Pinoy sports' most captivating underdog stories of 2018
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 24, 2018 02:12 PM
Paul Desiderio, Margielyn Didal, and Bryan Bagunas all had inspiring underdog stories in 2018.
Who doesn't love a good underdog story?
In 2018, we saw another batch of champions get crowned for their extended excellence in their respective leagues and disciplines.
We also witnessed squads and personalities who found success despite minimum fanfare.
These underdogs didn't let any pre-competition predictions cloud their performances en route inspiring runs that may not have delivered gold, but are primed to be remembered for years to come.
Let's start with arguably the most inspiring entry on this list.
Margielyn Didal basically burst onto the scene to bag skateboarding gold in the 2018 Asian Games.
The Cebuana's victory is made even more impressive because of her humble roots, the lengths she went through just to compete, and what she's fighting for.
The daughter of a carpenter and a sidewalk vendor, Didal also famously had to fend off security personnel in malls, when she was practicing her craft.
Still, Didal's rise continued as she became the first Filipino to represent the nation in the 2018 X Games in Minnesota.
Her gold in the Asiad earned her the distinction as the flag bearer of the Philippine delegation in the continental meet, and has slowly increased awareness for the sport.
UP LADY FIGHTING MAROONS
Now for another champion.
The UP Lady Maroons were far from shoo-ins into the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference Final Four.
After a slow start to the elimination round, the Diliman-based squad was able to get things going, securing the fourth seed to face the top-ranked Adamson Lady Falcons in the semis.
Facing a twice-to-beat disdvantage, the Lady Maroons flexed their rediscovered depth, especially after feisty middle Marian Buitre found her touch.
Conference MVP and eventual Finals MVP Isa Molde also made a case as a legitimate star as UP stunned Adamson.
Facing the UAAP season 80 Finalists FEU Lady Tamaraws, UP leaned on its unparalleled chemistry and communication to defeat FEU in two hard-fought, five-set matches.
The Lady Maroons also bagged gold in a rival tournament, beating out another UAAP powerhouse in UST.
Come UAAP Season 81, the Lady Maroons are set to prove their preseason victories are no fluke.
With a chip on their shoulder, wanting to regain UAAP men's volleyball supremacy, the NU Bulldogs did everything they could to dethrone reigning three-time defending champs Ateneo Blue Eagles in Season 80.
NU waltzed their way through the double round robin elimination round and made quick work of UST in the Final Four to book a ticket to the finals.
However, the same road block, the Blue Eagles were there, with five-time MVP Marck Espejo just fresh off from his record-setting 55-point explosion to oust twice-to-beat FEU in the Final Four.
Using their strong net defense and efficient reception, the Bulldogs swept Ateneo in the best-of-three Finals series.
Finals MVP Bryan Bagunas led the offensive attack in the clincher with 22 points, as NU's famed floor defense frustrated the graduating Espejo and hand them their first loss in the championship series in three years.
FEU LADY TAMARAWS
The UAAP Season 80 women's volleyball tournament was arguably the most exciting in recent memory.
It was open-ended, every game oozed excitement as the unlikliest of results would come out here and there.
Two-time defending champs De La Salle Lady Spikers still were the favored ones in the course of the eliminations, but suffered some shocking losses, including a four-set disappointment over Adamson.
Being the other Finals contender was a quandary, but the FEU Lady Tamaraws led the charge and rose to the occasion, depriving Ateneo of a Finals appearance.
Led by none other than Bernadeth Pons, and excellent play from their frontline, FEU advanced to the Finals for the first time in nine years, ironically also against the Ramil de Jesus-led squad.
Many things had changed then, but La Salle showed why they were the reigning Queens of the UAAP, sweeping the Lady Tamaraws in two hard-fought contests.
UP FIGHTING MAROONS
After an encouraging run in the UAAP season 80 men's basketball tournament, the UP Fighting Maroons put the league on notice in season 81.
Led by captain Paul Desiderio, super sophomore Juan Gomez de Liano, and Nigerian reinforcement Bright Akhuetie, the Fighting Maroons had to fight through a sluggish start.
All things changed when head coach Bo Perasol decided to bring Juan off the bench to inject much-needed energy to the second unit.
Juan would lead the league in assists as he guided UP's offense masterfully, carrying them to a historic Final Four return after a 21-year absence.
That may already be a victory worth celebrating for UP, but the Fighting Maroons brought the fight in the Final Four as the third-seeded team facing no. 2 Adamson.
In what would eventually be one of the most exciting Final Four series in recent UAAP history, UP would upset the Soaring Falcons in two games to book a Finals berth against Ateneo, where the Fighting Maroons bowed out.
Still, what a run it was. And UP looks primed to be even more dangerous next season.
ATENEO LADY EAGLES
There were uncertainty on how the Ateneo Lady Eagles would fare after coach Tai Bundit left the team in UAAP Season 80.
Blue Eagles mentor Oliver Almadro was tapped to oversee the team after Bundit's reign, with the PVL Open Conference being his first real challenge, calling the shots for Ateneo-Motolite.
Veterans Bea de Leon and Maddie Madayag did the heavy lifting for the team, but rookie sensations Vanessa Gandler, Jaja Maraguinot, Isabela Peralta, Samantha Fanger, and Erika Raagas provided their worth for the team.
Almadro's unique style of motivation was also key in providing the spark for his team, providing some quotable lines from his timeouts showed around the world.
Qualifying to the Final Four, Ateneo had their hands full against the veteran-laden BanKo-Perlas Spikers, who featured some former Lady Eagles.
Down 0-1 in the series and had their backs against the wall in Game 3 down 0-2, the Lady Eagles mounted a massive comeback, stunning the Perlas Spikers in five sets and booking a dream Finals matchup against the Creamline Cool Smashers.
However, it was not meant to be as they firepower of the Cool Smashers behind season MVP Alyssa Valdez proved to the difference as Creamline swept the Lady Eagles to clinch the Open Conference plum.