Keeping up with change: Adamsonís awesome seven-peat in UAAP SoftballOctober 12, 2017
by Anton Roxas
Ana Santiago never imagined that she would one day become the youngest Softball coach in the Philippines. She never imagined succeeding her mentor, Baseball legend Boy Codiňera and winning a Grand Slam for Adamson University in her very first year on the job. Heck, she never imagined coaching the Lady Falcons to 73 straight wins in the UAAP. Yet here she is today—the architect of a dominant dynasty that owns a seven-year title reign.
But, being at the top of the UAAP mountain comes at a steep price. Even though their season doesn’t start until February, the Adamson Lady Falcons are already practicing six days a week.
Santiago says the game of Softball is evolving. Travelling around the world and watching how foreign teams play has given her many ideas and methods that she applies to her own team as they work to remain ahead of the competition. According to her, she has to put more emphasis on these newfound coaching techniques now than when she first started handling the team eleven years ago.
All in all, Santiago has led Adamson to 10 UAAP Softball Championships. When she took over Codiňera’s post in 2006, the team had just won back-to-back titles. She extended this title reign to four years before yielding to UP in 2008. The following year, Adamson reclaimed the crown only to lose it again in the succeeding season, this time, to UST.
When UAAP Season 73 began, Santiago was determined to bring the crown back to the San Marcelino-based school. Equally motivated were the five sophomores who made up the core of what Santiago says was the strongest Adamson team she’s ever coached. Rizza Bernardino, Julie Muyco, Elvie Entrina, Carol Banay and Luzviminda Embudo were all rookies when they lost the UAAP crown to UST. And that was their primary motivation to come back stronger during their sophomore year. In fact, they never lost again in their UAAP careers.
“Sila ang nagsimula ng winning streak. Four-peat yung grupo na yun,” said Santiago.
Bernardino was a powerful hitter who became MVP in UAAP Season 74 as well as Athlete of the Year along with Benedict Aguilar (DLSU Swimming) and Joaquin Mendoza (UST HS Taekwondo). Muyco was named Best Pitcher in UAAP Season 75 while Embudo bagged the Best Hitter trophy in UAAP Season 76. Banay was a reliable second baseman while their catcher, Entrina was a great leader who served as Team Captain for Adamson.
Upon the graduation of these five remarkable student-athletes, a new batch of players emerged to continue the school’s winning tradition in UAAP Season 77. Clariz Palma succeeded Entrina as catcher while Annalie “Pong” Benjamen followed up her MVP season by winning a second straight MVP trophy aside from the award for Best Hitter, Best Pitcher and Most RBI’s (14). It was also during this season that Adamson won all their 12 elimination round games via the mercy rule before sweeping UP in the Finals.
Adamson was entering UAAP Season 78 with a 62-game winning streak and while the media began taking notice of this remarkable feat, Santiago couldn’t help but feel pressured by the sudden attention her team was receiving.
“Hindi ako nagbibilang. Pero nung napansin na ng media na matagal na kaming walang talo, binilang nila ng binilang ang bawat panalo. Every year, nakaka-pressure sa akin sa totoo lang. Parang, ‘Ano ba ito? Bawal na kami matalo?’ Nawala yung dating isip ko na ‘It’s not all about winning pero kung paano mo nilalaro ang game,” said Santiago.
On March 2, 2016, the Adamson Lady Falcons lost to UST, 6-2 ending of the longest winning streak in UAAP history at 73 games. Santiago’s players were in tears because for six years, the team never knew what defeat felt like. But, that loss served as a wake-up call that the competition may have finally caught up to them.
“Tatanggapin natin itong pagkatalong ito. It means that you’re not perfect. Pwede kayo talunin ng kahit sino at hindi na kayo ganoon ka-dominant. Kailangan natin magtrabaho ngayon para makasabay tayo sa pag-angat ng ibang teams,” Santiago told her players.
The Lady Falcons recovered and eliminated UP in just one game in the Final Four. In the Finals, they beat UST in Game 1, 9-2 before losing Game 2, 6-5 due to a walk-off Home Run by CJ Roa in the seventh inning. But, Adamson would not be denied as they defeated UST in Game 3, 5-3 to capture their sixth straight UAAP Softball Championship.
UAAP Season 79 was labeled as Adamson’s most challenging year because of the graduation of Benjamen and fellow National Team Member, MVP (Season 78) and shortstop, Queeny Sabobo. The departure of these players gave birth to a new star in Team Captain Angelie Ursabia. Ursabia went on to win three individual awards including Best Slugger, Most Homeruns (four) and MVP before leading Adamson to its seventh straight title.
In their Finals series, a rematch against UST which the Lady Falcons won via a 2-0 sweep, the team used a peculiar strategy to win. Almost half of Adamson’s hitters positioned themselves on the left-side of the plate facing the pitcher instead of the right. Santiago revealed that during her travels abroad, majority of the foreign team’s players were left-handed or learned how to bat with their left hand.
“Yun yung isa sa mga naging advantage namin. Natuto kami sumabay sa new trend ng Softball,” said Santiago.
Come February, when the UAAP Season 80 Softball tournament begins, expect an Adamson team whose players know how to bat with either hand. Expect a team that doesn’t rely on power but skills. Expect a team with the mind of a sage and the heart of a champion. And as we’ve come to know them in the past seven years, expect greatness.
(Photo: The Adamson Softball Team that won the UAAP championship in Season 79)