For the second straight year, the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons will compete in the UAAP Women’s Football Tournament finals. Season 78 has been a rocky campaign for the Lady Maroons, with injuries and inconsistency plaguing them, but they deservedly found a way to join the De La Salle University Lady Archers in the finals.
Last April 16, 2016, UP secured their finals slot at the expense of the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles, in which third year forward BG Sta. Clara played a crucial role. Sta. Clara scored two goals, which were enough to eliminate Ateneo and clinch the three points needed to get to the finals.
“Nung first half sobrang nag-relax kami. Kaya sana kaya lang medyo nga nag-relax kaya yun. Tapos nung kinausap kami ni coach after ng first half, bigla kami natauhan so pagka second half laban kaagad. Dapat maka-goal kaagad para after nun hindi kami masyado mapagod kasi nasa sa amin yung game. Parang kaya naman yung game”, Sta. Clara said after the match.
Ateneo were on the front foot until halftime. The break came at a good time for UP, and they immediately started the second half strongly. Sta. Clara scored her first goal within minutes after the resumption of play. She shared, “Yun yung sabi ni coach (Anto Gonzales) na kailangan kaagad maka-goal kasi must-win talaga para maka-abot daw ng finals. As in diretso na finals. Yun din yung nasa isip ko din na kailangan manalo kaya laban lang ng laban.”
Doubts were raised over UP before their game against Ateneo. Kali Huff was still out with injury and Mary Rose Obra was suspended for the game. Sta. Clara, though, didn’t shirk from the challenging circumstances. “Inisip ko kasi si Mary (Obra) nawala so parang ‘pano to?’ kasi makuulangan kami sa forwards, kailangan siya. Tapos importante na lumaban ako kasi isa din ako sa maaasahan din sa (team) kaya binigay ko na lang din lahat.”
Nevertheless, Sta. Clara hesitated to accept praise. “Sa akin hindi ko naman ine-expect na magiging isa ako sa ganyan. Parang yung nasa isip ko talaga makatulong sa team, makapunta kami ng finals tsaka mag-champion.”
When the final whistle blew, relief and ecstasy were etched on the Lady Maroons’ faces. UP had another go at the title and were just one win away from winning their inaugural cup. “Sobrang saya. Sobrang saya as in hindi naman sa hindi ine-expect pero parang nasa isip na namin ‘champion’ ganun kaya kailangan talaga maka-abot ng finals Sobrang saya talaga namin nanalo kami ngayon,” Sta. Clara said.
UP have their work cut out for them if they want to be champions. The currently-undefeated La Salle will be their opponents on May 5, 2016 (Thursday) at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila for the title. However, one thing which might be in the Lady Maroons’ favor is that they’re the only squad who has forced the Lady Archers to drop points in both teams, 2-2, draw this second round. Sta. Clara said, Ok siya kasi may chance talaga kami mag champion. Dahil hindi naman sa malakas ang kalaban, kaya namin kalabanin sila.”
One Lady Archer the Lady Maroons have to watch out for is rookie midfielder Sara Castañeda. Castañeda has been amazing this Season 78 and is a shoo-in for numerous individual awards. Castañeda, though, was marked well by the Lady Maroons in the aforementioned game. Sta. Clara admitted, “Yun yung goal talaga ni coach na kailangan ma-bantayan si Sara kasi siya yung key player ng La Salle. Isa siya sa mga key players kaya pinabantayan talaga siya nang husto kahit hindi mismo sa aming bantay, kailangan naming tulungan kung sinoman ang pinapabantay na tao.”
Sta. Clara felt that she and the rest of the Lady Maroons have had a successful Season 78 campaign; they have reached the finals, and she believes it is because of how hard they’ve worked. Nonetheless, she is under no illusions of what needs to be done come the finals against La Salle. “Sa finals siyempre yun na talaga yung pinaka-big na game so kailangan ibigay na ang lahat, ibubuhos na ang lahat. Buwis buhay kung kailangan. Sana manalo.”
La Salle’s dominance this Season 78 names them favorites for the championship. At the end of the day, though, this is football, and UP have every chance to send La Salle into meltdown with an upset on Thursday. Expect Sta. Clara to be one of the key cogs of a potential UP title win.