4 cheers for NU
Each performer from the bottom up knows how critical it is to maintain balance and stability to complete the pyramid. The demanding routine appears simple to the spectator but not to the performer, who is aware that a mere slip of the foot could make the human tiers topple over.
There is no shortcut to the top. Each move, each tier of the formation is painstakingly coordinated and the pursuit of perfection to erect the stunt sequence doesn’t stop until perfection itself is achieved.
This very well describes the odyssey of the National University Pep Squad, which has risen from the cellars of the UAAP Cheer Dance Competition to become its optimum yardstick of success.
“We came from the bottom and worked hard to be where we are right now,” says Ghicka Bernabe, the head coach of the NU Pep Squad.
Now, for her, is NU’s championship victory in the league’s Season 79—the audacious troupe’s fourth successive title—last week before a breathless, sellout crowd of about 18,000 at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
Outfitted like droids in a futuristic movie, the Pep Squad produced an electrifying routine that was, hands-down, light-years away from the competition. Transitioning smoothly from one heart-stopping act to another, the troupe synchronized stunts to a bouncy beat.
There were imperfections, mind you, but they were hard to spot as the group showed a remarkable capacity to rectify each flaw in a flash.
“The victory is simply an affirmation that NU is a true champion,” says team manager Jun Gaw. “No words can express my gratitude to the coaches for doing a great job and to the team for its determination.”
For a troupe that enjoys the full support of Henry Sy—the country’s richest man—and his SM Prime Holdings firm, the victory is a happy manifestation of its long struggle to reach the pinnacle of success in the popular competition.
“Try to look at the videotape of the last few competitions and you will see that the level of difficulty has gone up,” says Gaw. “We have set a standard too high for others to follow.
“Our routine is much, much different from last year. What we did isn’t ordinary. You can see the team effort and the well-synchronized coordination,” adds Gaw, who laments the absence of the University of the Philippines Pep Squad, which gave this season’s competition a miss after the league junked the protest it filed contesting its third-place finish last season.
But the trip to the top was fraught with obstacles, according to Bernabe, herself a former cheerdance member of this season’s runner-up, Far Easter University’s Cheering Squad.
Before training began early this year, NU’s coaches picked the best from among 20 themes they had brainstormed for the performance. Always wanting to be a step ahead of the pack, they built the routine around the twin cyborg-artificial intelligence concept.
Bernabe says injuries among the team members were frequent as they trained nonstop for several months until the group finally perfected each movement with precision a full month ahead of the big day.
“Our limitation as a team is just a figment of imagination,” she says. “From the start, we knew we could go all the way because we had already claimed victory in our minds.”
NU used to be the perennial doormat among the competition’s eight schools until it broke through in 2012, when it finished third. From thereon, the NU Pep Squad began to write history season after season.
In last Saturday’s competition, FEU scored 658.5 points—a far cry from NU’s 711 out of a possible 800—with surprise-package Adamson Pep Squad nailing third spot with 655.
University of Santo Tomas’ Salinggawi Dance Troupe, which shares the most number of victories in the competition with UP with eight each, failed to meet expectations again and settled for fourth with 650 points, followed by the UE Pep Squad (645), La Salle’s Animo Squad (560.5) and Ateneo’s Blue Babble Battalion (521).
“I’m glad that the other schools are doing their best to level up,” says Bernabe. “It’s not easy coming up with a great performance. You have to consider the long practice hours and the process in which every team member has to go through.”
Bernabe’s charges picked up a total of P440,000 in cash prizes for its fourth straight victory—now one shy of UST’s five-title romp from 2002 to 2006—while FEU, the champion in 1998 and 2009, won P200,000. Adamson received P100,000 for its best finish since 2001, when the Falcons landed second.
The 13-man, 12-woman NU Pep Squad asserted itself on the opposition in tumbling (89 points), stunts (87), pyramids (84) and dance (370). The squad scored 82 points in tosses, good for second place behind UE’s 87.5.
The NU troupe also swept the side events—the over-the-top pyramid title worth P50,000, the toss award (P25,000) and the group stunt (P25,000).
“The ultimate target, really, is to achieve a ‘six-peat’ (six straight titles) which no school has ever done before,” says Bernabe. “But we know that we must do it one step at a time.”
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, she grins.
Why not? In 2012, members of the NU Pep Squad believed they had all the goods to go all the way. With mission accomplished four times over, they now embrace the feeling and won’t let go.