MANILA, Philippines—Many fans were surprised when Far Eastern University team captain Bernadeth Pons did not enter the court to start the third set of their do-or-die game against De La Salle University in the UAAP Season 80 finals.
The Lady Tamaraws were down two sets in Game 2; another loss and their campaign would come to an end. Most FEU supporters expected Pons to be on the court and take charge for the Lady Tams, hopefully leading them in a comeback.
Instead, their skipper was on the bench, as George Pascua sent in Heather Guino-o, Chin-Chin Basas, and Jerrili Malabanan as his wingers. For a while, the tactic worked: FEU seized a 9-6 lead, before La Salle inevitably rallied back and took control of the game. Pons was sent in when they were down, 11-13.
"Para 'yung mind-setting na La Salle din, ma-twist namin," Pascua explained after the game. "Kasi binabantayan si Pons."
"Nu'ng naibalik naman, na-manage naman. 'Yun nga lang, nu'ng talagang huli, 'di na s'ya umabot," he added.
It was Pons who kept FEU afloat late in the set, powering attacks past La Salle's net defense to keep the Lady Tamaraws within striking distance. When she moved to the back row to serve, it was Malabanan who punched in the kills that helped FEU extend the set.
Ultimately, however, La Salle's championship poise proved too much. Kianna Dy and Tin Tiamzon scored the crucial kills that wrapped up the Lady Spikers' 26-24, 25-20, 26-24 win, ending FEU's campaign and Pons' UAAP career.
"OK lang sa akin," Pons said of her shock benching to start the third set. "Nag-recharge ako ulit. Sabi ko na pagbalik ko, kailangan todo bigay."
"Kasi sabi ni coach, kailangan lumabas ako para maiba, kasi bantay na ako ng La Salle," she added. "Para maiba ang mindset ng La Salle, so ayun."
"Noong nasa labas ako, pinanood ko 'yung nangyari sa court, tapos noong pumasok ako, 'yun. In-all out ko na, kasi last ko na rin. Kahit ano mangyari, basta ibibigay ko na lahat," she also said.
Pons, perhaps the most versatile player in the UAAP right now, finished her career with a "triple-double" of 17 points, 15 receptions and 15 digs. The FEU star said she has no regrets, even as she finished her career without a championship or any individual award.
"Masaya ako sa ano man 'yung naabot namin this year," said Pons, who was more composed in the post-game press conference after shedding tears in the aftermath of their loss. "Sobrang proud ako this year sa team namin."
"Hopefully, 'yung experience na ito is stepping stone sa mga natitira next year to bounce back," she added. "Sobrang proud ako sa mga teammates ko, sa mga coaches, sa lahat kasi lumaban kami hanggang dulo."
Pons will be one of two players to leave FEU after this season, along with veteran libero Kyla Atienza.
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