MANILA, Philippines -- National University (NU) senior Mikka Cacho has no doubt that the Lady Bulldogs' tradition of success will continue in the coming years, thanks to their crop of excellent young players.
Cacho and the Lady Bulldogs won a seventh straight UAAP women's championship on Sunday after sweeping De La Salle University in the best-of-3 finals. This particular title was different for Cacho, as NU had endured a rare loss in the elimination round en route to the crown.
"Sobrang daming challenges this year," said Cacho, the lone graduating player from the triumphant NU squad. "And sobrang proud talaga ko sa team na 'to kasi sobrang nag-grow kami."
The veteran is the first to admit that there were plenty of times during the season that she felt the pressure got to her. Cacho said she is not a natural leader, despite being the team captain. That their squad featured eight rookies this season was also a major source of worry for her.
"Sobrang kinakabahan talaga ako noong una. Talagang nape-pressure ako, kasi ang daming bago eh, ang daming rookies. Mas maraming rookies kesa sa aming mga luma," she pointed out.
Cacho was the lone super senior, and NU relied heavily on a pair of sophomore players in Camille Clarin and Angel Surada. They also had juniors Princess Fabruada and Gypsy Canuto, but their foreign student-athlete, Annick Edimo Tiky, was a one-and-done rookie.
Karl Ann Pingol and Aloha Betanio, who played heavy minutes, were both rookies as well.
For Cacho, the way their rookies played in Season 85 kept her on an even keel and eased the pressure that she felt.
"Noong Game 1 pa lang [ng season], talagang binigyan nila ako ng pakiramdam na dapat mag-tiwala ako sa kanila. And hanggang dulo, talagang pinatunayan nila na nandiyan sila, na hindi sila rookie," said Cacho.
"Ganoon, parang wala akong naramdaman na rookie this year, kasi lahat sila nagpe-perform, lahat talented," she added.
Thus, when asked if she believes that the Lady Bulldogs can build another historic winning streak and sustain their run of championships, Cacho's immediate answer was: "No doubt."
"Sobrang galing talaga ng mga 'yan," she stressed. "Kaya no doubt -- next year, for sure, hinding-hindi naman sila bibitaw ng ganoon kadali. And pagta-trabahuhan nila 'yan lahat."
On a personal level, Cacho is grateful for her younger teammates as they navigated a tricky year for NU. The Lady Bulldogs had a new coach Aris Dimaunahan, and they no longer had veterans such as Jack Animam and Monique del Carmen to lean on.
Losing to La Salle in the second round of the elimination round added to the pressure that Cacho endured, but ultimately she ended the season the way she did her previous campaigns with NU -- as a champion.
"Lagi akong umiiyak sa gabi, hindi na ako nakakatulog kasi hindi ko alam kung anong magiging result. Natatakot ako eh, kasi ako 'yung pinaka-matanda, so kailangan ako 'yung magpapakilala ng culture doon sa mga bago namin," said Cacho.
"And I'm thankful kasi talagang sila mismo, binuhat nila ako para makabalik ako doon sa momentum ko na, 'Ate Mikka, huwag kang mag-alala, andito kami sa likod mo.'"
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.