DETHRONED champion Ateneo de Manila University vows to spread its wings wider and soar to greater heights, sooner than later, after being sent crashing back to Earth in a rare occasion.
The Blue Eagles, for the first time under the genius tactician Tab Baldwin, failed to reach the finals following an early exit in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 86 Final Four with a 57-46 loss against Katipunan rival and No. 1 seed University of the Philippines.
The loss ended Ateneo’s six-straight finals appearance since 2016 when the multi-titled Mr. Baldwin took over the program. The last time Ateneo didn’t advance in the UAAP finals was way back in Season 78.
“Certainly, it has been a rollercoaster season for us. The record indicates that if you were a fly on the wall that all of our practices you would see that firsthand. But I just got to say I’m really proud of the team because this was a season of battles, not just on the court,” said Mr. Baldwin
Ateneo’s shaky campaign saw it limp into the Final Four.
With multiple rookies on deck after the departure of their championship core led by MVP Ange Kouame, the Blue Eagles fought for their dear lives all-season long before salvaging a playoff win against Adamson University to secure the last semis ticket.
One-and-done cager Joseph Obasa was tasked to anchor the squad with huge shoes to fill vacated by Mr. Kouame as veterans Chris Koon and Kai Ballungay poured it all to guide the young Eagles.
To no avail, it wasn’t enough as an era ended in Loyola. But if anything, Mr. Baldwin sees it as an opening of a new pathways to greatness soon.
“A lot of people will look at this season as a season of failure, a season of indifference. But I choose to look at the glass being half-full. And I’d like to think that this season is a bridge for us,” beamed Mr. Baldwin as the Eagles held a mass for the graduating Mr. Obasa at the Church of the Gesu in Ateneo after their Final Four exit.
“So, we’re looking at this year now as a bridge to what we hope will be a new era of success for Blue Eagle basketball. We’re going to be optimistic.”
From here on as the Eagles embark on lessons and teachings of a historic Season 86 that halted their finals streak, the young cadets at their nest are anticipated to only get molded into ready warriors.
“This has to be a spark for them, which lights a fire, which burns all of us until we put it out with some hardware in the future. We will be reminding one another in the months to come about the pain that we have so that the fire doesn’t go out,” he added.
“Hopefully, it be part of the process of giving us the motivation and giving us the drive to work our tails off to get back into what we believe shouldn’t be the place we belong — and that’s in the finals and ultimately winning championships.” — John Bryan Ulanday