After two years of uncertainty and doubt amid the pandemic, the DLSU Green and Lady Tankers have come out stronger than ever, with the opportunity to bring home not just one—but two UAAP crowns as the season-opener draws ever closer.
Green Tankers Hans Cruz, Bettina Ting, Antoine Mendoza, Nikki Pamintuan, John Paul Elises, Samantha Banas, and Yuri Ilustre, along with head coach Evan Grabador, are hungrier than ever as they reflect upon their tireless preparation and learnings from the pandemic and what it will take for them to reclaim UAAP glory.
Navigating unfamiliar waters
When transitioning from high school to the competitive level of collegiate swimming, there will inevitably be hurdles to overcome and challenges that force athletes to adapt. For rookie Tanker Banas, living the life of a student-athlete during the pandemic—rather than the traditional face-to-face setting—was drastically different. “I’d say most of us [were] reliving life before the pandemic…So compared to the pandemic life for me, which was filled with pure laziness, it’s definitely a huge adjustment,” Banas expounds.
Life for everyone was much different for everyone during the pandemic, more so for athletes who were all of a sudden barred from their once-regular routines. Similar to that of other sports, swimmers all around the Philippines experienced difficulty in resorting to a different training regimen to keep themselves physically fit. However, with the limited accessibility to swimming pools, the pandemic proved to be much more difficult for swimmers—who need to train in the water as often as possible to maintain optimal form. Though few were able to use pools nearby, most swimmers had to resort to online Zoom sessions that involved purely land training.
Heading into UAAP Season 85, the Green Tankers highlighted the rare opportunity to win a double championship in both the men’s and women’s divisions, respectively. As this opportunity presents itself to the team, it is only fitting that winning both crowns is a common goal that is shared throughout the whole squad, from the rookies, all the way up to the head coaches.
Just keep swimming
Despite several setbacks and unexpected changes during the strict lockdown period, the Green and Lady Tankers managed to persevere through the tough times as a collective unit. Head Coach Grabador explained how his swimmers’ mental and physical health were crucial factors that he took into consideration for the team’s success and motivation. However, he was not alone in navigating the unfamiliar setup, mentioning that the seniors and respective captains stepped up to become role models for the other younger members of the team.
Co-captain of the Lady Tankers, Pamintuan stresses the importance of having vocal and dedicated leaders to motivate their fellow teammates, “Nagpapakita kami sa training, kahit lahat kami pagod na. Para ma-push din yung iba naming teammates…para i-remind din sa kanila and nandun pa rin yung spark sa kanila to keep on going.”
(We show up during training even though we are really tired. So that our other teammates would feel motivated to continue, to remind them about the spark, to keep on going.)
Even though there was uncertainty about returning to competition, Green Tankers captain Cruz expresses, “I didn’t know kung aabot pa ba kami sa UAAP because we didn’t know when the pandemic [would] end. Pero iniisip ko lang…it’s better to be prepared kaysa maghabol sa training”. This no-regret mindset assisted the captains in continuing to move forward despite the challenges they faced together.
(I didn’t know if we were going to reach the UAAP because we didn’t know when the pandemic would end. But I just keep in mind…it’s better to be prepared rather than to catch up with training.)
Coach Grabador explains that he had to revise his system to adjust to the changes the pandemic brought. Through weekly designed programs for both swimming and online meetings, it was important for the team to move with direction. Because even if it seemed like the direction of the pandemic was headed toward no end, he needed to set specific targets to help keep the swimmers motivated.
For the mentor, there posed a challenge to innovate since not all coaching styles that were used before could remain relevant and applicable nowadays. “Kailangan namin sumabay sa alon ninyo. We need to treat our athletes with extra care—choice of words, choice of actions—it takes time. ‘Yun ang malaking adjustment—hindi lang sa swimming,” he shares. The resiliency and discipline of both swimmers and coaches form a mutual relationship of respect between both parties—wherein they need each other to bring out the best outcome during the competition.
(We need to ride the same wave as you…That’s the biggest adjustment)
At the ready bench
Making waves back in the pool proved to be a big, yet fulfilling, adjustment for the team. The limitations created by the pandemic made the solitary trait of the sport even heavier. More than the lack of access to swimming pools and facilities, athletes did not have the same physical guidance of their coach nor the camaraderie of their team to propel their efforts of aspiration.
Nonetheless, the coaches made fervent efforts to not only adapt their training program but also to provide the mentorship and coaching that athletes desire, “Meron kaming monitoring by taking videos. Then they have to submit it so that we [can] see if they are physically fit. Then after that, we have monitoring and time trials to see if they have improved from the pandemic era to now,” says Gabrador.
With his athletes finally training altogether in the Enrique Razon Sports Center’s swimming pool once again, Gabrador expresses with nostalgia, “Actually, na-miss ko yung amoy ng chlorine.” Accompanying this sentiment is the hunger to win the championship against all rivals.
While some of the Tankers eye rival schools as their main competition, Gabrador shifts focus to say otherwise: “I think [every team] is eager to win the championship. We treat them all as a threat talaga.”
While the team’s seniors are ready to make their final dive and to graduate with a long-awaited title Illustre—one of the most respected senior swimmers on the team—expresses his final ambition in his collegiate career, “Sa family ko, there are a lot of swimmers…Ayoko lang din na dala ko yung last name ko na Ilustre, I want to make a name for myself.”
(In my family, there are a lot of swimmers…I don’t want just to carry the last name, Ilustre, because I want to make a name for myself.)
As he and the other coaches prepare to guide each and every swimmer to individual excellency and the team to the upcoming championship title in the upcoming season, Grabador shares his gratitude for the tremendous support the Lasallian community has been giving to their athletes. “It’s very exciting kasi mawi witness niyo yung bagong level of swimming ngayon dahil lahat may ipon eh,” he says.
(It’s very exciting because you will get to witness the new level and standard of swimming because everyone has been holding back.)
The Green Tankers hope for the Lasallian community’s support as they dive back into the UAAP competition for the first time in two years at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex Swimming Pool on November 24 to 27.