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Athlete revisited: Inna Palacios guards women’s football legacy at the net

Inna Palacios embedded a resounding legacy in her time with the Lady Booters after being crowned UAAP’s Best Goalkeeper four times in her collegiate career. For an athlete to leave a lasting legacy in their sport, they must embody a unique image that would distinguish them from the rest.

Her steady presence between the posts secured the defense for the Taft-based squad. Captaining the team in 2017, Palacios struck the title-securing penalty in stoppage time to spark DLSU’s ascension to the pinnacle of women’s football—sealing an unbeaten Season 79 campaign by clinching their first trophy in seven years, and earning the grandest of exits for the star goalie.

Remaining an epitome of the Animo spirit even beyond Taft, the La Salle alumna is now making a name for herself as a reliable force on the pitch for local professional football club Kaya FC and the Philippine Women’s National Football Team. Even as Palacios continues to unfold narratives in her surging football journey, the decorated athlete never fails to acknowledge the heartening lessons and glory days she had suiting up for the Green-and-White.

Making the right choice

The impact of a coach toward a player allows an athlete to trust their own skills and further improve, creating numerous opportunities for both the player and the team. Onlookers normally do not recognize the nitty-gritty depth of a mentor-mentee relationship, but it is where the athlete wholly matures. Palacios credits the significant role that coach Hans-Peter Smit had in molding the player and person she has become. “He saw the potential [in me], so he was a big part of my success; I learned a lot of key characteristics and values that I can use as an individual in my career and in life,” she explains. Furthermore, Smit gave her the confidence that she needed in playing the sport, enabling the seasoned veteran to flourish in her craft.

Accomplishments and awards may seem to come easy for Palacios, but the journey has not always been gleeful; the former Lady Booter also had her fair share of discouraging times. While her career was taking flight, there was a season where the stalwart wanted to leave the sport she was passionate about. It was Smit who advised Palacios to “take a break and come back” whenever she would be ready.

“That was the turning point kasi it gave me time to think…that [football] was something that I really wanted to do—it was a part of me that I couldn’t let go,” she expresses. Spending time away from the pitch changed her perspective about the sport. Palacios further shares how her love for the game was rekindled, “Before that year, I was just playing to play, not really playing to do anything…[After the break], my passion just became stronger [for] the sport. I loved going to training, [and] I pushed myself harder.”

Continuous development

Despite the obstacles Palacios has faced over the course of her career, she still remains determined and motivated to continue playing the sport she loves. The mindset remains the same for the 26-year-old national team superstar, as she emphasizes, “You can do a lot of things with hard work—the dedication that you have, the commitment that you give, and [the many] sacrifices [that will] come with it.”

This steadfast tenacity comes as no surprise, developed during her collegiate years as Palacios learned to balance both her Lady Booter responsibilities and national team duties. The UAAP season on its own is already a long and grueling challenge demanding much attention from participating athletes, yet the former Lasallian was able to fulfill her commitments to both squads.

Palacios was a generational talent that exemplified a high level of focus and calmness during her UAAP stint. “Focus should always be on top of everything that you do because it helps you think properly. You prepare for difficult situations…If you have a lot of focus, it brings a lot of composure as well,” she narrates. Being the last line of defense in football, goalies must be able to perform under pressure as the opponents spearhead their attack. A crucial save or a simple fumble may make or break the game for the team.

In football, it cannot just be all about individual prowess; team play is vital, too. This is something Palacios recognized early on, having previously worn the captain’s armband for the Green-and-White. A thriving team player, she values passing on the lessons she picked up from international exposure, “I always [made] sure [to] share with my teammates [from DLSU] what I’ve learned from more experienced teams and players. It’s rewarding to share what I’ve learned outside La Salle.” To this day, she can still at times be seen joining the Lady Booters’ training sessions.

Now serving as the co-captain of the women’s national team, she similarly embraces the leadership position as an opportunity to help fellow footballers grow further. “I’m more vocal, helping lead the team in my own ways of being a role model to them—by showing a good example,” Palacios says.

Leading the team

The progress of the men’s and women’s football teams in the Philippines remains gradual as their current worldwide ranking stands at 124th and 67th, respectively. The women’s unit recently achieved the 67th spot as their best rank to date, catapulted in part by the team’s historic semi-final run in the Southeast Asian Games.

Since 2011, Palacios has been a consistent member of the national squad, being the number one goalkeeper on the team. It has been a stable place for her in fulfilling her passion for the past nine years. “If you find the right sport or the right thing you’re very passionate about, [nothing will] stop you from pursuing it,” she puts forward.

Being at the forefront of developing women’s football in the country, Palacios affirms, “For any sport, we all just need support…While we’re improving, we should all push the team to stay together and do things that no one has ever done before…[Playing is] our way of giving back to the country that we love so much, so we keep doing what we love for the country.”

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