After a very long lay-off caused by the UAAP’s calendar shift, the DLSU Green Paddlers and Lady Paddlers are excited to get back into the groove as they begin a quest that few teams have ever had the chance of undergoing.
Fresh off a double championship in Season 77, both teams are entering the tournament as the heavy favorites to once again win the gold medal in their respective divisions. Though being the defending champions means that they now have targets on their backs, La Salle is ready for the challenge.
“Sobrang pressured pero hindi pwede yun yung isipin mo eh. You don’t let that hinder you from doing your best in the UAAP. We got used to the pressure and we play along with it,” Green Paddlers team captain Walden Ledesma remarked.
“Together with the Men’s team, we would want to give La Salle its first double championship for table tennis,” Ian Lariba, the Lady Paddlers’ team captain, shared back in 2014.
With their determination and discipline, Lariba’s brave words became a reality as both the Green Paddlers and Lady Paddlers went home as champions in the same season, a feat they had never done before.
It was a strong campaign from start to finish for the Green Paddlers, as they won all 14 of their elimination games. Their finals match against UP was even more impressive as they swept the Fighting Maroons, 3-0. At the end of the competition, Green Paddler Jerald Cristobal received the Most Valuable Player award for his tremendous efforts throughout the tournament.
Winning the championship seemed to be a long shot for the Lady Paddlers during the start of the elimination round. The team managed to win just eight games, placing them at the third spot behind FEU and UP.
Come playoff time however, the Lady Paddlers surprised everyone with their enhanced demeanor as they beat the higher-seeded FEU, who held a twice-to-beat advantage. Facing UP in the finals, the Lady Paddlers had control of the match as they won both games, 3-2 and 3-1. Lariba received MVP honors for her contributions to the historical run.
Fears of complacency and inexperience
“Sana maging mas focused kami. Kasi yung skills namin nandiyan na yan eh. Hindi naman kami magcha-champion kung hindi kami skilled,” Ledesma said.
With a deep, talented, and experienced lineup, both teams were primed to succeed in their games last season. However, this year will be a little different as the graduation of several key players and the entrance of several rookies affected the teams’ overall experience.
“Maraming solid na player na nawala sa amin. Kailangan namin mas maging focused, kasi yung mga pumasok na rookies sa amin, although magagaling sila, inexperienced pag dating sa UAAP,” Ledesma mentioned on the difference between this and last year’s team.
“We always tell ourselves that every season is a different story. You cannot compare one season from the other. We just want to prepare ourselves for whatever may happen,” added the Lady Paddlers’ captain.
Both captains lament that while their current lineup has the same amount of talent as the previous ones, they fear that the complacency of being double-champions may also hamper their quest for another title run. However, they believe that if they keep their focus, back-to-back titles will not be impossible for the team.
“Lagi ko silang minomotivate na maging driven to win, driven to play their best, and perfect effort in everything kahit alam nilang lamang sila. Hindi puwedeng i-underestimate mo yung kalaban mo,” Ledesma says on what he does to ease the problem.
“Kailangan lang namin na hindi mag kumpiyansa kasi we really want yung back-to-back double championships sa men and women. For us, it is something we could give back to the school,” Lariba mentions.
Both squads have been preparing for the tournament since February, joining competitions such as the Philippine National Games and a few pocket tourneys. With many incoming rookies, they bonded over the summer by conducting team-building activities, something that helped make their closeness and familiarity with each other one of their biggest strengths.
Head coach Lauro Crisostomo said that while he cannot promise anything, they will try to deliver another championship to La Salle. With the tournament right around the corner, he asked the Lasallian community to come and support them during games to boost their morale.
“Gagawin namin yung best namin, di kami papayag na basta-basta lang maagaw nila yung championship,” Crisostomo, who sees, UP as one of the teams to beat, said.