MANILA, Philippines—For four seasons, the UAAP women's Most Valuable Player trophy belonged to National University.
From Seasons 77 to 79, it went to Afril Bernardino, NU's iconic wing who led the Lady Bulldogs to three straight titles. After she graduated at the end of Season 79, Jack Animam took over, and she won MVP honors in Season 80 as NU's power forward.
In Season 81, the top individual award in the UAAP women's division went somewhere else. University of Santo Tomas' Grace Irebu snatched it from NU, after averaging 18.5 points and 13.86 rebounds per game. She finished the season with 80.57 statistical points.
Animam settled for second, on averages of 14.79 points and 13.2 rebounds per game were only enough to garner 79.7 SPs, even with NU again sweeping the elimination round and thus giving her plenty of win bonuses.
Yet when the season was over, it was Animam who stood tallest, holding up not one but two trophies. She led the Lady Bulldogs to their fifth straight women's title, and extended their historic winning streak to an even 80 games. After averaging 17.0 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 blocks, and 3.0 steals in their sweep of Far Eastern University, Animam was named finals MVP.
"Siyempre, finals MVP," Animam answered quickly when asked which individual award she preferred.
"Kasi 'yung finals MVP, two games lang 'yun," she pointed. "You really have to give it your all."
Give her all was exactly what Animam did. She put up 19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks in NU's 71-59 win in Game 1. She was even better in Game 2, tallying 15 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 blocks to anchor the Lady Bulldogs' 67-61 win.
"Ako, ang saya-saya ko," said Animam, who now has four titles in four seasons with NU, and has yet to experience a loss in her collegiate career. "Hindi lang para sa sarili ko, kung hindi para sa team din namin."
Despite their unbeaten record, their road to the crown was not easy.
Animam said she struggled with burnout before the season started, but regained her motivation because of her teammates.
"I know kung bakit ako nandito — para sa kanila," said Animam, who played for the Philippines' 3x3 team in June before the UAAP season started. "Hindi lang manalo, pero to help them grow and become better people on and off the court."
Animam's lone regret in Season 81 was that her fourth title had to come at the expense of FEU center Clare Castro, whom she considers a very good friend.
"Masarap pero siyempre, malungkot kasi isa lang yung manalo at masaya dahil alam mo 'yun, pagtanda namin may maikwekwento kami na nu'ng season ganito, naglaban tayo," she said of their match-up.
With just one more year left in her collegiate career, Animam is determined to keep playing at a high level and thus match the achievement of her seniors Ria Nabalan and Jhianne Layug, both of whom graduated without experiencing a single loss.
"Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko, hangga't naglalaro ako sa NU, ayokong makaranas ng talo. So, expect more next season," she said.
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