The Winning Maroons

Back in 2014 and after another winless season, I volunteered like Katniss Everdeen did to start a petition that would change UP’s cheer:

“Matatapang. Matatalino.
Walang takot, kahit kanino
Except sa La Salle, Ateneo, UST, FEU, NU, Adamson
Pwera lang sa UE.. Unibersidad….”

You get the point.

For years, the Maroons have been the ultimate David in a league full of Goliaths. The Blue Eagles already have the program to show for. DLSU has a big wallet to spend. National U has an even bigger wallet to spend. Don’t forget about the Tamaraws, who are almost always “thisclose” to winning the title every year. And even UST, Adamson, and UE had their own mini-runs to contend for the title.

But talk to anyone from UP and the topic usually revolves around A) the ‘86 Championship run, B) the ‘97 Final Four run or C) the Cheerdance Competition era before NU started hiring professional gymnasts as students.

So how did we get here?

How did we find ourselves cheering for the ultimate underdog that just ended a 32-year Finals appearance drought yesterday? How did we find ourselves rooting for the same team that we laughed at for so long? And most importantly, how did we not see this coming so soon?

Season 81 was supposed to be the year BEFORE the year of the Fighting Maroons. Ricci Rivero is currently serving his residency period. Same with Kobe Paras. The stars were finally aligning and all UP had to do was go through the motion this season and let the big schools fight it out one last time before they crash the party.

But La Salle never regained their identity after losing Mbala, Ayo, and Rivero. The Bulldogs are still celebrating the title they won four years ago, and UST never got it going during the season. This opened the door just a little bit for UP to sneak in and have team captain Paul Desiderio say, “atin ‘to.”

That mantra is the perfect foundation of UP’s culture that they slowly rebuilt heading to this year. Tired of all the memes and side comments, “Atin ‘to” became their middle finger to the rest of league that has looked down on them for years. It was none more so evident than their game against my beloved Green Archers, who they attacked from start to finish, ending a 21-year Final Four drought in the process and setting them up for a date with the Adamson Soaring Falcons.

And just when you thought they would be satisfied and build from this for next year, UP showed composure under pressure in two tightly contested games against Adamson, with the clincher being one of the best games in collegiate history.

In less than 2 days, the Fighting Maroons will again face the impossible. Waiting on the other side of the court are the Ateneo Blue Eagles, who finally turned on the switch and played around with FEU last Sunday, just to show everyone how deep and talented their team is.

David finally meets Goliath.

It’s easy to say that Ateneo goes out on top, sweeps this Katipunan series, and reminds everyone who’s the boss this year, next year, and the years to come. But UP has come too far to just lie down and say, “Pwede na ‘to, next year na lang ulit.”

Because in reality, there’s only one thing these Maroons and the rest of the Iskolars ng Bayan are saying. From the time Paul Desiderio said this in the time-out huddle last year to the moment they’re going to raise the title at the end of the year.

“Atin ‘to.”

– David Gamboa

Photo credits to Tristan Tamayo/Inquirer

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