, there’s a saying that there’s a battle in every scar. Whenever we see a scar, we always remember this moment, this moment that we never backed down to anyone, especially to La Salle,” the 19-year-old reflected.
“We stood our ground.”
After he was left bloodied during Game One as a result of defending against La Salle’s Ben Mbala, he clearly made a statement that he is willing to sacrifice his body for the Ateneo community. In the end, it was all worth it, as they brought back the trophy to Loyola Heights after five long years.
“We have to take the Ateneo community for always believing in us,” the 6-foot-1 guard experessed.
“It really meant a lot to us because when you believe in something, you’re already halfway there.”
Nieto delivered all season long, capped with an impressive Finals stat line of 9.67 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.67 assists, and 1.33 steals per game. Orchestrating stellar play after stellar play, Nieto has evolved to Ateneo’s lead floor general.
Now that their mission is accomplished, he will take time to relish his first championship experience and gun for his second next season.
“We’ve been through a lot. All the doubts, all the haters, and we’re glad that as a team, we all proved them wrong and we just stuck to one another,” said the second generation Blue Eagle.
“All the goals, all the dreams, we made it. It’s all worth it.”