In the final moments of the DLSU Women’s Football Team’s opening match in UAAP Season 78, Sara Castañeda gets the ball from Shannon Arthur inside the penalty box and scores off a one touch volley, sending the DLSU crowd into a frenzy.
She secured the 4-3 opening day victory over the ADMU Lady Eagles in what was a thriller match. It was a classic performance that was capped off with a spectacular winning goal in added time over the school’s archrivals, the best way for the newcomer to mark her entrance into the collegiate level of football.
This season, the DLSU Women’s Football Team is out to take the crown back to Taft for the first time in six years. Getting to the top is certainly no stroll in the park, but the rookie Castañeda, a vital cog in this year’s championship campaign, is up to the challenge.
Donning the Green-and-White is nothing new for Castañeda, who hails from De La Salle Zobel (DLSZ). The central midfielder had a number of options on the table but she eventually made the decision to take her talents to Taft. “I really liked the [Lasallian] community, the team, and also Coach Hans [Smit] and his staff. They’re all very helpful,” she says. “My parents put me in Zobel, so that after high school I could go to a good college.”
The midfielder got into the sport at the age of five, after watching her older brother Daniel play for the Makati Football Club. “He was the one who started playing, so my mom would just bring my sister and I to watch his trainings, and then from there, that’s when we got influenced to play the sport,” says Castañeda, who looks up to French Football internationals Francis Coquelin and Thierry Henry, with her wearing the latter’s number 12 this season.
Bringing in experience
Prior to joining DLSU, Castañeda had stints with the U-16 and U-19 Philippine National Football Teams. She also went on to become a two-time Athlete of the Year Awardee in DLSZ, and earned a Mythical Five selection and the Most Valuable Player Award while playing futsal in the WNCAA.
Adjusting to the collegiate level of play may often be difficult for a rookie coming out of high school, but not for the experienced Castañeda. In May 2015, at 18 years old, she took the giant leap of joining the Women’s National Football Team, also known as the Malditas, which competed in the ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship held in Vietnam.
With her senior national team stint, Castañeda earned three international caps in as many starts. The team went on to finish with losses to Vietnam and Myanmar, but earned a 3-0 shutout victory over Malaysia.
“Playing with the older age groups really helps with the experience, because you go up against people who are a lot faster, stronger and skillful,” says Castañeda on her stint with the national team.
Castañeda has definitely made her presence felt for the Green-and-White on the both ends of the pitch despite this being her first season with the team. Playing the central midfield position, she has the task of orchestrating the offense for La Salle, while also protecting the defensive backline.
“Being the center mid is like being the engine of the car. You’re the one who dictates the plays, attacking and defending, so you always have to help out,” she says on her responsibilities.
In the process, Castañeda has also notched six goals in five games this season. “The score was all tied, and before the game [vs. ADMU] even started, Coach Hans told us that we needed to win so that we could be on top. From 3-3, we were able to score a last minute winning goal and I was just so happy!” says Castañeda on her opening day goal.
Being the designated kicker was proof of the rookie’s composure as she earned her second goal from the penalty spot against the defending champions, the FEU Lady Tamaraws. Castañeda calmly sent the ball into the bottom right corner to give La Salle the 3-0 victory.
“When you pick a player to take a penalty, you look at who is confident,” says Smit. “With Sara, she just loves to play. Others, they might be nervous and all this, and Sara is the steadiest player. I never thought of her being a rookie.”
In spite of her individual abilities, Castañeda downplayed going for any individual awards and emphasizes on working with the team and taking back the championship to La Salle. “I’m just playing the way I know,” she says. “I don’t really think about those stuff. I want to bring my A-game, which is supporting my teammates throughout the whole game and never giving up on the team.”