Few would disagree with the notion that a championship is the crowning achievement to a long and grueling season. However, winning a title doesn’t mean that the work has ended. The best athletes know that being a champion only means the pressure will increase the following season, with the focus now on them and their team.
Emy Rose Dael was instrumental in the Lady Paddlers’ run to the title last season, and now the Season 78 Rookie of the Year has led her team to the title this season, earning Finals MVP honors thanks to the work she put in. Even with the loss of Olympian Yan Lariba, Dael mentions how the team still felt the pressure to win again this season.
“Medyo pressure for me kasi parang lahat sila nanonood sa akin, not just my teammates, but also other schools and coaches,” Dael explains.
Chasing childhood dreams
Table tennis wasn’t a common pastime in Dael’s family as she grew to love the game after watching others play in the school hall for hours on end. Her family took notice and decided to let her join tournaments in grade school. Success followed her onto her high school years, as she was already competing in ASEAN-level tournaments prior to college.
When the time came to choose her university, La Salle was the obvious choice because of its reputation as one of the country’s best schools. Though she had to leave Bacolod, Dael felt the feeling of familiarity as her high school teammates also went to DLSU, and more importantly, she would get to be up close to her childhood idol Lariba.
“It is a big opportunity to be enrolled here and to represent this school,” she adds. “Siguro, dream na din.”
Joining the team in UAAP Season 78 meant that Dael would be thrust into the spotlight as the team was set to compete for an unprecedented double championship. The Management major shook off the rookie label as she not only helped the Lady Paddlers secure the title, but was also adjudged as the season’s top rookie.
“Siguro mahirap siya kasi yung game ng high school is different from UAAP,” she says on the difference between the college and high school level of play. “In high school, usually, I have to play twice so medyo sanay na [ako]. Then in UAAP, individual players [play] one game at a time, so mas lalo ka pang kakabahan sa laro ng teammates mo kesa sayo.”
During the offseason, she competed in the ASEAN University Games with Lariba, earning the bronze medal in the women’s doubles event. Dael puts this achievement up there with her Rookie of the Year honors and her Season 78 title, also mentioning that the experience allowed her to further soak in the techniques of an Olympian.
This season, she usually plays in one of the first two singles matches, setting the table for her team against the contenders such as FEU, who have national team member Rose Jean Fadol, someone Dael considers as one of her tougher opponents. The pressure-packed situations don’t faze Dael, though, as the sophomore has been used to a heavy workload dating back to her playing days in high school.
“Pero parang mas namomotivate ako na manalo kasi our team needs a good start para mas lalo ko mainspire yung [teammates ko] kasi para tuloy-tuloy na yung game,” she says in trying to explain her role on the team.
New year, new challenges
With all the achievements she has collected in her young career, Dael has had to go through a lot of adjustments, not just in terms of the level of competition, but also in terms of reconstructing her game. After playing using long pimples, a type of rubber for table tennis rackets which allow for better ball control, Dael shifted to using short pimples, a variation that intimidated her at first.
She goes on to say that her first few attempts with the short pimples were frustrating, adding to what was her growing fear of not being ready for the UAAP Table Tennis Tournament. In the end, the shift did not affect her overall contribution to the team, as she was vital to her team’s unbeaten run in the elimination round.
“Yung long pimples kasi, steady lang ako. Nakatayo lang ako then yung short is more on movements so parang hindi pa sanay yung body ko sa ganung type of play,” she says on how the change would affect her playing style. “So minsan, lagi akong nahuhuli humabol ng bola, minsan masyado ako nauuna, di ko nacocontrol yung wrist ko masyado kaya sobrang hirap talaga siya.”
If the sudden alteration was any indication, Dael has remained steadfast in trying to work on the various facets of her game in order to remain as one of the UAAP’s top players. Her teammates, friends, and family have all played a part in her journey, and along with their inputs, the right mindset has been what has made her successful thus far.
“Think positive lang all the time,” Dael says when asked about her in-game disposition, adding that head coach Lauro Crisostomo always stressed not to sweat on the small stuff, something she tries to practice regularly.