MANILA, Philippines – More than a week after the event, members of the three-time defending champion University of the Philippines (UP) Pep Squad still cannot explain the stunning fall at the end of the routine in the UAAP Cheer Dance Competition last September 22 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The UP Pep Squad, with their heads shaved as a symbol of equality and freedom, were on their way to a much-coveted "perfect run" in their routine when a fall in their final stunt marred the performance, to the shock of the UP crowd.
"It was a 1-1-1 stunt," explained Louie Castro, who was involved in the stunt as a base. "Nesza (Salvador) was to be tossed up to the second layer, and a flag was supposed to be hoisted up."
"We were supposed to put up a UP flag. So we were disappointed that we couldn't hoist it up," he added.
Salvador, who last year won the "Stunner" award, said she felt something was wrong even as the toss and the catch were perfect.
"I felt that I was slowly being pushed," Salvador said. "The toss was perfect, the catch was perfect, but we were slowly moving."
Eventually, Salvador and Gabrielle Tuazon, who was also involved in the stunt, crashed to the MOA Arena floor. Undeterred, they immediately bounced back up and cheered on their teammates, who were able to perfect their own version of the stunt.
The fall was the only mistake in what was otherwise a flawless performance by the UP Pep Squad. They were still declared the winners of the competition, with the complexity of their freedom-themed routine allowing them to edge the Far Eastern University Cheering Squad.
It was the third straight title for UP Pep and their eighth overall.
But Salvador and Castro admitted that they were "super disappointed" with the fall and even now, they wonder why they were not able to complete the stunt.
"In training, we always get that perfectly," Castro said. "We only fell once or twice. And then, during the competition, we were confident that we could pull it off."
"We really don’t know what happened that day," he said.
"I was panicking, especially when I saw Abby (Tuazon) fall," Salvador said. "When I saw that she wasn't hurt, I said to myself, 'okay lang.' It was only after we performed that we realized that we fell."
Salvador said they were concerned that the fall would derail the Pep Squad’s chances of winning the crown. A penalty of five points is given for every major mistake.
"We thought of that, of course," she said. "But our coaches, when they were comforting us, they told us not to lose hope since the winners haven't been announced yet."
Even Nicolette Ambulo, who was declared as this year's "Stunner," said she did not believe the fall would derail their chances of winning.
"That fall in the last stunt did not affect the judges' impression," Ambulo said in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com. "Pero laging nakatatak sa utak namin na kahit ano man mangyari, it was God's will."
"May reason kung bakit may laglag, kung bakit hindi flawless ang routine at kung bakit kami nanalo," she added.
More than a week after the competition, both Salvador and Castro can look back at the mistake and reflect on what it meant for the squad.
"It was meant to be," Salvador said.
"May konting pampa-kaba sa amin," Castro added.
The UP Pep Squad are riding a new wave of popularity after their victory in the Cheer Dance Competition. They have appeared in various television shows and last Saturday, were part of the opening ceremony for Zac Efron’s Fan Conference at the MOA Arena, wherein they danced to the tune of High School Musical songs.
They have also appeared on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda" and "ASAP 2012." – With a report from Shiela Reyes, ABS-CBNnews.com.