Following National University’s third straight UAAP Women’s Basketball crown, there were questions marks as to who would lead the Lady Bulldogs following the graduation of Perlas Pilipinas stalwarts Afril Bernardino and Gemma Miranda.
While NU’s twin towers of Jack Aminam and Rhena Itesi were expected to provide the backbone for the Lady Bulldogs’ quest for a fourth consecutive title, observers pondered as to who would be the spark which would guide them this time around.
The answer wasn’t that hard to find nor long to solve as she showed glimpses of it in a heroic bailout for the Lady Bulldogs when she sunk two unanswered clutch threes in NU’s Season 79 Finals Game One victory against the De La Salle University Lady Archers.
Ria Nabalan was the hero that day and she is the spark which could enlighten NU’s path for another gold medal this Season 80.
“Kailangan ko maging isa sa mga leader sa team namin. Nakaka-pressure pero (naagapan) naman kasi sumusunod ang mga teammates ko. Pag nag-uusap kami madali na labanan ang pressure kahit sa loob ng court,” explained the soft-spoken Nabalan who has averaged 14.6 points alongside 6.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists after eight games in Season 80.
The fourth-year guard recently earned a triple-double of 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against the FEU Lady Tamaraws last October 18 at Ateneo de Manila University’s Blue Eagle Gym and could have seized one earlier versus the UST Growling Tigresses last September 20 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena when she made 17 markers, 11 boards and nine assists.
NU mentor Pat Aquino shared, “She’s been great. When you see her in practice, she’s incredible. I believe in her. The team believes in her. Without her teammates, the compliments, and everything, she won’t be like this.
“The thing is it’s not naman na binibigay lang namin sa kanya. She’s doing it on her own and that’s good for me. Sana continue on,” added the concurrent Perlas Pilipinas coach.
The Lady Bulldogs are yet to lose a game this season after eight fixtures and their unbeaten streak has extended to 56 games. “Siyempre masaya kasi worth it yung mga sacrifices namin sa training,” commented the Sports and Wellness student.
Nevertheless, Nabalan understood that the conquest for another championship hasn’t been fulfilled yet. “Siguro focus lang sa training. Kung ano lang gusto ipagawa ni coach, susundin lang namin para magawa namin yung gusto namin sa court,” said the Season 77 Rookie of the Year.
Nabalan has shown tremendous improvement ever since her title-winning cameo in Season 79. There are still six games left in the elimination round. Who is to say the Manilena couldn’t improve on her already spectacular showings?