Once is luck, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern. Not everyone might buy into this saying but perhaps in the collegiate football scene, it holds a lot of weight.
The UAAP Women’s Football Championship has been defended successfully five times throughout its history but only two teams managed to prolong their dominance to more than a couple of years. The first team to do it was the De La Salle University Women’s Football Team who conquered the scene from Season 65 up to Season 68. Thus far, they remain as the only team to win it for four consecutive years.
A member of all the four winning teams, Stephanie Pheasant testifies to the challenging task of preserving a winning tradition. The multi-awarded defender has seen it all and has recalled the unforgettable experience of 14 years ago.
Big boots to fill
As champions of the past two years, La Salle went into the three-peat campaign in need of filling a big pair of boots. Previous success came under the leadership of future national team captain Marielle Benitez whose graduation came along with their second championship. The team moved forward by introducing a fresh batch of talent.
“Losing Marielle was a blow on its own but with a set of rookies with the likes of Sumo Lazaro, Lica Ibarra, Sam Bermudes, Marta Uriarte, Issa Camara, Stine Adiarte coming from U19 and the joining team, we figured we were going to be okay,” the Season 65 Rookie of the Year recalled. Their first tournament together already yielded a UNIGAMES victory and if that was a sign of things to come, then it appears to be business at usual in Taft Avenue.
“It was a hard won fight [in the end] despite people thinking that our team was pretty solid that year,” the DLSZ alumna stressed. “It’s never easy when great players graduate or leave but it’s a reality and that has taught me how important preparation is not just for the short term but for the long term,” she added.
Sooner rather than later
Preparation felt pretty smooth but the first test deemed it to be insufficient. DLSU started their three-peat bid against UP. Not a traditional powerhouse, the Maroons managed to shock the champions by defeating them, 1-0.
It was hard for Pheasant and her teammates to wrap their heads around what transpired that remarkably hot day but it might even be harder to imagine how Season 67 unfolded if the defeat came later.
“That was the wake up call we needed. After that game, we were so disappointed and so angry at the loss that we would see ourselves training harder,” the two-time UAAP Women’s Football Most Valuable Player awardee remembered.
In response to the setback, the Archers took a long, hard look at themselves. Hard work was a given but it had a knock-on effect on perhaps the biggest element of the team – team chemistry.
“I learned that we can dictate the results if we so choose – but that has to be backed up by hard work, discipline, and team work. We can put in the extra training but without the teamwork – that’s nothing. It takes teamwork to work a ball from the back-line to the mid and then delivering beautiful passes to your strikers to cross. It takes teamwork to create beautiful goals and magical plays,” she realized.
By looking after one another in training and spending more time with each other off the pitch, the squad was able to maximize their potential. Stronger than before, La Salle got to bounce back in the second round when they got even on their first day tormentors. The Archers dismantled their counterparts from Diliman with a statement 4-0 win.
Proving their worth
It would not be their final meeting of the season as it had to be done for a third time – ultimately for all the marbles. The Maroons have never won it before at the time so the advantage appeared to belong to the Archers. With a few champions in the squad, La Salle looked to bank on their experience in these situations, yet the perceived advantage did not immediately show on the day.
“We knew winning was in our hands,” Pheasant reminisced. “That was the truth and we didn’t want a second finals game. We wanted to end it that day. But boy did we have a hard time because as much as we knew winning was in our hands, UP was putting up a solid fight.”
Like La Salle, UP would be achieving history should they emerge victorious. It would be the first UAAP Women’s Football Championship of the Maroons. It became clear to everyone that no team wanted to give an inch to the other.
As a result, there was nothing to separate the two sides. The game went to an indecisive extra time before heading to penalty kicks. The constant Best Defender Award recipient could not forget the moments that followed suit.
“[The] First kicker was me followed by Bettina [Yang], Sumo [Lazaro], and Queenie [Abelardo]. No one missed. Even better? Loys[Navarro], our keeper, would save a penalty that would help us be ahead and Queenie being the fourth kicker only needed to get the ball in for us to secure the title. And that we did.”
From one champion to another
Success would not end there for the girls in green and white as another triumphant year followed to make it four in a row. An unfortunate league-wide suspension of DLSU sadly brought the historic run to an end. Nevertheless, their record remains unbeaten even up to this day.
It may not stand for much long as there is one squad daring to match or even better that achievement. Fortunately for Pheasant and co., it is the current batch of Lasallians who have won back-to-back and have been to the finals for the past three years. To them, the iconic defender only has one thing to say:
“Your competition is yourself. If there’s anything that will help you or stop you from winning it is yourselves. The thing about winning year after year is you’re the team to beat and everyone wants your spot [so] you have to treat each year different than the next. You have to aim to be better stronger – not than other teams but of yourselves. Hold yourselves to a standard so high that the only competition that you need to beat is yourselves and your previous achievement.”
Nowadays, Pheasant keeps football close to her life by participating in football tournaments like the Corporate Football League. The Muntinlupa native is also working in the development sector where, like on the football pitch in her college days, she helps people around her become better versions of themselves.