Ateneo’s Judo coach Ali Sulit rocked a black jacket on top of his school branded collared shirt, with shiny leather shoes, as he instructed his players. Even if Sulit was not the designated coach for the bout, he could still be seen along the front row of the bleachers motivating his players.
Sulit was a happy man at the end of the UAAP Season 78 Judo Tournament. His Blue Eagles had reclaimed the UAAP Judo Championship, while the Lady Eagles finished fourth place.
The coach felt that the Blue Eagles were spectacular this Season 78, and called it the most dominant performance in their history. He said, “I mean there is an additional weight division, the lightest one, so instead of seven there’s eight. Even before when there was just seven, we’d like take three medals or four at most. But now we took five at most out of eight. That’s spectacular. Even if you know we aimed to get all eight but of course that’s the goal right? I’m just really happy we got this far and we actually had a big lead over our opponents.”
The Blue Eagles actually have more rookies this season compared to last year. Sulit admitted that an observer might think the current crop is worse than last year’s, but that is now patently untrue. He then cited the unity of the coaching staff and the Blue Eagles’ perseverance as key factors. “We adjusted the school year right? Normally we start school in June, that’s the time we do in-competition training. Now, March pa lang this year we start competition training really early and it was just putting these boys through a very rigorous, strict and a very mentally and physically punishing routine that really got them ready for this. It was really no other thing but that.”
Sulit also gave special mention to his rookies for a job well done. “Even the rookies, you know they didn’t even play like rookies. These guys, all heart man. Hard work really works. Hard work pays off. That’s all I have to say about that.”
The Blue Eagles were only a few points away from first place in last season’s UAAP Judo Tournament. While that has been set aside, Sulit shared that it had motivated them to go one further this Season 78. He added, “I mean every year is the same thing. We’re using our winning formula, the one that got us the championships from before and of course we decided to make some adjustments here and there.”
While the Blue Eagles won the championship this year, the Lady Eagles ended Season 78 at a respectable fourth.
It is inevitable that every varsity team will go through a rebuilding phase every few years. This season was one such occurrence for the Lady Eagles. Sulit believes the Lady Eagles still have much to improve on in Judo, and stated his holistic approach regarding player development. “I mean Judo is not just a sport, it’s a martial art. They have to appreciate the martial art for the whole of it. Everything. Discipline, character building, stuff like that. No exceptions. We don’t just focus moves. We want well rounded Judo athletes.”
Nevertheless, a fourth place finish in Season 78 is an achievement in itself for the Lady Eagles if one considers their circumstances. Sulit stated that roughy 80% of them were new to Judo and that they were recruited from scratch. He declared, “We developed them to be athletes you know and some need a lot of work but it’s a short amount of time we made them UAAP caliber. But you know the performance today and yesterday, we realized na we still have a lot of work to do but they’re on their way. They’re in good spirits. They’re on their way. It’s just a matter of time.”