Eight years ago, a young girl accidentally joined her school’s football team.
After mistakenly thinking that her teacher was looking to spark leisure interest amongst the students in football, the fourth grade student entered her school’s varsity football team.
In less than a decade, Inna Kristianne Palacios, I AB-SPM, has established herself as the starting goalkeeper of the De La Salle Lady Booters. Moreover, Palacios has been dubbed as the country’s best shot-stopper.
Palacios’ international football career began at a tender age of 14 after she received an offer to join the country’s Under-16 team. The opportunity exposed her to several international competitions. Soon after she joined, she was included in the starting XI of the Malditas, the Philippines’ national women’s football team.
One of the major tournaments she competed in is the 2012 ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship in Vietnam last September. Palacios started in the teams’ three matches. Unfortunately, the Malditas failed to reach the semifinals of the said competition, ending the team’s bid at third place with a win and two losses.
Aside from playing in the regional football championships, Palacios also led the youth squad in the recently concluded 2013 Asian Football Confederation Under-19 Women’s Championship Qualifiers that was held in Manila last month.
The youth team mirrored the performance of its senior counterpart in Vietnam as the team finished third in a group of four, carrying likewise a record of a single victory and a couple of defeats that signaled another failed bid towards qualifying into next year’s championship.
Despite encountering back-to-back setbacks in her international career, Palacios prefers to view the mishaps on a positive note.
She explained, “It made me one big step ahead of everyone since it gave me more experience.”
The ‘Maldita’ experience for Inna has made her more confident and mature, both on and off the field. The first year student also finds the need to give her best at all times to prove that she deserves the merits she has been receiving.
She furthered, “You get more shaped as a person. You learn and you never stop learning. You [learn to] settle for nothing less but the best.”
On the other hand, Palacios remarked that being part of the national team does have its downs. She often feels the pressure to play top-level football all the time because of the public’s expectations. Moreover, her position as first-choice goalkeeper for both La Salle and the Philippines has made her even more vulnerable to criticism for every mistake she makes.
As she begins her lengthy stay in De La Salle, Palacios aims to be a model student-athlete who excels in her studies and football.
Palacios’ stint with the Malditas has caught the attention of La Salle’s legendary football mentor, Hans Smit, alongside UP and Ateneo coaches. The three schools’ football teams gave their offers to the Colegio de San Agustin alumna. Palacios turned back on her dream of studying in Ateneo and chose to play for La Salle.
The 5’5” tall goalkeeper confessed, “Playing for La Salle was not even in my choices before. I was ready to go to Ateneo, but then in the latter part, when I was deciding where to go, I realized that it’s not about what I want, but it’s about what’s best for me. And I figured La Salle [is the better choice]. Before, Ateneo was my dream [school]. I had to let go of that to go to La Salle. I have no regrets because I think that this is what’s best for me.”
A leap of faith
Before blossoming as one of the country’s finest homegrown players, Palacios did not think about playing competitive football. The decision to play competitive football only came to her when she was in her graduating year in grade school.
“[It was the time when] I really liked the sport that I could not stop even though I was injured,” the rookie goalkeeper shared.
Just like her football career, her goalkeeping role also came as an accident. She started with offensive roles such as the forward and winger positions before making a turn in her football career when her varsity team did not have a goalkeeper.
Palacios, who was also playing scrimmages with the high school team back in her grade school days, was the only one familiar with goalkeeping because she often observed the high school team’s goalkeeper. Because of her familiarity with the role, Inna was assigned by her coaches to play the goalkeeper position.
For a seasoned goalkeeper such as Palacios, it is easy to identify the difference between high school and college football. For her, football in high school is more on fun and games. College football, on the other hand, is more intense and serious.
The 18-year old custodian looks up to Real Madrid and Spain’s Iker Casillas. She likens herself to the Spanish goalkeeper, whom she describes as athletic and flexible, despite being relatively shorter than most goalkeepers.
Pumped up for the season
Looking forward to the upcoming UAAP football season, Palacios has mixed feelings of excitement and pressure. Nevertheless, the Lady Booters’ goalkeeper remains wary of the competition.
With defending champions UST and FEU known as perennial contenders and with the likes of UP and Ateneo bolstering their lineups, the young goalkeeper noted, “The teams in football right now are very unpredictable. Everyone is getting into shape and playing their best.”
Palacios is excited to play against her teammates in the national team such as Lady Maroon and last year’s Rookie of the Year Cristina Delos Reyes and Ateneo’s Camille Rodriguez to name a few. She also has five teammates who are playing for last year’s champions UST and a couple of teammates who are part of FEU’s lineup.
She cites that it would all boil down to who reads the other better as she is as familiar with her Maldita teammates’ style of play, and they are familiar with her brand of goalkeeping.
Aside from Palacios, four Lady Booters were also part of the Under-19 squad in last month’s qualifiers. They are Angela Metillo, Megan Diaz, Erika Turtur and Toni Nolasco.
Once the UAAP Season 75 football competition kicks off less than a month from now, all eyes will be on Ateneo’s Ocampo and Erenchun football fields as football fans will once again flock to witness, which teams would make into the finals, and which squads would have to wait for at least another year.
As far as the women’s team is concerned, Palacios and the rest of the Lady Booters cannot assure anything, but sheer effort.
“We can’t say that we’ll win it, but we’ll say that we’ll try our best,” ended Palacios.