MANILA, Philippines -- Pat Aquino expects a tough road ahead when the Gilas Pilipinas Women bid for a third consecutive gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games next year.
Aquino is aware that all eyes will be on the Filipina cagers in Cambodia for 31st edition of the biennial meet, with the rest of the field making moves to foil the reigning gold medalists.
"'Yung ibang teams nakikita ko like Indonesia has been recruiting so much. Ang Vietnam meron silang twin sisters na galing sa States (Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong), and Malaysia now has an Australian coach," said Aquino during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex on Tuesday.
"So we have to be prepared and try to retain that gold for us," he added.
The Philippines and Indonesia ended up with identical 4-1 record during the Hanoi SEA Games last summer, but its 93-77 shellacking of the Indonesians in the first game of the tournament allowed it to retain the gold via the winner-over-the other rule.
Aquino believes that the team will have to do an even better job in order to claim a "three-peat."
Malaysia owns the most number of consecutive women's championships won in SEA Games history with six in a row from 1977 to 1987. The Malaysians are also the last team to score a three-peat from 2001 to 2007, a feat the Filipinas are trying to duplicate this time.
A longer and thorough preparation obviously is needed for Gilas women's team if it is to realize the historic feat.
"In preparation for the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, we're really trying to do our best of preparing the team now, that's why we started (training) early," said Aquino, also the Gilas Pilipinas women's program director.
"We've already been practicing three times a week for the past month already, with the addition of Jack Animam coming back from her injury," he added.
The 24-year-old Animam was part of the Gilas women's team that won the breakthrough gold in Manila three years ago, but skipped the Hanoi Games after suffering an ACL injury.
"She's been out of basketball for more than a year and a half, so it's a boost for the team (her return)," said Aquino of the five-time UAAP champion from National University. "So we're letting her to feel again how to play. But I'm happy that Jack is back. She will be a big help for us in our campaign."
Likewise, Aquino will be leaving for the US next week to scout for possible naturalized players and other Filipina talent eligible to play for the country.