Three-time champion NU Pep Squad hungry for more

Three-time champion NU Pep Squad hungry for more
BRING IT ON. National University is on the prowl for a four-peat.

How did the NU Pep Squad do last year? Champion.

They want more. They want No. 4.

Defending champion National University is not letting their insatiable appetite for the crown die down as the three-time winners gun to remain on top when they step on the mat for the much-anticipated 2016 UAAP Cheerdance Competition.

Dominating the competition for the past three years with their visually stimulating themes, wowing stunts, amazing dance routines, and trademark pyramids, the NU Pep Squad this time wants to up the ante with a promise of a surprising performance that will leave the crowd mesmerized.    

“Sa previous themes that we had kasi parang may pattern na Disney ‘di ba? This time, wala na kami sa pattern na yun. It’s totally different,” NU coach Ghicka Bernabe told ABS-CBN Sports.

“Ngayon kasi ‘di na kami sumunod sa track na yun. Even the sequence of the routine is very different sa ginawa naming the previous years,” added the former Far Eastern University cheerdancer. “Sobrang iba. Nag-start kami sa iba, magi-end kami sa ibang finale.”

The NU Pep Squad last year used a caveman-inspired routine as follow up to their Arabian (2013) and Native American (2014) themes. This time, Bernabe said that the crowd will see something fresh but more exciting than their previous performances.   

“Sobrang unusual ang ginawa naming number,” the mentor said. “Inisip kasi namin na baka maghanap ang tao. Mag-expect rin sa amin (ng iba).”

The challenge to bring something new, she said, came from a Facebook post that inspired them to think out of the box.

“May nakita kami sa Facebook na ‘O nag-cave man na sila. Pabalik ang era baka next time fossils na lang,’” said Bernabe, taking the post as a good-natured jest. “Kung yun ang ini-expect sa amin na parang pabalik baka this time moving on to the future and everything. Basta something na malayo ngayon.”

‘Beat our best’

NU Pep Squad dominated the field for the past three years with their innovations, raising the bar higher after each winning performance. This year they want to beat the standard they set in the previous competition.

“May mentality kasi kami na we have to beat our best,” said assistant coach Ernest Ocampo, another FEU cheerdance product. “Kumbaga sa swimmer kung may best time ka na, kailangan i-beat mo pa. Yun ang motivation namin.”

Bernabe said that’s one of the biggest challenges they have to face. “Malapit ko na nga silang paliparin mag-isa,” she joked.

“Alam mo, yun nga ang iniisip ko. Not only this year, after pa nga nung mga nakaraang competition, the next day sabi nga naming mga coaches, ‘Alam niyo tayo nagpapahirap sa mga sarili natin kasi tayo yung nagbibigay ng mga standards sa atin eh,” she continued.

She also added, “Kung may nagpapahirap sa atin tayo rin naman eh kasi binibigyan natin sila ng masarap na pagkain. Ayaw naman natin na ma-disappoint sila.”

“Ako sasabihin ko na sa level of difficulty, hindi sa pagmamayabang, wala kasi kaming choice na hindi i-level up ang difficulty na yun,” Bernabe said.

With the adjustment of this season’s UAAP schedule, the CDC was pushed a full month back. This, according to Ocampo, gave them more time to prepare and polish their routine. “Dahil mahaba ang preparation we’re more prepared this year. Mas pinag-isipan ang gagawin, mas nag-focus sa clean execution and sa skills ng mga bata,” he said.

As part of their year-long preparation, the team joined the National Cheerleading Championship. There, the squad won its fourth straight in the NCR qualifiers and completed a back-to-back in the National Finals.  

The coaching staff used those competitions to rank the performance of their members. Last June, they selected the cheerdancers that will comprise their team’s UAAP roster. The squad practices for three to four hours, six days a week.

Lesser yet tougher competition

University of the Philippines shocked the league after declaring that the eight-time champions will skip this year’s competition.

Even with just six competitors, the NU Pep Squad is still feeling the pressure of protecting their throne.

“Every year siya pabigat nang pabigat kasi sobrang hirap i-keep kung anong position mayroon ka,” said Bernabe. “Sobrang hirap kaya yung nage-aim ka na maging part ng top three.”

“Appetizer hanggang main course hanggang dessert na namin yung pressure. Wala kaming choice kundi i-embrace at i-enjoy ang pressure,” Bernabe continued. “It will be worth it kung ma-achieve namin ang goal namin after the competition.

“Hindi kami puwedeng maging complacent, hindi kami pwedeng kumalma lang.”

The mentor specifically named the University of Sto. Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe, last year’s runner-up and tied with UP with the most number of titles, and the FEU Cheering Squad as their biggest threats.

“Siguro it’s the winners last year. Yung UST,” she said. “And siyempre yung FEU kasi kilala ko naman ang FEU eh. Alam ko kung ano ang kaya pa nilang ipakita based on their halftime performances (sa basketball games).”

But Bernabe is also wary that University of the East, De La Salle University, Adamson University, and Ateneo de Manila University are all capable of pulling off an upset.

“Yung mga teams na hindi nagta-top three, sila yung gutom na gutom manalo. Sila yung parang kakain na ng tao. Kasi kami na-experience na namin yun noon eh,” she said.          

“Definitely for the other six schools mahirap nang mag-predict ngayon. This year magagaling talagang lahat,” according to Bernabe. “Hindi ko alam kung magkakaroon ba ng malaking change ngayong darating na season, pero feeling ko ganoon ang mangyayari.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles.

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