It is something that should no longer be overshadowed by the glitter of men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and the cheerdance competition: In 81 seasons of the UAAP, University of Santo Tomas has ruled the general championship 43 times, including the last three and, at one point, had a streak of 14 straight triumphs.
Someone in España must be doing something right.
“Nasa dugo na ’yan (It’s in the blood),” said women’s volleyball coach KungFu Reyes.
Reyes’ squad provided the mainstream highlight for UST in Season 81, finishing second to Ateneo in a widely viewed championship showdown.
But it was the athletes from unheralded sports like women’s athletics, men’s and women’s beach volleyball, men’s and women’s judo, and men’s and women’s table tennis that extended UST’s reign as overall champion.
And part of it has to do with the way the school finds talents.
“We’ve never tried to keep up with NU and La Salle,” said Rod Sambuang, the university’s athletic moderator. “We usually stick with what UST can offer. That only changes when the sponsors and managers come into play.”
“Money usually isn’t the only deciding factor,” Manny Calipes of women’s athletics said of the recruitment process. “Reputation, is, too.”
“One of my teammates had a sibling who is also a trackster for UST,” said athletics standout Louielyn Pamatian in Filipino. “So I asked if I could join the school too. And then my teammate said the coach was actually asking for me.”
Aside from recruitment, Reyes said the school takes pride in growing its own talents—especially among think-tanks.
“If there are ‘homegrown’ talents among players, the same could be said for coaches. The former athletes who went on to finish their courses here eventually coach for UST,” said Reyes, who won three titles with the men’s volleyball team before working his way up to the Tigresses’ coaching helm and, eventually, the national squad.
“Even those we don’t recruit, they come to us and ask us if they can join. So the turnover of talent continues. And our reputation is our main recruiter.”
UST, in fact, has been a breeding ground of talents in the juniors class, a lot of whom have played for other schools. Volleyball’s Alyssa Valdez, Dindin and Jaja Santiago and Kim Fajardo all came from the school’s junior programs. In the 90s, basketball standouts Marlou Aquino, EJ Feihl and Giovanni Pineda began their careers in España before playing in other schools.
And then there are those who stay: the Laure sisters in volleyball, CJ Cansino in basketball.
“During my time, they usually recruit athletes through PE classes,” said Dian So, who served the Taft-based school from 2006 through 2010.
UST has also built its own facility to help its athletes across all sports, including the P788-million Quadricentennial Pavilion, which is arguably the most modern university-based facility.
The “Q-Pav” houses exclusive training areas for all indoor sports and cuts down the need for athletes to travel elsewhere to prepare for games.
“It is an advantage for us especially that we have rigid and continuous training. It’s great to have a venue where we could maximize our training,” said table tennis coach Jackson Que.
“The two hours spent in traveling to and from training facilities outside school is instead used for studying and resting,” Calipes said. “UST has made itself a conducive environment.”
There is the contention that UST’s dominance in the general championship is mainly because it fields entries in all the calendared events. But as Season 81 showed, that may no longer be the case.
Four of the eight schools in the UAAP had athletes in all events, including well-funded programs like Ateneo and La Salle. In the first semester, five of the eight schools had athletes in all events and UST still went on to lead the race.
And that kind of overall excellence is what draws recruits to the school.
“Even those we don’t recruit, they come to us and ask us if they can join,” Calipes said. “So the turnover of talent continues. And our reputation is our main recruiter.”
And all that winning culture begets even more winning. With a reputation to protect, players who represent UST know there’s no other way to compete for the school.
“The Thomasian athlete is always ready to fight,” said table tennis standout Paul Que.