[Seventh of a series]
AFTER winning the UAAP Cheerdance title for the first time last year, the National University Bulldogs Pep Squad could think of no other way to top the feat than to go for back-to-back championships.
“Every year dapat mag level-up kami. And since champion na kami last year, we want to aim at a bigger target, back-to-back championships,” said Ghicka Bernabe, the charming coach who has been at the helm of the NU Pep Squad since 2011.
Known for her tough persona, the former Palarong Pambansa gymnast from Bulacan vows to help NU retain its title against expected top contenders such as eight-time title holders University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, and De La Salle.
“I am confident of our chances kasi mas maganda ang ipinapakita sa ensayo ngayon ng mga bata, at ayaw nilang tumigil,” she said as the Bulldogs geaed up for Sunday's event at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“In fact, we reviewed our routine and stunts last year and hindi pa sila kuntento, which is very positive lalo’t our critics claim na nagkataon lang na nakapag-execute kami ng near perfect routine last year, we want to prove to them that NU’s championship is no fluke.”
That Bernabe talks with confidence is natural to her.
Her closest friends consider the former FEU Tamaraws star flyer as a born winner with a knack for venturing and experimenting on untested formula and eventually achieving positive results.
“Very creative ang mind niyan. Sobrang gusto niyang mag-explore ng new things. Kung ano-ano naiisip niya. Gusto niya kasi na i-try ang hindi pa nagagawa ng iba,” said Gabby Bajacan, assistant coach of NU Pep Squad and a former teammate at FEU.
“Pag hindi namin na-execute sa una 'yung routine, gagawa siya ng ibang paraan para maging ganun pa rin ang outcome.
“Kaya 'yung performance ng NU, talagang kung una sasabihin mo na imposible, dahil kahit kami, sa umpisa sinasabi namin: ‘Ghicka parang imposible yan?’ Pero ipipilit niya,” added Bajacan, who has been with Bernabe at NU for three years now.
Bernabe’s unconventional cheerleading philosophy finally bore fruit last year as NU broke the title monotony of UP, UST, and FEU by posting an overwhelming 696.5-point score.
The victory was the biggest jump in the 20-year history of the cheerdance competition after the Bulldogs previously finished sixth in 2011 and third the year after.
“She and her group were highly recommended to us,” recalled NU Pep Squad team manager Patricia Chunsim. “And true enough, interview pa lang namin she already elicited a tough persona.”
“Nung kausap namin siya, she not only presented her program. She gave a clear-cut plan on how we will go about that program. Hindi tulad nung iba na alam mong hanggang pang-presentation lang,” she added.
In the aftermath of their breathtaking performance last year, the Bulldogs, who are backed by the SM Group of Companies, are now gearing up for yet another dazzling act, which Bernabe vowed to be another milestone in Philippine cheerdancing.
“Every year our aim is to beat our own standards. Nagpakita sila ng magandang performance last year, so we want to show a better routine ngayong taon,” she said.
Other squads vying for honors: