Last year, the University of Santo Tomas kept the championship trophy in España, but not without stiff challenge from the competition. The Golden Judokas snuck past runners-up Ateneo de Manila University by just 3 points. That happened despite Ateneo having won 3 out of the 7 gold medals at stake.
After the disappointing result, the Ateneo Blue Judoka, as shared by third-year veteran Marco Lasam, returned to the training mats with stronger determination and the hunger to bounce back. The small deficit had made them eager to train harder. “Nung nalaman naming ganun lang ka-close yung points, after that season, nagsimula na kami magtraining. As in ganado lahat mag-train para makuha ulit yung championship,” Lasam narrated.
With this motivation, Ateneo prepared well for the then-upcoming competitions. For Lasam, the difference this year was the attitude that he and his teammates showed towards training. He said, “Mas naging gutom talaga yung team para manalo.” Lasam added that this hunger and attitude is what had driven them to train that hard every session.
The junior also shared how their coaches had guided them throughout the whole journey before the competition. Aside from the intense training supervised by Head Coach Robert Divina, Marco said all their coaches had done their part to hone the judokas’ skills and approach towards the task at hand. “Sila yung nagmomotivate sa min. Sila yung lalong nagpagigil sa training at lalo na sa tournament.”
And as the adage goes, hard work pays off. The Ateneo Blue Judoka reclaimed the UAAP title after dominating the field and amassing 5 gold medals. Lasam emphasized this when asked about how they felt after the conclusion of the tournament. “Sa ngayon sobrang saya lang talaga; overwhelming yung feeling. Kasi, hindi lang kami nagchampion, nagchampion pa kami with excellence.” He was also delighted at the fact that this year, all of the team members had stepped up, as compared to last year when they relied mostly on their seniors to carry them to the title.
On his part, the reigning half-lightweight champion had set his sights on defending his crown. However, it had not been an easy task at first, because last year’s Most Valuable Player Al Rolan Llamas of UST went down to his weight class. Lasam shared he had been nervous at first when he had found out that Llamas would be competing in the -60 kg division. However, after Khalid Macadadaya of University of the East stunned Llamas with a throw midway into their first round contest, it was Lasam’s gold for the taking. The Atenean, nevertheless, had felt mixed emotions after that upset. He said, “Oo, [medyo] sure ng magchachampion yung team namin, pero medyo nasasayangan ako kasi last year ko na magcompete, tapos hindi kami naglaban.”
All of the events that occurred just set the stage for Lasam to keep the -60 gold in Ateneo’s dojo. Lasam took care of Ralph Castillo of University of the Philippines and Adrian Perillo of De La Salle University in the first two rounds, before sneaking in a yuko against UE’s Dante Casibang to retain the title.
With his swan song over and done, Lasam shared his pride at exiting the UAAP as a champion, both individually and as a member of the team. Though he now has to leave the judo mats of Ateneo, he knows that the team and its new generations can continue and pick up where he leaves off. Lasam shared that with the same hunger and determination they had prior to this season, these men could wrap up another title next year and in the years to come. He ended, “Medyo confident talaga kami [sa future], kasi maganda yung pool ng rookies namin. [Yung performance nila,] sobrang galing.”
Lasam might have had his last hurrah on the mat, but he has left a legacy and an example for others to emulate. With the motivation to model themselves after Lasam, the Ateneo Blue Judoka have it in them to continue excelling and, perhaps, winning titles.