Losing Southeast Asian Games silver medalist and last season’s Most Valuable Player Alven Alcantara seemed just a small hiccup to the campaign of the National University Bulldogs, as the remaining members and their blue-chip recruits showed up when it mattered most.
The result was a second consecutive UAAP title, capped a sweep of the last five series and a dominant showing past the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and De La Salle University Green Jins, Friday at the Blue Eagle Gym in Quezon City.
This is NU’s third championship of the season.
After suffering a shocking loss to the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in their very first match of the title defense, the Bulldogs regrouped and got their bearings.
Team captain Raymond Caño shared, “Yung unang laro namin, ako readyng-ready, pero hindi ko alam kung bakit kami natalo. Siguro yung teammates ko na-pressure. Pero next game bumawi kami, kasi hindi namin kaya na hindi makuha yung championship.”
From there, the Bulldogs took control of their fate, brushing aside potential title rivals with crushing score lines. And after breaking from a quadruple tie for first place after the second day, the title was not going anywhere but back to Bustillos.
At the forefront of the dominant run for the Blue and Gold is prized recruit Kurt Bryan Barbosa, who copped both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, taking the finweight category by storm.
Also taking a gold for the champions are graduating senior Caño in the welterweight. Silvers also went the way of their teammates Dave Cea (middle/heavyweight), Joseph Chua (featherweight), and Diether Baylon (bantamweight).
Traditional powerhouse UST Tiger Jins fended off UP in their final match of the season to reclaim the second spot.
Graduating senior JM Ramos led the Tiger Jins with the gold in lightweight, with former MVP Aries Capispisan taking a bronze for his swan song in the middle/heavyweight. Fellow senior Isaiah Lorbes in welterweight and rookie John Marcos in finweight were the two other bronze medalists for the España-based side.
Making a huge return to the podium after a disappointing last-place finish last year, the University of the East paraded a complete lineup this time.
Juniors standouts Lawrence Borres, John Paul Canillo, and Lawrence Omega made their rousing seniors debuts to revive the school’s program. Borres bagged the silver in flyweight, and the latter two finished with bronzes in lightweight and featherweight, respectively.
The seniors of the UP Fighting Maroons, on the other hand, led the squad with graceful exits with three medals.
Former captain Karlos Gaerlan and outgoing skipper Joko Silverio took home the silvers for lightweight and welterweight, respectively, while Josiah Cabanag rounded up flyweight’s podium.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year Alvaro Aranton carried the fight for La Salle with a dominant performance for the gold in middle/heavyweight punctuated via a sudden death point round win over Cea. Gian Guttierez showed that he was an able substitute to reigning finweight champion Carlo Dionisio with a silver in the said weight class.
For their part, the Blue Eagle’s stint at the mat gave them three golds, with rookie Harley Santos showing up with a notable performance for the finweight gold.
Graduating senior and national team standout Aaron Agojo and second year player Paul Cham also got the mints in bantamweight and featherweight, in that order.
Featherweight bronze medalist Cuper Edera then brought event hosts Far Eastern University something to cheer about.
Caño was proud of how the Bulldogs responded to eventually retain the crown, saying, “Siguro na-overcome na rin ng teammates namin ‘yung mga mali nila. Kaya nagsipag-adjust sila. Mahalaga kasi ‘yung bawat panalo ng bawat isa sa team namin, kaya ganon.”
The outgoing captain also believes that his other teammates will step up after the departure of seniors – namely himself, Cea, Baylon, and Alfred Avila – in order for them to make a three-peat possible.
“Paghahanda namin ‘to as challenger kami. ‘Yung kukunin pa lang namin ‘yung title. ‘Yun ang ipapaisip ko sa mga matitira.”