MANILA, Philippines -- University of Santo Tomas (UST) head coach Haydee Ong anticipates a "good problem" for the next UAAP season as the Growling Tigresses look to build on their Final 4 run this year.
The Tigresses finished as the third seed with an 11-3 win-loss record, and pushed De La Salle University to a do-or-die game for a place in the Finals. They lost in a close contest, 74-69, with late miscues and poor shot-making dooming them in the end game.
Yet Ong says her players can hold their heads high at the end of Season 85, where they made it to the semis despite their youth. The Tigresses had eight rookies on the squad; Eka Soriano, their leader and the runaway Most Valuable Player winner, is only in her second season.
"These student-athletes of mine are special talaga. So very proud of them bringing me here to the do or die game against La Salle," said Ong. "They have nothing to be ashamed of, they have given their all."
"We'll come back stronger next year," she vowed.
For Soriano, who averaged all-around numbers of 14.36 points, 7.14 assists, 6.29 rebounds, and 3.71 steals per game, that they made it to the Final 4 came as a surprise.
"Walo po ang rookie sa amin," she pointed out. "Hindi namin ine-expect na aabot kami ng Final Four. Sobrang thankful na kami."
"Sabi nga ni coach, kinulang pa kami. Lesson yun sa amin ang pagkatalo. Yun ang [motivation] namin para bumawi next year," she added.
Ong's squad will not surprise anyone next year, as they are set to welcome back Tantoy Ferrer from an ACL injury while also adding former Rookie of the Year Kent Pastrana, a transferee from La Salle. UST will also have a foreign student-athlete after not having one in Season 85.
"Medyo loaded ako next year," Ong said. "That's a good problem, actually."
For now, however, Ong says her team will take a break. They will reconvene early in 2023, and begin plotting their return to the Final 4 for Season 85.
"We'll try to jell yung chemistry ng mga athletes para coming for next season, maganda na ang chemistry namin," said Ong. "We need to have more games, more exposure for the next year na team."