After years of coming close, the National University men’s table tennis team finished the way they started UAAP Season 80 to finally clinch that coveted first-ever championship.
Right at the start of the season, the Bulldogs shocked defending champions University of Santo Tomas Tiger Paddlers with a 3-0 sweep — a sign of things to come.
And in the Finals, the Bustillos-based squad completed that turnaround, claiming UST’s throne after a 2-1 series win, Monday evening at the University of the Philippines Gym.
Once again, it was the Bulldogs who drew first blood in the championship showdown, after pocketing the first tie that morning. CJ Carrasco sealed the win in the fourth singles match, taking care of Chebuel Andaloc in three 11-6 games.
Nonetheless, the reigning champs poured it in the succeeding tie in the afternoon. With their backs against the wall, the España-based side found a hero in team captain Paul Que.
The fifth-year senior erased Carrasco’s Tie 1 heroics with a complete domination of the latter in the deciding singles match. Que clinched one for UST at 11-5, 11-6, 11-6.
However, National U’s date with destiny was inevitable and fittingly still fell at Carrasco’s hands.
Que stunned Jun Cubio in a marathon of a first singles match at 11-6, 7-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-8. The skipper’s win turned out to be the Tigers’ last growl for the season, as the Bulldogs slowly bite their way to the title afterwards.
Cubio’s teammate John Russel Misal, however, admitted that he felt down after the former’s loss. “Nung natalo siya, ang lungkot ko na.”
Despite playing with a heavy heart, Misal needed to play on. The result was a swift work of Shen Tunay at 11-4, 11-5, 11-5.
But the win afterwards turned out to be the clincher more than the boost. The doubles tandem of John Villalon and Jay Villamor surprised everyone in the Gym with a rousing win over Reymark Mabuang and Jericho Cruz at 12-10, 11-13, 11-9, 11-8.
“Nung nanalo yung doubles namin, na-shock ako,” Misal admitted. “Yung feeling ko tuloy ‘di ko na ma-explain; biglang tumaas ulit. Nagkaroon kami ng pag-asa, kaya yung last singles namin pinaluan ko na.”
Nonetheless, Carrasco said that there was no need for the fourth-year Misal to warm Mark Huab up, as he finished the tie on his own.
The fifth-year Carrasco went out in the UAAP with a bang, despite being notoriously known for his antics on the table. The Bulldog had to scrape past Nayre and completed the epic comeback at 8-11, 11-7 10-12, 11-4, 11-9 in the third singles match to formally clinch NU’s maiden men’s table tennis plum.
It was not easy as the competition was tough in the men’s division and the struggles to go over the hump, but the eventual Most Valuable Player Misal summed up everything perfectly.
“Lahat tayo dumadaan sa failure. Ang importante eh ‘yung matuto ka, para sa huli makuha mo naman yung success,” declared the champion.