What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next in Sports

Published February 1, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Manila Bulletin Sports

This is part of a series of profiles on a new generation of leaders, thinkers, creators, innovators, and trailblazers across many fields in the country. The list is drawn under the theme “What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next” in celebration of Manila Bulletin’s 121st anniversary as an exponent of Philippine progress.

Joshua Pacio: Taking inspiration from Team Lakay

Joshua Pacio

Were it not for his mentors and veterans in Team Lakay, Joshua Pacio wouldn’t be able to reach the top of the pyramid.

Pacio, who just turned 25 years old in early January, was looking fresh from the mountains of Cordillera when contacted via video call on a Sunday morning.

Tuning in to the television while enjoying the undercard UFC fights for the main event between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, Pacio began to narrate his humble beginnings from being a young cub to the king lion inside the Circle.

Pacio is one of the most decorated mixed martial arts fighters in the Philippines, having been a two-time champion in the strawweight division of ONE Championship and defending the title twice from 2019 to 2020.

The young Igorot warrior gave credit to Team Lakay as his years of hard work slowly came into fruition since entering the professional ranks in 2013.

“I think that’s the result of hard work,” Pacio told the Manila Bulletin. ” Coach Mark started from scratch. They train without mats, they train with worn-out punching bags but they have the golden passion,” he said in Filipino.

A surprised Pacio welcomed the news upon learning that he had been part of ESPN’s Top 25 Under-25 and Black Belt Magazine’s Top 10 list of MMA fighters globally.

Pacio, who holds an impressive 17-3 record, became the lone Filipino to land spots on the sports publications’ list for taking down former champions in Yoshitaka Naito and Yosuke Saruta of Japan, and recently Alex Silva of Brazil — all currently part of the strawweight’s Top 5 ranking.

Pacio’s three losses were all from ONE Championship but he hasn’t suffered defeat in the past two years, riding on a three-match win streak since April 2019 against Saruta, compatriot Rene
Catalan, and Silva.

While humbly acknowledging those feats, Pacio admitted that he’s nowhere at the peak of his MMA career despite being the reigning champion.

“Marami pa akong kakaining bigas (I have to eat more rice),” said Pacio, citing a famous Filipino tagline. “‘Yung sa jiu-jutsu, sa wrestling, sa striking, kailangan pa rin naming i-improve. Kaya ‘yung goal ko, kapag lumaban ibang Joshua Pacio ulit next fight. Maging unpredictable at hindi nababasa ‘yung style mo (We still need to improve our jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and striking. My goal is to show a different version of Joshua Pacio every fight. I want to be unpredictable so that my
opponents cannot read my style). “

And the character development he had experienced was all thanks to the gentlemen in Team Lakay. (Carlo Anolin)

Margielyn Didal: Skateboarding takes spotlight

Margielyn Didal

Margielyn Didal has become the face of the skateboarding scene in the Philippines after filling up an impressive résumé from her appearances on the big stage through the year.

Didal, who started skating at 12 years old, not only brought pride to the Philippines but uplifted the sport all the way from hometown Cebu.

It is safe to say that Didal, now 21, has paved the way for skateboarding to be put in the country’s spotlight.

“Skateboarding is not for fame. [It’s] about the vibe of doing the same passion,” Didal said. “We just want respect, not just in skateboarding, but whatever status in life, even the kids in the street or street vendors.”

The quirky Cebuana skateboarder rode her way to stardom as the first Filipino athlete to represent the Philippines in the Street League Skateboarding in London and X Games in Minneapolis in 2018.

The same year, Didal bagged the 18th Asian Games gold medal in the street category in Palembang, Indonesia.

Thanks to her early achievements, then 19-year-old Didal was named in TIME Magazine’s “25 Most Influential Teens of 2018.”

Little did Didal know that her hobby will help them rise from poverty. 

In 2019, Didal ruled the first National Skateboarding Championship in July in Laguna before capturing two more gold medals in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Game of skate and Street categories in December in Tagaytay City.

Before the pandemic, Didal copped a bronze medal in the Tampa Pro Competition Women’s Open in Florida last March 2020.

With a bunch of titles, Didal, ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 14 in the world in women’s category, is on the verge of cementing her legacy as the best skateboarder in the Philippines. (Carlo Anolin)

Bianca Pagdanganan: Golfer goes for gold 

Bianca Pagdanganan

Playing in her first US LPGA Tour season was both a fulfillment and a mental challenge for Bianca Pagdanganan, one of Philippine golf’s newest sensations.

“Playing in the LPGA has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so there was a feeling of excitement in my first three events,” she said. “But I was a little bit nervous as well.”

Getting a card to play in the world’s biggest ladies professional circuit seems like the easy part. Trying to be at par with some of the top names in the sport is something Pagdanganan tried to reach during her 10 appearances in 2020.

“You know this is a bigger stage and you’re playing the best golfers in the world,” said Pagdanganan. “So I think that was part of the challenge, trying to believe in yourself and being comfortable in that surrounding because obviously everyone’s bringing their A-game.”

She had some share of impressive outings on the links, finishing tied for ninth in her first major tournament last October which was the Women’s PGA Championship in Atlanta.

Pagdanganan overcame a seven-over 77 showing in the opening round with a 5- under 65 in both the second and third rounds. She eventually wrapped up the tournament with a final round 73.

It didn’t take long for her to produce another good showing as she placed third the following week in the LPGA Drive on Championship-Reynolds Lake Oconee with a four-day total of 14-under 274.

Golf observers also recognized Pagdanganan’s ability to drive the ball as far as she could, averaging 283.07 yards to lead all LPGA golfers in 2020.

“It’s kind of a shock, I guess. It’s an advantage but it’s not really everything. I think lately, I’ve been working more on consistency and just other parts of my game,” she added.

Her other performances on the Tour is an indication of how much hurdles Pagdanganan needs to overcome.

She ended the season searching for that consistency, placing 34th in the Pelican Women’s Championship, 76th in the Volunteers of America Classic and 68th in the CME Group Tour Championship.

Pagdanganan also missed the cut in the US Women’s Open which was her second major event.

That is why Pagdanganan is setting her sights on bigger goals in 2021 like several top 10 finishes and also securing a place in the Tokyo Olympics. “I think for me, it is important to aim high.” (Jonas Terrado)

EJ Obiena: Mission not over yet

EJ Obiena

It takes guts and a tough mental fortitude to be where pole vaulter EJ Obiena is right now, but the 25-year-old Tondo native admits he still has a long way to go.

From bouncing back to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury to breaking national records and now, gearing up for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Obiena said his motivation is to make the most of his abilities.

“It’s hard. I’ve been in a constant fight to just keep moving forward and keep pushing. It’s an everyday life,” Obiena told Manila Bulletin all the way from his training camp in Italy.

Obiena has been away from his family for more than a year now, missing birthdays, holidays and various family affairs in exchange for intensive training under renowned Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.

The opportunity to have a renowned mentor that helped shape the success of great pole vaulters like Sergey Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva was hard to pass up, and Obiena is willing to endure everything just to reach the pinnacle of his career. After all, he started from scratch in 2017 when he underwent an ACL operation that sidelined him for months.

A national record and gold medals in the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships, the 2019 Universiade and the 2019 Southeast Asian Games are just part of his journey. As the first Filipino to qualify to the Tokyo Olympics, Obiena seeks to make an impact in the world’s
biggest sports stage.

He hopes his experiences will encourage the youth not only to try the sport but to also learn perseverance in their chosen field.

“I think the best thing that I could give back to them is information, my experiences on how I deal with things,” Obiena said.

It’s a two-way thing, as Obiena likes to see it. Talking to kids and youth athletes also gives him a different view on things, and it keeps him grounded.

“I’m still learning,” he said. (Kristel Satumbaga)

Karl ‘KarlTzy’ Nepomuceno: Best Mobile Legends player in the world

Karl “KarlTzy” Nepomuceno

At 16, Karl Gabriel Nepomuceno, who is famous for his alias KarlTzy, has already proven that he is the best professional player in the popular game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. 

Together with his team Bren Esports, Nepomuceno recently ruled the M2 Mobile Legends World Championship, the biggest tournament of Chinese game developer Moonton, held at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore. 

They took down Burmese Ghouls of Myanmar, 4-3, in a grueling grand finals witnessed by more than three million viewers online. 

As the team’s hyper-carry tasked to deal heavy damage and getting kills against enemy heroes, Nepomuceno undeniably played the biggest part in Bren’s Cinderella run from the lower bracket to the world title. 

Nepomuceno and Bren bagged the $140,000 (over P6.7 million) lion’s share of the $300,000 (over P14.4 million) prize pool against 11 other strong teams from Southeast Asia, Japan, Brazil, and Russia. 

The pride of Laguna took home an additional $3,000 (over P144,000) for emerging as the Grand Finals Most Valuable Player. 

But more than the money, Nepomuceno was keen on cementing his claim as the world’s best player in the mobile multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. 

Nepomuceno began his professional ML career when he was just 14 years old, playing for Finesse Solid in the second season of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League (MPL) Philippines. 

With his exceptional talent and impeccable mechanical skills, he got a coveted spot in the national esports team Sibol which competed in the Southeast Asian Games 2019. 

Nepomuceno proved to be a crucial cog for Sibol which snared the gold medal in the biennial regional meet after pulling off a thrilling 3-2 victory against Indonesia in the finals. 

He transferred to Bren the next year and led the Bernard Chong-owned organization to the championship in the MPL PH Season 6 followed by a triumphant title defense in The Nationals Season 2, both of which are professional leagues in the country. 

Nepomuceno has already achieved so much in such a short time and yet he still has a lot of years ahead of him.

Only time could tell how many more trophies this young esports trailblazer will capture in the future. (Jeremiah Sevilla)

Eumir Marcial: Olympic gold medal is main goal

Eumir Felix Marcial

When Eumir Marcial signed a deal with the MP Promotions last year, there was little apprehension if his decision would affect his preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

As a pro boxer, there is the opportunity to cash in on fights, which – for some experts – may get in the way of his legitimate shot at winning the first gold medal for the Philippines at the Games.

Marcial, however, reiterated that though he has turned pro, his main focus remains to be the Tokyo Olympics.

“I always put in mind that the goal is the Tokyo Olympics,” said the 25-year-old Marcial in Filipino.

“All the sacrifices, all the hardships that I’m doing, when I get to the Tokyo Olympics I’ll have no regrets because I made all the effort. As a young kid, this is what I have in mind (to play in the Olympics).”

Marcial made his professional debut December 16 and scored a unanimous victory against American Andrew Whitfield at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California.

It was only a four-rounder but for his second fight, which is possibly in March, the promotion outfit owned by Filipino boxing legend and Senator Manny Pacquiao plans to schedule him in a six-round fight.

After that, Marcial said he is going back home to train with the national team in a bubble in Laguna.

He said that his experience growing up toughened him and he will not easily give up or let go of his bid to play in the Olympics.

Together with his father Eulalio, Marcial said that remembering the hardships they had to endure – like walking for three kilometers to go to the gym, or the hunger he felt after training with water as the only available option – keeps him focused on winning the Olympic gold medal.

“I just have to be patient to reach my goal. We had a very difficult situation before, but now I’m here. I’m almost there in realizing my dream together with my father to get the gold medal in the Olympics.”

Marcial earned a spot in the Tokyo Olympics via the Asian Olympic Qualifiers held last March in Amman, Jordan.

He said that other boxers – particularly the amateurs – should set a goal if they want to achieve something.

“They have to be disciplined, they have to respect others. They should also trust the Lord if they want to get to the top,” said Marcial, a native of Lunzuran, Zamboanga City. (Waylon Galvez)

Gymnast Carlos Yulo chases Olympic glory

Carlos Yulo

The country’s chances of finally winning its first Olympic gold medal in this year’s Tokyo Games could come from Carlos Yulo, the young gymnast who has captivated the hearts of local sports fans with his artistry on the mat.

From humble beginnings in Malate, Manila to claiming multiple honors here and abroad, many see the 20-year-old as the one who could possibly end the Philippines’ long wait for a golden performance in the Olympiad.

Yulo was one of the first Filipinos to qualify for Tokyo when he advanced to the finals of the all-around event of the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. It was in the same event where he made history by claiming gold in the floor exercise event.

In winning the event held in Stuttgart, Germany, Yulo became the first Filipino and Southeast Asian to claim gold in the world championship.

He rode on that momentum to put on a dazzling show later that year at the Southeast Asian Games where Yulo performed at the newly-refurbished Rizal Memorial Coliseum which is a few blocks away from their home in Leveriza Street.

Yulo bagged two gold medals in all-around and floor exercise events of the biennial meet while settling for five silver medals, namely pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put a halt to any progress Yulo had following both events. 

But much as he wants to be in the comforts of being home with family members and even friends, Yulo opted to stay in Japan amid the pandemic and train under the watchful eyes of coach Munehiro Kugimiya, hoping that such sacrifice would lead to high rewards down the road.

The pandemic didn’t prevent Yulo from competing, recently taking a pair of bronzes in the All- Japan Gymnastics Championships before 2020 came to an end.

He also ended 2020 sharing the No. 1 world ranking in the floor exercise apparatus with Rayderley Zapata of the Dominican Republic.

If the Games in the Japanese capital will push through in July, Yulo is hoping to put on his best performance yet and hear the country’s national anthem being played on the Olympic stage. (Jonas Terrado)

Alex Eala: Find your passion

Alex Eala

Alex Eala is slowly putting the country in the international tennis map – and she is only 15 years old.

A scholar of the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy, the junior tennis sensation has been making heads turn with impressive performances particularly in the women’s pro circuit.

Just last Jan. 24, Eala captured her first pro title in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) W15 Manacor event in Spain against older, more experienced rivals.

Entering the tournament as a junior reserve, she shocked seeded foes including the top pick Seone Mendez of Australia and fifth seed Carole Monet of France.

In the junior circuit, she finished the 2020 season ranked No. 3 in the ITF highlighted by an Australian Open Juniors Doubles title with Indonesian partner Priska Nugroho and a semifinal finish at the French Open Girls Singles.

Her French Open feat actually made her the first Filipina to make it to a Grand Slam singles semifinal.

For Eala, it’s a combination of passion and determination to achieve goals.

“Find your passion or what you want to be good at. And once you find it, give it your 110 percent,” Eala told Manila Bulletin.

As with any athletes seeking high performance training abroad, it comes with a price: being away from family and learning independence at a young age. But Eala took it in stride, and the results are slowly showing.

Eala hopes her achievements could inspire the Filipino youth to dream big.

“I hope the Filipino youth like me will see that we can excel in the global stage. All we need is hard work and determination,” she said.

Eala’s career may have just been starting to bear fruits, and she’s carrying the Filipino flag with it in her journey. (Kristel Satumbaga)

Carl Jammes Martin:
Ifugao boxer wants to make a name his own way

Carl Jammes Martin

A young boxer from the mountains of Cordillera, who goes by the nickname “Wonder Boy,” is making huge waves in the boxing scene with his undefeated record.

Slowly rising to boxing stardom, Carl Jammes Martin, 21, holds a record of 16 wins with 14 knockouts since entering the professional rank only in 2016.

For someone who had just gone over teenage years, Martin already drew a comparison from the younger version of Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

Could he really be the next Pacquiao? Even Gerry Peñalosa, a former two-division world champion believes so.

A smiling Martin, hailing from Lagawe, Ifugao, acknowledged the comparison when this writer popped the question during a video call Sunday afternoon. But there is more to him than just being the “next Manny Pacquiao.”

“Masaya po ako na may nakita silang sign na Pacquiao style sa akin (I’m happy that others associate my style with Pacquiao’s), the Ifugao youngster told the Manila Bulletin.

“Sa katotohanan po para sa akin, talagang patuloy kong hinahanap ‘yung tunay na nilalaro ko at performance sa taas ng ring. Mas maganda po na makikita nilang may originality ako. Pero
maganda rin po ‘yung part na may comparison kay Pacquiao — isa sa mga iniidolo ko ‘yun, ang ating Pambansang Kamao (To be honest, I’m still finding my true fighting style and performance in the ring. It would be better if they will see that I have originality. But it’s also good that there’s this comparison with Pacquiao — one of my idols, our ‘Pambansang Kamao’).”

Martin takes pride in representing the Cordillera Administrative Region since the northern zone is mostly known for other combat sports such as wushu, muay thai, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts among others.

Most boxing talents are from the south of the Philippines, particularly in Visayas and Mindanao.

Even Pacquiao himself was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, and raised in General Santos City in South Cotabato.

The Ifugao pug captured the vacant Philippine Boxing Federation (PBF) bantamweight title after stunning compatriot Benezer Alolod in the seventh round in Mandaluyong in September 2019 before knocking out another Filipino challenger in Philip Luis Cuerdo in the third round at the Manila Arena for the title defense three months later.

Martin defeated Richard Rosales last December 18 via unanimous decision in Mandaue City for his 16th win. He also captured regional titles in WBA, WBO, and WBC.

So when Martin made it into the headlines, mostly because of his unscathed record and explosiveness in the boxing ring, the southpaw fighter felt a stronger sense of duty to continue bannering the north in the boxing scene. (Carlo Anolin)

Abed Yusop: Esports star has a bright future 

Abed Yusop

Once considered a prodigy, Abed Azel Yusop, 20, is now primed to take the Philippine flag to the top of the Dota 2 esports scene. 

Widely known in the community as “Abed”, Yusop is at the forefront of the Filipino professional players’ chase for the championship and the whopping prize money in the million-dollar The International (TI). 

The TI is the largest Dota 2 tournament in the world and has been boasting of millions of dollars in prize pool every year since 2011, including the $34.3 million in the ninth edition in 2019 where
champion team OG went home over $15 million richer. 

If not for the pandemic, Yusop and his North American team Evil Geniuses (EG) would have competed last year for the lion’s share of over $40 million prize pool–easily the biggest money at stake in the history of esports.

Playing for an organization recognized for its winning culture, the Dasmariñas, Cavite native is now closer to becoming the first-ever Filipino Dota 2 pro to hoist the Aegis of Champions, the glorious trophy from TI. 

EG ruled the world tournament in 2015 and bagged over $6.6 million. Although the US-based team has not made a title repeat from then, it has always been a strong title contender.     

Prior to being recruited by EG in September 2019, Yusop proved that he rightfully belongs to the star-studded organization composed of top players in the world. 

Yusop became the first player to reach the 10,000 matchmaking rating (MMR) points–a rating system in Dota 2–in 2017. 

He made his TI debut at the age of 16 in 2016, playing for Filipino team Execration, and participated every iteration from then, representing American squad Digital Chaos and multinational organization Fnatic. 

While in EG, Yusop hit another milestone as he emerged as the first player with 11,000 MMR. 

So far, he has helped EG take a fourth-place finish and two runner-up finishes in three major tournaments, where the team earned a total of $340,000.

Speaking about earnings, Yusop has already raked in more than $440,000 from 40 tournaments over the course of his esports career.

And the Filipino Dota 2 star could earn more, possibly millions, if he and EG rise above all in the The International 10 later this year. (Jeremiah Sevilla)

Yuka Saso: Gaining ground on the greens

Yuka Saso

There is no doubt of Yuka Saso’s potential to be one of golf’s biggest stars. With a decorated amateur career and an impressive rookie season in the pro circuit, it is clear that the young ace is destined to bring pride and joy to the country.

Two years before turning professional, Saso, then 17 years old, achieved a milestone for Philippine golf when she won a historic gold medal in the women’s individual event of the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

Saso duplicated her success when she steered the women’s team to the championship – likewise a first for the country in the continent’s biggest sporting event.

The following month, she represented the national team in the Summer Youth Olympics and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish in the girl’s individual category.

Saso turned professional in November 2019 when she earned her LPGA of Japan Tour card for 2020.

Her first tournament last year was the Earth Mondahmin Cup in Chiba where she placed fifth overall.

Despite the pandemic, Saso continued performing well at the Japan Tour and it didn’t take long for her to deliver the goods even as a rookie.

She captured her first title when she ruled the NEC Karuizawa 72 championship back in August 2020, and later that month, she made it back-to-back after ruling the Notori Ladies Golf Tournament.

Saso finished the season of the Japan Tour as the top money earner with approximately P43 million from tournament prize money. Her two wins earned her an invite in her first US Women’s Open in Houston, Texas.

At the US Women’s Open, Saso proved she can compete against the best golfers in the world when she briefly had the lead in the first round of the prestigious event.

Though she wasn’t able to win, she did manage to hold it together for a respectable finish at 13th and a consolation of P4.6 million.

As she resumes her campaign at the pro level, Saso maintained her availability to represent the national team.

Saso is on track of securing a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

If she continues to perform well this year in various pro tournaments, Saso would earn another milestone as an Olympian. (Waylon Galvez)

Kai Sotto: Setting his sights on the NBA

Kai Sotto

Kai Sotto understands that his ultimate dream of playing in the NBA is something that is bigger than himself.

“I just wanna be the first one (to play in the NBA), and I just wanna show everyone that we (Filipinos) can also make it,” Kai said in a NBA G League video posted online last May.

At 18 years old and standing at 7-foot-3, Sotto is close to achieving that goal by way of his upcoming stint with the G League Ignite squad in the upcoming NBA G League season in Orlando, Florida.

Orlando is a long way from his humble beginnings as a son of a former PBA player when Kai literally became the center of attention at a Jr. NBA camp in 2016.

That opportunity led to another as he eventually enhanced his status by playing for Ateneo high school, winning two UAAP juniors Most Valuable Player honors and a championship back in 2018.

He could have been content to stay home and likely suit up for Ateneo in college, but Sotto had bigger things in mind.

He left for the US in April 2019 to begin his quest to play in the NBA.
Filipino basketball fans have been longing for the day a homegrown player gets to play in an NBA game.

Johnny Abarrientos got as far as getting interest from a Charlotte Hornets scout back in 1997 while current PBA stars Japeth Aguilar and Ray Parks Jr. had short stints in the G League before deciding to head back home.

Kai is the country’s best chance of seeing that dream become a reality. And he believes that being on the Ignite, a team that has some of the top prospects from the US and abroad, can help him there.

After playing a series of scrimmages before the end of 2020, Sotto will get a chance to showcase his skills in a larger arena. So far, draft experts offered low expectations on Kai, with one suggesting that he could at best be selected late in the second round.

But this has not discouraged Kai, who vows to keep on working. 

In a tweet, he said: “Continue to watch me work.” (Jonas Terrado)

Samantha Kyle Catantan and Vanessa de Jesus: Filipino athletes in US

Samantha Catantan

Filipino fencer Samantha Kyle Catantan and Filipino–American basketball player Vanessa de Jesus had different paths when they started as aspiring athletes in their respective sports.
Catantan honed her skills on local shore to become one of the brightest young fencers that the country has developed, which led to her inclusion to the Philippine Fencing Team.
De Jesus, on the other hand, grew to become one of the best players in women’s basketball in Valencia, California, which earned her an invite to be part of Gilas Pilipinas women’s squad.
The two did that as high school players.
Now as freshmen in college, both Catantan and de Jesus are with powerhouse Division 1 schools in the US NCAA – Catantan at Penn State University, while De Jesus at Duke University.
Catantan’s only goal when she was at the early stage learning her sport was to be part of the high school team of University of the East, which she did and eventually won gold medals in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and in other competitions here and abroad.
But to play for a college team in the US was not part of the plan – not even in her wildest imagination.
“Never ko na-imagine talaga na mag-aaral ako sa US,” said Catantan, the first “homegrown” Filipino fencer to be given full scholarship by a Division 1 school in the US NCAA.
The 18-year-old Catantan formally joined Penn State University – owners of the record 13 championships in the US NCAA – last January 10 and has started training with the Nittany Lions.
She is expected to start competing this February to earn points necessary to advance in the state and regional meets, before claiming a spot in the tournament proper of the US NCAA in May in
Catantan said there was no secret in what she accomplished so far, since the only thing she did was train hard from the time she started as an eight-year-old fencer with coach Christian Canlas, and when she moved to be part of the national team with coach Amat Canlas.

Vanessa de Jesus

As for the 18-year-old de Jesus, she attended one of the top high school teams in America, the Sierra Canyon Girls’ basketball program.
During her stint with Sierra Canyon, de Jesus was able to collect several awards, which include the Gold Coast League Most Valuable Player and the Southern Section Co-Player of the Year in 2019.
That led to her invitation to the Duke Blue Devils under former WNBA superstar Kara Lawson. 

“I’m so grateful to have this opportunity,” said the 5-foot-8 de Jesus, who is averaging 12 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists as the starting point guard of Duke, where she is taking a pre-med course. (Waylon Galvez)