MANILA, Philippines -- Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has greatly affected the Philippines, among the rest of the world, many of the country’s sporting leagues have been left with no choice but to postpone or cancel their tournaments.
For the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the decision to cancel its 82nd season completely came after the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon was extended until April 30th.
For a lot of the second-semester sport athletes, it meant an abrupt end to a tournament that they’ve been preparing for for months, which is the case for the participants of the UAAP football tournaments.
Already delayed two weeks due to an initial COVID-19 scare, the UAAP football tournaments lasted a total of three playdates.
“As a team we're all devastated, of course, that this is how our season had to end. Months of preparation and sacrifice for the UAAP season and we weren't able to play it out,” said AJ Arcilla, goalkeeper for the defending champion Ateneo de Manila University. “It's heartbreaking honestly, knowing that we won't be able to play the sport that we all love.”
Arcilla added that he was fortunate enough to be able to fly home to his family in California before travel bans and lockdowns were put in motion. With that, he sees a silver lining to the otherwise difficult situation.
“Personally, I was able to go home to my family in California and spend time with them, which is something I don’t get to do very often so I’m very grateful for that. I just hope and pray that everyone is able to spend time at home and stay healthy and safe despite the current situation.”
For Adamson University sophomore Rey Poncardas, what stings is the fact that the months of preparation have been all for naught.
“Siyempre nasasayangan ako, kasi almost one year 'yung paghihirap namin sa training, araw-araw gumigising nang maaga.”
Poncardas admits, however, that he saw the cancellation coming because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Expect ko din na maca-cancel 'yung season kasi palala ng palala 'yung virus eh.”
Now, with an extended off season in front of him, the second-year midfielder plans to work on improving himself for the coming season.
“Para sa akin, sakripisyo lang sa training and stay focused lang po palagi, disiplina sa sarili.”
While Ateneo’s Arcilla and Adamson’s Poncardas still have some playing years left on their UAAP careers, there are others who might be looking at the end of their days as collegiate athletes.
“Personally, I was quite disappointed when I heard the season won’t push through because I really wanted to leave the team with good results,” said senior University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons forward JB Borlongan. “But with what is going on right now, our number one priority is the safety of everyone so I just have to accept everything that’s happening.”
Borlongan was instrumental in UP’s last two title reigns in UAAP Season 78 and UAAP Season 80.
If this is indeed this is the end of the line for Borlongan in his college career, the two-time UAAP champion said he can hold his head high and be proud what he was able to achieve.
“Personally, I’m happy with what the team and I achieved during those 5 years. My most memorable moments with the team were Season 78 and 80 because I think those were the seasons were we played really well as a team and every game, we were really hungry to play,” Borlongan concluded.
Far Eastern University Tamaraws right back Martin Salilig was expecting the season to be cancelled, but admits that the news hit him differently once his expectations became reality.
“I was in my workout yesterday when I found out about the cancellation of UAAP Season 82. I was shocked and disappointed. Disappointed because of the situation and not because of the decision of the board,” Salilig explained. “Actually, I’m expecting that to happen, pero iba pala 'pag official cancelled na talaga. Sobrang sakit.”
It was all the more difficult for Salilig who had hoped his final year could have played out differently.
“It’s all about hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Me and the whole team gave it our all to show our best shot this season. I was not able to continue my workout because of sadness, naupo na lang ako sa sala, reminiscing all the memories I had with UAAP and with FEU.”
“Knowing it’s my last (year of) playing, it broke my heart so much because I know inside of me, I want to do more, I want to play more. It never came to my mind that I will end my UAAP this way. I don’t know what’s next but still hoping for a positive outcome. We still want to play,” Salilig continued.
Like Salilig, De La Salle University Green Archers team captain Jed Diamante was expecting for the worst, but actually hearing it happen was a different story.
“From the time the games were postponed due to the pandemic, you can’t avoid thinking about all the possible scenarios the tournament could take, and the cancellation was honestly one of those being considered.”
“However, mentally preparing ourselves for the decision of the board may not have been enough to prepare us from hearing the news because honestly it took us, especially the seniors, by surprise,” he continued. “I believe everyone has their own reasons for how they reacted to the news because we are all going through different situations amidst this global crisis.”
“Although disheartening as it may seem, the decision of the board may be what is best for everyone at this stage. What we're going through is beyond sports and I sincerely hope that everyone is safe and healthy wherever they may be,” Diamante continued.
Diamante hopes that fate would allow him to return to the pitch for one more season. If not, then he’s nothing but grateful for the opportunity and the experience.
“Hopefully it's not [my last year yet] but if it were, then what I can say is I enjoyed every second of [my UAAP career]. By being able to wear the Green and White alone opened so many opportunities for me to grow as a student-athlete and as a person.”
“I’ll also keep close to my heart the connections that were built throughout the years with my family on the field -- my teammates and coaches. I'm profoundly blessed to have experienced all the challenges and victories with this group of respectable and genuine men,” he added.
Because of his transfer to National University (NU), Bulldogs striker Rico Andes had to sit UAAP Season 81 out due to residency. In Season 82, he was supposed to be one of the focal points of a revamped NU side.
“Nanghihinayang ako lalo na’t last playing year ko na sa UAAP, at gusto ko rin sanang suklian 'yung NU sa binigay nila sa akin na opportunity,” Andes said. “Pero wala namang may gustong mangyari ito. Lahat ng teams naman ang naghanda nang ilang months at may gustong maabot this season, pero ngayon po, ang pinakaimportante ay ang kalusugan at kaligtasan ng lahat.”
“Nakakapanghinayang man pero alam kong ito ang ikabubuti ng lahat,” he added.
Because of the year off, Andes said that having the season end this way hurts a little more.
“[Sobrang sakit po]. Naghintay ako ng mahigit isang taon para bumawi at makabalik sa UAAP tapos ito pa nangyari,” he stated.
Andes may not have been able to taste UAAP glory, but the speedy scorer said he’s grateful for the experiences he was able to go though during his five-year UAAP career, if this is indeed the end.
“Hindi man ako nakaranas na makakuha ng championship, pero sa limang taon ko sa UAAP, sobrang grateful ko sa tiwalang ipinadama ng mga coaches, teammates, friends, at family ko, especially sa nanay ko. Sobrang thankful ako sa FEU na nagbukas sa akin ng football opportunity at naging tahanan ko nang ilang taon.”
“Sobrang pasasalamat ko din sa NU na nagbigay sa akin ng pangalawang tahanan. Walang kapantay na saya. Napakaraming maliit at malalaking bagay ang natutunan ko sa UAAP career ko,” Andes concluded.
“Sa totoo lang, talagang nasayangan ako nung nag-cancel na 'yung UAAP ng mga natitirang games, kasi unang-una, sayang 'yung one year o higit pa na preparation para lang dun,” shared University of the East goalkeeper Franklin Rieza, who could also be on his way out. “Sa 'kin kasi, parang last ko na din, kaya sayang talaga.”
If given the chance to return next year, Rieza added the he wouldn’t hesitate, especially if the team still needs him by then.
“Depende na, kasi graduation na lang hinihintay ko for this year eh, pero kung kakailanganin pa ako sa team, bakit hindi?”
Following their forgettable UAAP Season 81 campaign, senior University of Santo Tomas striker Conrado Dimacali was hoping that Season 82 would be a bounce-back season for himself and the Growling Tigers.
“Siyempre una po nalulungkot ako kasi last year na namin nila [Aljireh] Fuchigami, AJ Pasion, Jayson Rafol, at Ralph Logornio. Kaming mga graduating, gusto namin bumawi dahil nung last year na nangyari sa amin na hindi kami nakapasok sa Top 4, kaso 'yun lang nga, dahil sa nangyayari ngayon, wala din kami magagawa, pero masakit talaga,” Dimacali expressed. “Sobrang nakakalungkot talaga, hindi nami ine-expect na magiging ganito 'yung last year namin.”
While the future remains unclear for seniors like Dimacali, he’s hoping for the best and hoping for another chance to don the blue and gold of UST.
Whatever happens, it was still quite the memorable collegiate run for the Growling Tigers scorer.
“'Yung pinaka-memorable sa akin 'yung Season 80 kasi 'yun 'yung nasa finals kami, kaso hindi lang talaga para sa amin 'yun. 'Yung natutunan ko bilang college player ay maging strong sa loob ng football field at i-command 'yung mga teammates ko ng maayos sa loob at labas ng football field.”
This story originally appeared on the ABS-CBN Sports website.