This is a do-or-die game. Both are tied in their bracket standings behind University of the Philippines; the winner will advance to the knockout phases while the loser will head home wondering what could have been.
Then, two or three defenders start closing in on her, yet none of whom are two or three meters nearby. At full speed, she opts for a drive to the goal. They aren’t going to catch up with her anyway.
Or so it seemed. A puddle stops the ball dead in its tracks and takes away that opportunity for an equalizer. One of the defenders wrests the ball away and proceeds to score again.
Xavier eventually lost that game 3-0, good for third place in their group that only allowed two to advance.
Such can also be said of XU’s other varsity teams competing in the 17th University Games (UniGames) in Bacolod City: all having the ability to keep up with top athletic programs in the country for a while before fading away into oblivion.
This isn’t implying that XU is totally inept athletically. In truth, the Crusaders garnered 24 medals in five different sports, capped with gold in female Individual Kata (Karatedo). The women’s Karatedo team finished 2nd overall in their sport. The swimming teams got eight bronzes against formidable opposition such as San Beda College and University of the Philippines. Individual events provided for the remainder of medals for XU.
For the teams that weren’t able to bring a medal home, they proved to be tough competition against heftier, more skilled opponents.
But the gap between XU and the leading college sports programs is too glaring to ignore.
Entering the UniGames, the XU women’s volleyball squad were the defending champions of the Cagayan de Oro Schools Athletic Association (COSAA). The city’s finest failed to shine in the national scene. “Kato among pagka-champion sa COSAA, that’s different. We’re against national teams baya. Ang uban ga-practice ug years, kita weeks. (…) Kulang ta ug exposure. Ang ato’ng opponents kay anad baya ug pressure-games. Kita, isa lang baya ang ato ginadulaan, ang COSAA,” opines Mrs. Angeliz Anoos, volleyball women’s coach, after the team’s winless quest.
It seems that exposure, not talent gap, is the biggest problem that the program is facing. Not too long ago, Xavier once kept up with the big boys of the Philippine college athletic scene. Various Crusaders – especially those playing in team sports – performed well enough to attract attention from better-funded schools, especially from Manila.
John Paul Erram, a lanky six-foot-six center currently plying his trade with five-time UAAP men’s basketball champions Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, was a starter for a Crusaders team that was a perennial powerhouse in Cagayan de Oro City hoops. His frontcourtmate Paul Siarot also plays for the Blue Eagles and will likely see action next season.
Table tennis coach Julie Castillon says it is the responsibility of the University Athletics office to look for leagues where they can participate in to harness their skills. “Sila dapat ang mangita sa amo ug dula. Dili baya gyud ang coaches or ang players ang mangita sa ilang games.”
Hundreds of miles away from that mud pool in Bacolod City, the same football player advances from practically the left wing. This is the ground that she has been playing in everyday – the XU field. One-on-one against the opposing goalkeeper, she fired a shot and scored a goal. She is the star in this place; there is no serious competition for her talent anyway.
She might realize that there is less opportunity for growth here. She might want for better competition in order to build her game even more. As Anoos puts it, “Hopefully, [we will get] more exposure [para] sa teams kay wala ma’y nagmature sa training— diha gyud na sa dula.”