The confidence and strength that the National University Lady Bulldogs possess were greatly influenced by their sheer talent and the unbreakable bond they have formed since the juniors’ level.
NU, with most of the players formerly handled by multi-titled high school coach Babes Castillo, made history in the collegiate scene after ending its 65-year title drought by sweeping the entire UAAP Season 84 and dominating its Finals foe De La Salle last June 21.
The journey has never been easy, said first-year head tactician Karl Dimaculangan, who previously mentored University of the East.
But given the roster that the Lady Bulldogs have, a rookie-laden yet very talented core in that sense, the impossible became attainable.
“Sobrang saya,” said Dimaculangan, who was also once felt the same feeling 13 years ago when he led University of Santo Tomas to a perfect 17-0 title run in UAAP Season 71. “Una, ‘yong goal namin is one game at a time lang kami. Focus lang kami every game hanggang sa parang ‘di namin namalayan, natapos na ‘yong first round, second round. Finals Game 1, and then eto na, championship.
“Sobrang fulfiling. Iniisip lang kasi namin nagtiyaga lang kami nang nagtiyaga,” said the former Season Most Valuable Player and Best Server.
Dimaculangan added that “destiny” may have played its role this time as coaching NU, as far as he’s concerned, was unexpected in the first place.
It made the championship run a little sweeter and more emotional for the former player-turned-coach.
“Magkaiba ‘yong pakiramdam. Unang una, ‘di ko inexpect to handly NU. ‘Yong time na nasa UE ako, before alam ko mas maraming coaches na veteran coaches na pwede mag-handle sa kanila pero parang they chose me na ako ‘yong magh-handle,” said. Dimaculangan.
As for the players, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone as the former juniors’ standouts made a mini-reunion during the individual awarding ceremony prior to Game 2 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City last June 21.
Though Faith Nisperos transferred to Ateneo and Thea Gagate went to De La Salle, the likes of Michaela Belen, Camilla Lamina, Jen Nierva, Alyssa Solomon, and Sheena Toring stayed with NU.
Belen became the first-ever rookie-Most Valuable Player in the league’s long history and followed the footsteps of former Lady Bulldogs Jaja Santiago since the latter won the MVP plum in Season 76.
Apart from her historic rookie-MVP award, the 19-year-old Belen also copped the 1st Best Outside Spiker while Nisperos followed suit as the 2nd Best Outside Spiker.
Lamina, Nierva, and Solomon were hailed as Best Setter, Best Libero, and Best Opposite Hitter, respectively, while Gagate and Toring captured the Best Middle Blockers honors in order.
Overall, the whole NU program essentially made three sweeps this season — the “Sweep 16,” a Finals sweep, and the individual award. And these make the victory sweeter and all the sacrifices worth it.
“Siguro kasi ‘yong pinaka-lesson learned is ‘yong journey na sinungkit. ‘Di siya ganon kadali. Siguro kung mas nakita niyo na sweep, pero ‘yong behind the scenes kung paano namin na-reach ‘tong goal na ‘to, ‘yon ‘yong sobrang hirap,” added Dimaculangan. “Kaya worth it talaga ‘yong naging sacrifices ng bawat isa even the coaching staff.”