This year has been about domination in Philippine sports.
From Ateneo Blue Eagles’ full season sweep to the Philippine team’s surge in the Southeast Asian Games, 2019 is a year when powerhouse teams showcased their might.
As the year draws to a close, let us take a look back at these dominations plus some other sports stories that highlighted this year.
Junemar Fajardo takes MVP No. 5
For the first time ever, the Leo Awards, where top performers of the previous Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) season are being feted, became part of the opening ceremonies of the new season.
On January 13, 2019, the San Miguel Beermen center became the first player ever to win five Most Valuable Player awards, and he did that in consecutive years dating back from 2014.
That is why although it is a thing of 2018, Junemar Fajardo made this list.
With that said, talks became imminent on whether we have just seen the greatest player in the PBA or not.
On whether you consider him as the greatest of all time or not, one thing is for certain: his domination is far from over.
7th seed? No problem!
Since we’re talking about Fajardo, let’s first talk about San Miguel’s epic Cinderella run in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The Beermen barely made the playoffs of the said conference, eventually landing in the seventh seed.
But that would mean they have to totally endure the second-seeded NorthPort Batang Pier as only one loss would knock them out of contention.
Worse, SMB lost its main gunner, Marcio Lassiter, to a medial cruciate ligament injury before halftime of Game 1 which also ruled him out of Gilas Pilipinas Men’s campaign in the FIBA World Cup.
Despite that, the Beermen completed the “upset” of the Batang Pier in the quarterfinals before ousting the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the semifinals and the TNT KaTropa in the finals to follow up on their Philippine Cup title, something they won in the previous conference despite being the fifth seeds in the playoffs.
Although the grand slam run ended up short again, this Cinderella finish is something not to overlook.
Ceres Negros’ undefeated run
When the Philippine Premier League faced uncertainty after its opening night, many football fans wondered if they will see club action again this year.
Good thing, the PPL’s predecessor, the Philippines Football League, quickly returned after the former finally closed shop, and fast forward to October, fans were treated to arguably the most dominant run by a squad in recent professional football history.
Ceres Negros wreaked havoc all regular season long, winning 22 matches and drawing two more, both against Stallion Laguna, without a single loss to win its third consecutive league title in unbeaten fashion, the first time at least in PFL history that a club finished the season undefeated.
Ceres Negros’ unbeaten run actually continued to the Copa Paulino Alcantara, finishing the tournament with four straight wins following a shock draw against Mendiola in the group stages to complete the domestic double.
Now, the focus of Ceres Negros is on qualifying for the AFC Champions League with its journey beginning on January 14 against Shan United at the Rizal Memorial Stadium here.
Ateneo sweeps the UAAP
Ateneo has been the most dominant team in recent University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball history dating back to the 2000s, winning nine of the last 18 titles.
But prior to this year, there was one thing lacking: completing a full season sweep.
There had been a number of times the Blue Eagles would finish the elimination round 13-1.
But this year, they made sure that they will get that 14-0 regular season domination.
Although the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers threatened to quickly end that bid in their first-round meeting, Ateneo still completed the elimination sweep, giving the team an outright finals spot.
In the championship round, the Blue Eagles made sure they learned their lessons against the Growling Tigers, who had to go through the full length of the stepladder playoffs, and completed the first-ever 16-0 season sweep of the league.
Things, however, are set to change next year as Ateneo’s top local gunners, Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and the Nieto twins, have already graduated in the UAAP.
Go would become the first overall pick of this PBA Draft, while the Nietos found themselves drafted in a special Gilas Cadets round dedicated to the players being groomed for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Ravena, on the other hand, opted out of the draft in favor of further training to become more ready for the pros.
Letran ends era with a statement
Meanwhile, at the other major collegiate league of Metro Manila, change is coming.
This year marked the last time the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) member schools can suit up a foreign player to their respective teams as next year, no one will be allowed to recruit foreign student-athletes to shore up its roster.
The teams that had FSAs in their lineups made the most of their presence while it lasted, but in the end, Letran, one of only two teams who entered the season all-Filipino, took home the NCAA men’s basketball title, beating San Beda, featuring the ever-dominant Donald Tankoua, in an epic finals series that went down the wire in all three games.
The Knights, despite playing without a foreigner, had the last laugh as an era of foreign players starring in the NCAA came to a close, and with the league going all-Filipino starting next season, it will be interesting to note if they can sustain their domination especially that some of their key players, Christian Balagasay, Jerrick Balanza, and Bonbon Batiller, were all drafted to the PBA.
Interesting enough, Letran was a proponent of the proposal to stop the foreign student-athlete recruitment for 2020 and beyond.
‘We won as one’
When Philippine Sports Commission commissioner Mon Fernandez posted the quote, “we won as one”, right after the conclusion of the Southeast Asian Games, it was mainly an affirmation that indeed, the Philippine team was united in ruling the biennial meet at home.
For just the second time ever, the Philippines became the overall champion of the SEA Games, racking up 149 gold medals and 386 medals in total.
The gold medal haul is in itself the most that the Philippine team got all time, surpassing the 113 in 2005, the last time the country hosted the games.
Although it had some early roadblocks, the Philippine hosting of the sports meet this year was a success.
Up next: the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where the quest for the country’s first-ever Olympic gold continues, the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam, where the Philippines looks to finish in the Top 3, and the bid to host the 2030 Asian Games, which can be fully bolstered once the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac is finished.
Some SEA Games stories, however, had to be particularly cited in this section because of the impact it brought to everyone.
The first would be Gilas Pilipinas Women’s win in the basketball events.
Gilas Women won both the gold medals in both the 3×3 and the 5×5 events, something the Philippines had never achieved unlike how their male counterparts would dominate the competition.
With Philippine women’s basketball beginning to get some traction in the 10’s, the 20’s look to be bright not just for Gilas Women but for women’s basketball in the Philippines in general.
Also, the men’s volleyball team made a remarkable run in the recent SEA Games.
Usually overshadowed by the glitz and glamor of women’s volleyball, the Philippine men’s volleyball team shocked the entire Asean region after beating mighty Thailand in the semifinals to make the final for the first time in more than 40 years.
Although the Philippines settled for the silver after losing to Indonesia, it shone like gold and can be the stepping stone it needed to rebuild its identity in the international scene.
Among the praises all the athletes received for their sterling performances in their respective sports, surfer Roger Casugay’s heroic act perhaps was the most applauded.
With the effects of Typhoon Tisoy still reeling in the coast of San Juan, La Union, Casugay pulled off arguably the best sportsmanship act in recent years by giving up a chance to secure the gold and even risking of sacrificing his life just to save his Indonesian opponent from drowning.
Casugay’s act of heroism, that even got the nod of no less than Indonesian President Joko Widodo, was rewarded by naming him as the winner of the Fair Play award at the closing ceremonies at the New Clark City Athletic Stadium.
Oh! He would go on to win the surfing gold as well. (PNA)