MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED) In their preparation for the 2012 UAAP Cheer Dance Competition, three numbers stood out for the defending champion University of the Philippines (UP) Pep Squad and their supporters.
Eight. Three. One.
The campaign, launched last August 31, soon spread throughout the UP online community, with teachers, students and alumni adding the hashtag #831 or #make8happen to their tweets and Facebook posts.
The 831 campaign was released by the UP Pex Squad, a group of students and alumni who describe themselves as "hardcore fans" of the UP Pep Squad.
The campaign is simple: The UP Pep Squad is seeking its third straight title in the UAAP CDC, and its eighth overall.
Eighth title, three-peat, one squad. Eight, three, one.
"We've been training very hard, six hours a day to be able to really perfect our routine, and we're really preparing hard to defend our title," said UP Pep Squad captain Irish Planes.
Last season, the UP Pep Squad blew away the competition with a stunning, colorful, Madonna-inspired routine to take their second straight title. They had a nearly perfect run, with their stunts and choreography almost flawlessly executed.
The squad's shocking blonde hair-dos also became one of the most talked about topics during and after the competition.
But going for a three-peat would be more difficult, as many of the squad's veterans graduated last year.
"Medyo mahirap. Marami kaming ginawang mga adjustments, since maraming nag-graduate from last year, maraming nawala sa line-up namin," said Kiko Cortez, one of the squad's co-captains.
"At first, siyempre medyo kinabahan kami dahil maraming rookies," admitted Coach Pio Opinaldo. "Pero nakita namin na they pushed through, para ma-achieve nila yung ginawa nung mga pinalitan nila."
"We always remind them kung ano talaga 'yung level na kailangan nilang abutin para hindi magbago 'yung quality ng sayaw at ng skills na meron kami last year," Opinaldo added.
The squad believes that the key to retaining their title is to have a "perfect run."
"All we have to do is to have a perfect run in the competition," said Opinaldo.
It will be easier said than done. Another coach, NJ Antonio, said that as the competition date drew nearer, their training gets more intense as they increased the level of difficulty.
"We don't go with the norm," Antonio said. "Yung norman na nakikita sa cheerleading, hindi kami sumusunod doon."
"Yung requirements - stunts, gymnastic skills, pyramids, naka-bound siya doon sa rules. But we express our routine the UP way," he added.
For this season, the squad promises to show their trademark creativity and innovation when they take the stage on September 22 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"For now, I think we have a more creative choreography and more difficult stunts compared to last year's," said Trixie Segundo, another co-captain of the UP Pep Squad.
"Ang cheerdance kasi, unlike cheerleading na puro technicalities, ang cheerdance is more on dancing. Nakaka-express siya ng creativity ng bawat school," Planes explained.
"I think that's what we've been up to lately, and that's what we're really good at - at creating new and innovative routines," she added.
The squad got good reviews when they performed during their pep rally at the College of Human Kinetics Gym last Wednesday, but this only increased the pressure for the defending champions.
"We're more pressured to do a perfect run that claim a championship," Segundo said.
The UP Pep Squad figures to face strong competition from their rivals, the University of Santo Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe, who are raring to end their title drought.
Usually a lock for a podium finish, Salinggawi has not won the title since 2006 and has been left out of the top three twice in the past three years.
But the squad is not focusing on their competitors.
"Each squad is really a contender, and everyone is out to get us because they want to be able to beat the defending champions," Planes said. "Each squad has its own strengths."
"But we're just focusing on our own routine," added Cortez. "Kung paano namin mape-present sa crowd, at kuna paano mapapa-wow ang mga judges."
The UP Pep Squad will be the last group to perform on the UAAP Cheer Dance Competition on September 22 at the Mall of Asia Arena. The show will be broadcast live on Studio 23 at 2:00 p.m.