2006 was a dark year for the entire DLSU sports program as a University-wide suspension prevented Lasallian athletes from competing in UAAP Season 69.
In a season that saw different rival universities ascend to the championship throne, La Salle, especially its contender teams such as the DLSU Green Booters and Lady Booters, could only watch from the sidelines as the other teams took trophies and medals back to their alma mater.
Before the 2006 suspension, the Lady Booters proved to be one of the top teams in the UAAP by bagging the championship from 2002 to 2005. Notable players like Mariel Benitez, Andrea Yang, Stephanie Pheasant, Fiona Mackenzie, and Samantha Bermudez provided firepower for the talented squad, accompanied by the collective effort given out by key players on the field.
Bermudez, a sophomore in 2005, recounts the UAAP championship, “We worked hard to the bone every day to perform like our seniors. And also, it was the year we won back-to-back championships.”
The absence from the 2006 UAAP tournament did not bother the Lady Booters as they also displayed their top form when they manhandled any opponent that stood in their way at the Zobel Cup in 2007. On the other hand, the Green Booters of 2005 were facing a drought that began after winning the 1997 and 1998 seasons. However, there was no doubt that head coach Hans Smit and his boys were capable of rebuilding their team towards success.
“It was a difficult year, Pheasant, who was the team captain in 2007, mentioned. “We had a lot of injuries from different members of the team. It was a difficult campaign – a lot of new ones. We managed to be the 1st runner up [in the UAAP] but nothing beats being a champion.”
Coach Hans Smit: Circa 2005
DLSU Football would not be what it is if it were not for the iconic Smit. His tall build, signature bracelets and necklaces, and attitude are what made him stand out among other coaches. To no surprise, Smit has been distinguished for his success on the field.
“Sure, he [Coach Hans] was tough on me and my teammates, but he saw things in us that we didn’t even know were capable of doing,” Bermudez recalls her when asked about her experience under the legendary coach. “He worked me to the bone each and every day [with] no rest. He made sure that I was exemplary on and off the field.”
Today, Coach Smit has a lot under his belt as the coach of DLSU and other clubs. As players come and go, they are left with a reminder of what success could possibly be for an athlete, even after their playing careers.
“He’s one guy that’ll tell you straight up what you’ve done wrong,” Bermudez added. “He saw the potential in me that I wasn’t able to see. I’m years past UAAP but I still carry the values I learned from him. Hard work, respect, faith in your capabilities, passion for what you love, and sacrifice.
Working their way back up
UAAP Season 68 saw the Green Booters finishing second only to the ADMU Blue Eagles and had there been no suspension, the team would have been building on their success on the way to a possible title. Despite their championship drought, coupled with the weight of the 2006 suspension, the Green Booters rallied through teams in the United Football League (UFL) in 2007, home to the top teams and most experienced players in the Philippines. Dominant performances against clubs put the Green Booters through to the knockout stages of the tournament, proof that they could hold their own against the best.
“Well, I can’t speak for the team, but for me, yes, I was so pumped up because we knew that we were the underdogs coming into the UAAP season,” former Green Booter Kim Smit said. “We were a totally different team. Old players have left, new faces replacing them. We wanted to see if we could replicate what we did the year before the suspension.”
A year off the pitch, however, didn’t help them as they placed last in UAAP Season 70. From being runner-up, the Green Booters finished with one victory, one draw, and seven defeats in nine games. It was a total turnaround in a span of two years, one that did not sit well with the team.
“It [UAAP Season 70] wasn’t good as we didn’t even get to place,” the younger Smit shared, adding that expectations were high coming into the tournament.
The suspension served as a lesson to DLSU. A year away from the league definitely kept both teams hungry. Despite different results, both teams built on their run in Season 70.
The Green Booters have not finished lower than fourth in the six tournaments following their disappointing 2007 campaign, but they have yet to end their title drought.
The Lady Booters, on the other hand, won the championship in 2009 and have qualified for the finals in four out of six seasons after UAAP Season 70. Yet for those who played in the years prior to and after the suspension, the experience was priceless.
“New coach, new players, new system,” Kim Smit said. “It was fun as coach Hans had a more open style of play.”
“2007 was a year of rookies. For us, they were forced to step up,” Pheasant added. “We reached the finals that year. We weren’t twice to beat but we fought hard enough to earn that second finals game.”