UAAP: Lady Booters imbibe culture of success, eye four-peat empire

The DLSU Lady Booters’ most recent era of dominance has always been one for the books. Becoming back-to-back champions in Season 80, La Salle tied FEU for garnering the most women’s football titles in tournament history—a record that the team from Taft then claimed for themselves upon yet again defending the crown the following year, in addition to preserving their unbeaten record throughout the last three seasons.

This Season 82 marks another chance to further solidify the Lasallian legacy: the Green-and-White aim to extend their championship reign with the possibility of a four-peat and a 12th trophy. Should they emerge triumphant, the team will remain the only squad to capture four straight titles in their division, matching DLSU’s own championship streak from Season 65 to 68 back in 2002 until 2005.

But dynasties rise and fall even in sports. It is a challenge to stay ahead of the competition with the same set of talents; it is a tougher order to guard the team’s place at the top despite personnel changes. Although the Lady Booters have been at the apex for the past three years, the defending champions are treading carefully yet courageously with their rookie-laden squad.

The upcoming tournament remains as infused with history as ever, and players both old and new have every avenue to prove they have what it takes to banner the Green-and-White.

Generation shift

“We recruit quality,” affirms coach Hans-Peter Smit, who explains that constant planning has enabled the Lasallian football program to train up young talents to replace graduating seniors. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the Lady Booters’ Philippine Football Federation Women’s League (PFFWL) campaign.

The team from Taft finished at the top of the table, relying on rookie forces this past off-season after the departure of several veteran players who had regularly been part of the Starting XI last year. DLSU lost plenty of key members across the pitch, including striker and former team captain Kyra Dimaandal, midfielder Irish Navaja, defender Mariell Tejada, and Season 81 Best Goalkeeper Tashka Lacson, among others.

Now, with the addition of a plethora of rookies, the young squad will be counting on some familiar faces to grow into a stable core for the Green-and-White. Likely to play significant roles are team captain Bea Delos Reyes and Shai Del Campo—Season 80 and 81 Rookie of the Year stars, respectively—as well as three-time Best Midfielder Sara Castañeda.

Delos Reyes believes that their current preseason form can translate in their upcoming UAAP competition, discussing, “[The PFFWL] is a good way for us to play together, and I think [we’ll be] able to get there step by step…If we continue to maintain our performance, we will be able to bring it to the UAAP.”

Indeed, their convincing showing in the PFFWL holds much promise for the season ahead. In their successful quest for the three-peat, the team conceded only 17 goals, but were aggressive in their vengeance on the attacking front—accruing over 60 goals.

Living up to last year’s Best Striker award, Del Campo scored 11 of those goals despite missing some games for her national team duties. Returning member Anicka Castañeda and rookie Angelica Teves have also been making their presence felt with their stellar double-digit goal records.

Championship standards

Given their outstanding track record, Smit’s goal for his squad is to hoist the trophy every season. But cultivating a culture of success demands a lot of preparation and hard work; these beliefs are instilled in each player to enable the entire squad to meet a certain caliber of play.

“If they don’t catch up with the program…even if they are my recruits, but they don’t perform up to par, then they don’t get to play,” Smit maintains, expecting nothing less than high-level performances from all players. Those who make it to the final lineup are individuals who have earned the chance to play for the Green-and-White, with rookies and veterans alike having to “compete for [their] spot” on the team roster.

Delos Reyes further reveals, “Coach Hans does not see the rookies as rookies; [they are] players who can play how we play.” The captain notes, however, that it would take team chemistry and maturity from the rookies to stay competitive in the UAAP scene, which Smit labels as a “cutthroat tournament”.

The competition is sure to be tough. Although the Lady Booters have easily outclassed many of the PFFWL football clubs, they have not exactly demolished the other UAAP teams participating in the preseason tournament, settling for draws or barely edging out victories in some cases. These squads have also bolstered their lineups with skilled rookies while retaining many of their veteran stars.

Season 81 runner-up FEU will be hunting to avenge their Finals loss last year and are the culprits behind one of the scarce draws and the only loss blemishing La Salle’s PFFWL record. Following at third in the preseason standings, UST remains a gutsy squad to watch out for, being the only team that DLSU could not defeat last UAAP season—their matchups ending in stalemates.

Focused mentality

With the potential four-peat at stake, there is a target emblazoned on the Lady Booters’ backs hounding them to falter. Key moments define a champion; what an athlete does under pressure could make or break their legacy. Delos Reyes recognizes this as normal for anyone trying to defend a title, but emphasizes that, “We see it as another opportunity to prove ourselves.”

Smit also remains unfazed. “To me, there should never be pressure—because if I get pressured, what more the girls? We just take every year as a new year, a new challenge,” he shares. However, he cautions against overconfidence as it is the “number one killer that [would] pull [the players] down.”

As such, the coach has constantly sought to be a father figure providing reminders and guidance to help the team keep their composure. In the end, it turns out that the self is often one’s own worst enemy, as Smit asserts, “The only team that can beat La Salle is La Salle…If the mindset goes wayward, then that’s it; they need to keep their concentration in the game [and] respect the opponents.”

Rising to the occasion

“If we get [the championship] again this year—could you imagine, we have 15 rookies—they still have four more years, and they will only get better,” Smit points out. The Green-and-White have shown they can pull through time and time again, remaining near unstoppable even in the face of injuries, training facility concerns, and other unforeseen circumstances.

Smit aptly describes the Lady Booters as “warriors” who have “mutual respect for each and every player” in and out of game. This respect toward one another, Delos Reyes believes, is necessary to reach the top, fostering teamwork as the crucial element in La Salle’s system no matter who the players comprising the squad are.

The team is prepared to leave it all on the pitch, playing with heart and unquenchable perseverance. With each member ready to step up and provide quality minutes on the field, the DLSU Lady Booters are primed to sustain their women’s football dynasty this Season 82 and for many more years to come.

Disclaimer: February 12, 2020
The LaSallian published the above article for its February print issue, released February 11, under the impression that the UAAP Season 82 tournament would push through as scheduled. As of February 12, the UAAP’s Board of Trustees and Board of Managing Directors have postponed matches starting February 15 in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Update: February 29, 2020. 9:20 pm

This article was updated from the version published in the print issue, dated February 11, to reflect recent developments and the results of DLSU’s preseason campaign.

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