After being inactive for three years due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAAP Season 85 Men’s Football Tournament returned with a bang and it had University of the East forward Jerome Abarca to thank for it.
Abarca, who hails from Butuan City in Agusan del Norte, had a memorable opening day performance as he scored thrice in the Red Warriors’ 5-1 stunner at the expense of the De La Salle Green Archers.
The 20-year-old forward scored in the 15th, 30th, and 38th minutes to give UE a dream start to its campaign.
“Unexpected po kasi first game po namin sa UAAP. Feeling ko po is pinagsikapan talaga na makuha yung goal na, as a striker, maka-score for our team,” said Abarca.
“For me, sa training, wala talaga akong finishing. For this game, sobrang saya ko kasi… pasa talaga (galing) sa teammate ko kaya nakuha ko yung goal na tatlo. Tapos swerte talaga. Naka chamba lang.”
Truly, life can be funny at times. Despite misfiring in practice, the business management student suddenly scored a hattrick amidst the defensive failings of the Green Archers.
For coach Fitch Arboleda, Abarca’s exploits came from the prodigy’s hard work. It is not every day that a player scores a hattrick, especially in his collegiate debut and the Agusan National High School alumnus showed that perseverance will lead to something great.
“Very lucky yung isa kong player, si Abarca, number 30. Talagang pinagtiyagaan ko yan for the whole week. Kahit nung isang araw, hindi pa yan maka-shoot so medyo swerteng-swerteng bata ngayong araw,” said Arboleda.
“Yung batang kasing yan from Butuan, sipag lang yung puhunan. Technically, okay. Ginagawan ko talaga siya ng paraan, tinututukan sa training. Talagang sobrang swerte lang.
“Kahit nung isang araw lang, sabi ko na naiinis talaga ako sa kanya kasi sa training nasa bunganga nga ng goal, hindi niya talaga ma-shoot. Ngayon, bago mag-start ng game, nagbiro lang ako sa kanya kagabi. Sabi ko kahit maka-shoot ka lang, happy na ako. (Ngayon), naka-shoot, nakatatlo so sinwerte kase masipag na bata,” he continued.
On his end, Abarca just tried to do everything he learned from Arboleda. Strikers need to exploit gaps to find openings to shoot and the neophyte did just that.
He made it a point to penetrate areas in the final third that were unmarked by the Green Archers’ defenders. And boy did he earn his stripes in doing so.
“Sinabi kasi ni coach na dapat sa depensa nila, nasa in between sa kanila para may open space para when I’m running sa diagonal or in between pa sa mga kasama ko, lagi akong aware kung saan ako pabor like may space ako for shooting sa goal,” he said.
Ultimately, this was just the first game of the season. There will be 11 more games to go for the Red Warriors in their quest to make it to the postseason.
Hopefully, though, this will be the start of what could be an amazing campaign for Abarca and his teammates.
“Se generation namin ngayon, we work hard para sa goal namin maging Final Four. I will do my best to score pa rin para sa team,” he closed.