GHICKA Bernabe has come a long way since being almost driven out of National University.
Coming from a successful FEU Cheering Squad program, she was tabbed to turn the page for a long-suffering NU Pep Squad.
It wasn't easy, she said.
"Nung nagsimula ako dito, ayaw nila sa akin," she admitted.
Cellar-dwellers in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition (CDC) for the longest time, Bernabe was a straight shooter from the get-go, telling members of the squad their inadequacies and what they need to do to match with heavyweights like UP, UST, and FEU.
"Tinapat ko sila at sinabi ko na kulang talaga sila sa skills. Even sa management nung tinanong ako kung kaya ba mag-podium, honest ako at sinabi ko na kahit anong gawin ko, mahirap," she said.
But Bernabe knew what she's gotten into, and she's set up a path for NU to rise from the scraps -- even though a number of cheerleaders weren't into it from the beginning.
"Nalaman ko na pine-petition nila ako. Nakita ko na nagpapa-pirma sila para palitan ako," she said.
"Pero tinapat ko sila. Nung nagharap-harap kami, sinabi ko talaga sa boss na pine-petition nila ako. Ayaw nila sa akin kasi hindi ako tiga-NU. Pero ang sabi ko, kukuha kayo ng coach sa hindi nakaranas ng panalo, eh di ganoon din at walang mangyayari. Eh ako, nakaranas ako na manalo, so bakit hindi natin subukan?"
As tough of a pill as it was to swallow, it was the truth, and Bernabe knew she had her work cut out for her to deliver results after starting off on the wrong foot.
Slowly, things came together for NU Pep Squad with a third-place finish in 2012 before establishing a dynasty of its own in the UAAP CDC from 2013 to 2016.
But that wasn't limited to the UAAP competitions, as NU also lorded in National Cheerleading Championship that merited them a ticket to the ICU Cheerleading World Championships.
Bernabe's naysayers, eventually, fizzled out.
"Naipakita na namin na kaya namin mag-compete at manalo. Nawala na yung mga doubters at critics," she said.
Unfortunately, that reign atop the UAAP mountain came to a screeching halt last year with NU finishing fifth, making this year a redemption season for Bernabe and the NU Pep Squad.
"Masakit sa amin yun na nasa bottom four kami. Tingin namin ok naman ang ginawa namin," the 30-year-old mentor said, reflecting on last year's routine.
Lucky for NU, they've been in this position before and if there's something they can take from those tough first years under Bernabe, it's that they have the capability to ascend to the top once again.
"Naka-focus talaga kami for this year's CDC. Ibang approach ang ginawa namin for this year. Hindi muna kami sumali sa kahit ano kasi gusto namin i-prove na kaya ulit namin manalo sa UAAP," she said. "Tiwala kami na makakabawi kami at makakabalik kami sa taas this year."