Ten years ago, the De La Salle Lady Archers etched its name in basketball history as one of the greatest DLSU varsity teams of all time.
The team wrested its fourth straight crown in UAAP Season 65, joining the elite four-peat club in UAAP women’s basketball history; the Lady Archers collected trophies from 1999-2002 making the team the only team to record such a feat since the inception of the Final Four format back in 1994.
The Lady Archers started the journey towards greatness when current Green Archers Assistant Coach Marco Januz “Juno” Sauler took over as the team’s head coach after the UAAP season back in October of 1998.
In his first year of coaching, he helped bring the girls to the Final Four after a failed bid in the previous season. Three stellar rookies from De La Salle-Zobel – Regina Velarde, Jessica Manalo and Jessamine Manalo also helped build the name of the Lady Archers.
Velarde was a versatile forward while the Manalo twins dominated the backcourt. Jessica manned the point guard slot while Jessamine played the off guard position.
The Lady Archers starting lineup back then included veterans Regina Jose, Christine Salalila, Jill San Diego, Roussel Ocampo and Jeanne Montes.
Jessica Severino-Almajose, a sophomore guard who played for St. Scholastica’s College back in high school, assumed captaincy back then. She remained captain of the team until 2002 to end her stay in DLSU.
Jessica, one half of the formidable Manalo twins who patrolled the DLSU backcourt, recalled, “It was a team of superstars. The challenge was how well do you put those people in one team.”
Journey to the ‘Promised Land’
Despite having the qualities of a champion team, the team did not have the best of starts in its bid that achieved the four-peat; the team opened the season with a loss against Adamson.
The ladies in Green-and-White, however, responded strongly by winning all their subsequent games before claiming the championship against the UP Lady Maroons.
Sauler reminisced, “People were saying already that it’s going to be the same year before I came in, but we picked up and then we made it.”
In the second year of the four-peat, the Lady Archers were on the brink of elimination at one point. The team had to beat an undefeated Adamson to have a chance to defend its crown.
Fortunately, the ladies managed to grab a spot in the playoffs as one of the two lower-seeded teams, which meant that they had to beat the FEU Lady Tamaraws twice to reach the finals.
“We swept the first round, and then we only won two games in the second round. It was a roller coaster season [for us],” said Velarde.
Defying the odds, the team pulled off the trick, and they overcame title-favorite Adamson in three games.
The third year of the four-peat was the easiest of the four championship seasons. The Lady Archers only lost once—against UP—en route to the title.
“The players were very strong and mature already. We did not experience losing in the eliminations, but the biggest setback there was we lost, our first loss of the season in the Game 2 [of the Finals against UP]. But then, the players bounced back to win our third straight title,” shared Coach Sauler.
On the team’s four-peat year, the Lady Archers faced the departure of Coach Sauler as he started his stint as part of the coaching staff of the PBA’s Brgy. Ginebra Kings.
Sauler was the mastermind of the three UAAP championships and four straight NCRAA titles that the Lady Archers won.
“We have to prove that we can still win a championship without Coach Juno,” Severino-Almajose opened.
Fortunately, the team was intact from 2001 to 2002, and the players knew each other’s strengths. The Lady Archers went on to sweep the elimination round, and even took a step closer to achieving history by holding a 1-0 advantage in the finals.
Having one hand on a fourth consecutive pennant, the Lady Archers had to take on a familiar foe, Adamson, which forced the series into a deciding Game 3.
Equipped with three years of championship experience, the Lady Archers recovered from its sole defeat by edging the Lady Falcons in a winner-take-all clash.
Former Head Coach Sauler noted, “You can see how strong the team is. After I left, it did not matter really because they won their fourth.”
Champions on and off the court
The Lady Archers was known as the team to beat in the basketball scene from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s.
Unfortunately, the girls back then only played in the collegiate level, as there were no professional leagues for women’s basketball in the Philippines.
Still, the players had no regrets in representing their alma mater on the hard court. The players not only dominated the UAAP women’s basketball event for four years; they also managed to balance their time as student athletes.
“It was really about your priorities and how you’d set them,” quipped Jessamine.
Four-time Team Captain Jessica Severino-Almajose attributes her academic motivation to her involvement in the team. She explained, “If I were given a choice not to play basketball, I don’t think that I’ll also be better in academics because I would not have the drive and the discipline to study hard.”
Velarde also appreciates her membership as a Lady Archer under the tutelage of Coach Juno. “When you get out to the corporate world after college, they [employers] are really interested if you are an athlete because they know that you are disciplined.”
Currently, all of them are successful in the corporate world. Jessica Manalo has been working for Unilever since 2003; her twin sister Jessamine works for Kraft.
Severino-Almajose is happily married and also works for former Team Manager Terry Capistrano’s company, TMS Shipping Agencies, while Velarde works at an I.T. company in Makati.
The success that they achieved as collegiate basketball players did not stay within the parameters of the hard court.