UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas didn’t only make its grand return to the UAAP Finals after eight years, it also united thousands of fans, students and alumni to cheer as one.
Just like the glory days of UST from 2007 to 2010, where it won two titles in those four seasons, the Tigresses supporters were claiming that this is the time to bring back the gold to Espanya Avenue after nine years as they flocked Game One and gave the women’s volleyball team a huge morale boost.
“Masaya ang mga dilawan ngayon,” beamed UST head coach Kungfu Reyes. “Kasi UST dilaw ang kulay, di ba?”
But on a serious note, Reyes dedicated their Game 1 victory over Ateneo in their best-of-three Season 81 Finals to the yellow-clad fans among the ecstatic crowd of 17, 682 people Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Siyempre isang karangalan na nandito kami ngayon kasi yung pakiramdam mo noong nag-seventh place kami. Naramdaman namin lahat ng sakit,” said the UST coach, who is on his first Finals appearance after four years.
Reyes shared that an alumna thanked him after the game as the Tigresses' first Finals appearance since 2011 made them unite to show support for the current UST team.
“Sinasabi nga ni Eya (Laure), maibalik lang namin yung mga Tomasino na nandyan. Sabi nga nung isa dyan, ‘Coach salamat ah, pinagkita-kita mo ulit kaming mga alumni,’” he shared. “Yun ang gesture na kita mo talaga ang mga sumusuporta, na alam nila ang hirap bilang student-athlete, kami din yung stress na naibibigay sa coaches.”
Laure, who scored 11 points in the series opener, has been noticing the return of UST fans in their past game. But this Finals Game One support was way bigger and louder.
“Actually kanina tinititigan ko silang lahat habang nag-'Go Go Uste’ and hanggang ngayon di ako makapaniwala na nabalik namin silang lahat,” Laure said. “Yung tiwala nila bumalik din, yung support nila andun and sobrang na amaze talaga ako na every game kahit previous games pa namin hanggang ngayon nandyan sila ups and downs kaya nakakataba ng puso.”
Team captain Sisi Rondina, who unleashed 23 points in Game One, added that they got shots of inspirations from the former Tigresses, who watched at the Big Dome like former MVP Venus Bernal, Ging Balse-Pabayo, Maru Banaticla and other alumni as well as the legendary coach August Santamaria.
“Overwhelmed kasi queens yun eh. May mga korona na yun eh,” she said.
Rondina even shared a text conversation with Balse-Pabayo on Saturday morning before the game.
“Umaga pa lang nag-message na sa akin si Ate Ging sabi nya, ‘Lagyan lang talaga ng puso, effort lahat ng gagawin nyo,’” said the Season 81 MVP. “Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Yes, Ate Ging. Sana makita namin kayo mamaya. Tayo naman.’ Nag-reply siya na, ‘Oo, tayo naman.’”
“Ang sarap sa feeling na isa sa mga beterana nagbigay ng tiwala sa amin na kaya namin and naniniwala na makukuha at makukuha namin,” she added.
With the huge support they received from the UST community in Game 1 and expecting bigger in their title-clinching Game 2, Reyes wants to claim it on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena for them to accomplish their battle cry ‘Kami Naman.’
“Sabi nga nila sa matagal na panahon na nagsasakripisyo kami ito na yung oras na ‘kami naman,’” Reyes said.