MANILA, Philippines — A loss to their archrivals in the UAAP Season 79 finals stings badly for lifelong Ateneans Matt and Mike Nieto, but they are determined to use the pain they're feeling to fuel their campaign next season.
The Nieto twins have played for Ateneo nearly all their life and both gave tremendous effort in the finals against De La Salle University, but fell short against a historically dominant Green Archers team.
In the Blue Eagles' 67-65 loss in Game 1, Matt nearly became the hero when he gave Ateneo a late lead, only for Jeron Teng to steal his thunder.
In Game 2, it was Mike's turn to shine as he fired 18 points to keep the Blue Eagles within striking distance, but again Teng thwarted them as he led La Salle to a 79-72 win to clinch the championship.
"Masakit eh, masakit talaga," said Mike, a former juniors MVP who worked hard to adjust his game in the seniors' division.
(It hurts. It really hurts.)
"Bago mag-huddle, nakita ko na 'yung ibang mga teammates ko medyo paiyak na, even me," Mattsaid . "It's a really tough loss."
(Before the huddle, I already saw my teammates about to kind of cry.)
But as the cliché goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and this holds true for the Nieto twins.
"This is just the start of something big with regards to our team," "Big Mike" said.
"We have to give credit where credit is due. La Salle is a very strong team, but we fought until the end."
Mike said after the loss, he immediately told his teammates that the setback was a blessing in disguise.
"We'll use this as motivation coming Season 80," he vowed. "We'll be ready for them.
"Lumabas lang 'yung lack of experience namin sa championship, but this experience will motivate us, and it will become a positive thing for our team next year."
Matt, for his part, exhorted his teammates to remember the pain of the loss.
"I told them, 'Remember this day and this day won't happen again. Use this day as a motivation to strive harder next season. And of course, we have to learn. Because everything this season is a learning experience for us,' " Matt said.
Proving critics wrong
Even though their season ended on a losing note, the Nieto twins still took pride in how they proved critics wrong with their performance in Season 79.
Considered a rebuilding team, Ateneo instead made it all the way to the finals, dethroning defending champion Far Eastern University along the way.
"Starting Day 1, everyone counted us out," Mike said. "Starting with the game against UST, they counted us out. They thought na masyado kaming bata, so 'di kami aabot ng finals. We just proved them wrong."
"We just let our game do the talking," Matt added. "Hopefully, medyo may nasabi naman 'yung season namin. Porke't 'di kami nag-champion, pero may na prove naman kami sa kanila."
(Hopefully, we were able to make a statement with our season. Even though we didn't win, we were able to prove something to them.)
Even though they exceeded all expectations in Season 79, Mike is anticipating that there will still be those who will question Ateneo come Season 80. He says he and his teammates are ready to answer those critics again.
"Come next season, kung nagda-doubt pa rin sila, we'll just play the Ateneo way, and that's magis — doing more than what you can," he said. "We'll just play our hearts out next season.
"Tomorrow is the start of our preparation for Season 80."
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