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    How do you sweep a UAAP season? Ateneo can learn from ex-Eaglets who fell short

    Nov 2, 2019

    EIGHTEEN days separate Ateneo from its final eliminations game against University of the Philippines on Wednesday and Game One of the Finals, scheduled on November 16.

    But as much of a question it is of rust, experience will surely play a factor in keeping the Blue Eagles' talons sharp.

    And lucky for them, they have players who have been in this situation before.

    Matt and Mike Nieto were at the forefront of the Blue Eaglets when they swept the elimination round of the juniors' tournament in Season 77 in 2015.

    "I think we’re more experienced now than we were in high school," remarked Mike, with the lessons of that run still fresh in his mind.

    After running rampage through the field, the Joe Silva-mentored crew suffered a tough 76-72 Game One defeat to Mark Dyke and Nazareth School of National University to start the championship series.

    "Noong Game One, naalala ko kaya kami natalo kasi tira kami nang tira ng three-points, 16 three-points yata," said Mike.

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    The Blue Eaglets did go on and take the next two victories to win the crown.

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    Three years later, and Ateneo went on and took the 14-0 romp anew, this time bannered by Kai Sotto, SJ Belangel, and Dave Ildefonso.

    That year's Blue Eaglets took Game One, but failed to complete the perfect season after losing once again to Rhayyan Amsali and the Bullpups, 70-67, in Game Two.

    "Hindi kami naglaro as a team tapos masyado kaming relaxed. Nag-focus kami lalo sa referees kaysa sa team namin. Grabe yung fouls na tinatawag sa amin tapos kapag sa amin, wala namang tinatawagan. Doon kami tumutok kaysa sa game," reminisced Belangel of that series early last year.

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    Also part of that crew are rookies Geo Chiu and Jason Credo.

    Bitter as that defeat was, a familiar figure was on hand for the blue side.

    "Noong natalo kami, nandoon si coach Tab (Baldwin). Kinabukasan sa practice, kinausap niya kami," shared Belangel, with Ateneo using that fuel to win the title anew.

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    It's easy to look at the Blue Eagles of the present falling in the same traps, but for these players who have been there before, they already know what they have to do to avoid stumbling in the same hiles.

    "I think we’re just gonna learn from those mistakes before, so we can apply it now," said Mike. "Si coach Tab naman, hindi yan papayag na mag-underachieve kami during that span habang nagpapahinga kami."

    Belangel added: "Yung complacency, yun yung iiwasan mo lagi since noong juniors ako, yun yung malaking natutunan namin."

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      And as grand as Ateneo's goal is, make no mistake: this team welcomes pressure.

      "Actually, mas gusto namin yung pressure kasi dun lumalabas yung character ng team namin. It's pressure that builds us," said Matt. "Sa practice, sa viewing sessions, kung alam niyo lang yung pressure sa amin para makita yung pagkakamali namin sa viewing sessions kay coach Tab. Ito talaga yung result kung bakit kami nandito ngayon dahil sa pressure na yun."

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      He continued: "Hindi kami nagbaback-off sa pressure na matalo, basta iisipin namin if we play the right way, that’s the most important thing that we learn. Yun lang naman eh. Yung pressure naman, nandyan lang naman lagi at di mawawala. Before the season, may pressure na sa amin yan eh. Now going into the Finals, mas malaking pressure pero mas hindi kami magba-back off."

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