Veteran coach Hans-Peter Smit lauded his De La Salle University team for retaining the crown with a gutsy 2-1 victory over University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80 women’s football finals on Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.
Smit’s Lady Booters pulled off a splendid performance despite the absence of nine injured players including the Castañeda sisters — Sara and Anicka.
“The girls showed true character by playing this way — playing in pain. They have been in pain for so long. They really wanted to get this game,” said Smit.
“It doesn’t matter who players we have. It’s a team sport, it’s a team game. The team that plays together, understands and respects each other, they are going to be the winners. It’s all about attitude and character,” he added.
Graduating midfielder Kylan Inquig’s brilliant game towed La Salle to a second straight championship in its third consecutive finals appearance.
Inquig broke the scoreless deadlock with a beautiful free kick that sailed past goalkeeper Nicole Reyes in the 12th minute. UST though equalized 10 minutes later after Charisa Lemoran sent a lead pass to Shela Cadag, who beat shotstopper Natasha Lacson.
Locked in a 1-1 tie with only 11 minutes left, Inquig fired from outside the box that left Reyes stunned between the sticks. Inquig’s second goal eventually sealed La Salle’s first back-to-back trophies since 2006 and a back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors for herself.
Besides keeping the silverware at Taft, Smit and Inquig bared that they did not want to lose again to the top-seeded Lady Golden Booters, who beat them twice in the eliminations.
“I just told the girls to stay focused. We want to get back at UST because we lost twice to them this year and we’ve never lost three straight times to the same team as much as I can remember,” said Smit.
“For us, two losses (to UST) are enough. We do not want to lose again,” said Inquig. “We were undermanned, had many issues and injuries, but we managed to adjust because we really wanted to win. Our winning attitude was there.”
Smit praised Inquig not only for a dynamic output in her final UAAP game but also for taking over various positions left by her sidelined teammates.
“What’s wonderful about this girl is she’s self-taught. She only learned real training football when she got in (La Salle). I’m very glad that I got her. It’s very hard to replace her,” said Smit, who also commended his other wards for stepping up in time.
Smit now sees a stronger La Salle for a three-peat bid but still has to search for a replacement for the exceptional Inquig.
“If I cannot make a superstar out of a certain player, it’s time for me to retire. Next year, I’m going to look for the next Kyla Inquig.”
Meanwhile, La Salle standouts Lacson, Shannon Arthur and Bea De Los Reyes won the Best Goalkeeper, Best Midfielder and Rookie of the Year awards, respectively. UST’s Cadag was named Best Striker after scoring eight goals while Far Eastern University’s Hannah Pachejo copped the Best Defender plum. UST got the Fair Play Award.