Sometimes it is better to take a look from the other side first.
After waiting a year for her time to shine, University of Santo Tomas’ Maylene Pailma pulled out all stops to claim the women’s individual sabre plum in just her second year for the Tigresses, last Thursday at the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym.
With the frequency of meeting the same crop of players in several tournaments, the Thomasian junior believed she could perhaps pull off an unexpected finish. She said, “Parang lumakas yung loob ko kasi lagi ko naman silang nakakalaban. Parang medyo alam ko na [yung laro nila].” Pailma started her Cinderella run after dropping just a bout in the pools en route to taking the top seed in the direct eliminations. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Nicole Courtey of University of the East, took the bottom half after finishing at second place to jump-start her title-retention bid.
One by one, the two top seeds overcome their opponents. Pailma easily tackled Justine Joseph of Ateneo de Manila University, 15-6, at the Last Eight. The Tigress then followed it up with a win with the same score line against Dolly Curiba of Far Eastern University. Curiba earlier got a free pass after Eileen De Guzman of UST abandoned their pairing due to injury.
At the other side, Courtey likewise posted two victories with exactly the same tally, 15-9, to get a chance at retaining the crown. The UE Lady Warrior first defeated the other Nicole, FEU’s Lanon in the quarterfinals. She then disposed of Kharyl Shoemaker of DLSU, who earlier stunned her schoolmate Allysa Celso, in the Final Four.
The reigning UAAP champion, Courtey, started the gold medal showdown with a 4-0 run on counter-attacks. As the second-year standout slowly built a sizeable lead, Pailma started to doubt her game. She recalled, “Natatakot na ko. Sino ba naman ang hindi matatakot?” But when she saw her teammates, her coaches, and her friends cheering and egging her on, it boosted her confidence. She then thought to herself, “bakit hindi na lang ako lumaban, andito na rin lang naman ako?” From there, Pailma rose like a phoenix coming out of the ashes and pulled off a miraculous run to level the bout at 14-all.
One last point was all either Courtey or Pailma needed to win the gold medal. It was either a repeat or a history. Both players then thought up strategies to get the winning point, and it was Pailma who initiated the attack. Nonetheless, the presider denied the first two attempts from UST and deemed them simultaneous with that of Cortey’s. “Isang light lang,” Pailma reminded herself. In the ensuing action, someone indeed took the single light – and it was the one who waited long for this. Pailma broke the monotony of the season and took UST’s first gold in the women’s division.
“Lakasan lang ng loob. Sa UAAP kasi, walang skils, skills; importante yung malakas ang loob,” Pailma said. And indeed her strong heart won her the crown.