MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo’s famous “Fab Five” were in full force Saturday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena as they watched the Lady Eagles finally achieve historic first for their school when they defeated La Salle to claim the UAAP Season 76 women’s volleyball title.
Gretchen Ho, Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer and A Nacachi were all key members of the past two editions of the Lady Eagles. They made the finals in Seasons 74 and 75, but lost to La Salle both times.
On Saturday, they celebrated with the Lady Eagles on the court and inside the locker room after Ateneo wrapped up a three-set victory over La Salle that allowed them to complete an upset win over the three-time defending champions.
“Nasundan mo ‘yung journey nila, so sobrang proud talaga ako,” said Cainglet. “Nakakaiyak, kasi ang ganda nung laban, ang ganda nung pinagdaanan nila. Nung sinabi ng announcer na UAAP champion na nga ‘yung Ateneo, I think everyone was so proud. The whole Ateneo community was so proud of the girls.”
Ferrer, who lauded rookie setter Jia Morado repeatedly, said she was especially proud to see the Lady Eagles finally win and start a legacy of their own.
“We’re super proud of the girls kasi parang tinapos nila… well actually, hindi pa nga tapos eh,” she quickly amended. “Ipagpapatuloy nila kung ano ‘yung nasimulan namin.”
“Sobrang proud kami, and at the same time, sana may natutunan sila sa amin tsaka ‘yung experience last year, ‘yung championship experience last year, natutunan nila ngayon kung ano ‘yung mali namin dati,” added Ferrer, a two-time UAAP Best Setter.
Gervacio, meanwhile, was at a loss for words to explain Ateneo’s rise to the championship, especially as they had to win five do-or-die games to do so.
“Sobrang insane,” said Gervacio. “As in, five elimination games, and one-by-one, they won. Little by little, tinapos nila ‘yung game. Sobrang lost for words talaga.”
Nacachi, for her part, said playing with no pressure worked wonders for the young Lady Eagles.
“Kahit sabihin natin na (they were) against a much more experienced na team, makikita mo na hindi nila iniisip ‘yun,” said Nacachi. “Iniisip lang nila, maglaro ng walang pressure. Kaya siguro, noong nasa dulo na, wala masyadong pressure on their part kasi naglaro lang sila.”
Ho believes the philosophies taught by the new Ateneo coach, Tai Bundit, played a major role in their run to the title.
“Coach Tai really put in the right ingredients with this team,” said Ho. “Coach Tai taught them those three (things) – happy, which is just to play passionately, love what you’re doing, have fun inside the court, and don’t forget the purpose.”
“Unity, meaning team work, and that you can’t win alone. And ‘heart strong,’ meaning to just keep fighting, even if you’re losing or if people are saying that you’re not gonna win, you just go agains that,” she added.
“’Yun ‘yung tatlong things na talagang pinasok nila sa puso nila, inembody nila. Hindi rin nila alam, nagta-transform na pala ‘yung team.”
Though the Lady Eagles made history without them, Ho says she has no regrets.
“Noong time ko, binigay naman namin ang lahat,” she said. “Parang, it was the circumstances. Marami kaming pagkukulang, na na-solusyunan nila this year. It’s just a team that keeps on getting better every year.”