Photo by Andrew Mencias

Emotions refused to halt for the University of the Philippines Varsity Swim Team (UP VST) after their record-breaking finish today, in Day 3 of the UAAP Season 82 Swimming Tournament Finals at the Trace Aquatic Sports Center, Laguna.

The VST led by Women’s Captain Yssa Pogiongko, Ariana Canaya, Angela Villamil and Kayla Taguibao broke the Women’s Freestyle Relay record with a time of 1:53.19, 2.9 seconds shaved from the previous record set in 2013. 

“[It was] super surreal,” said Canaya, who noted the relay team was initially confused at their time blinking on the scoreboard, until they realized they broke the record. According to Canaya, they “really were just aiming for the gold.”

The relay win was one of UP’s six podium finishes for the third day. Apart from the relay team, Erin Castrillo won gold in both the Women’s Backstroke and Butterfly events. Cindy Fernandez added a silver in the Women’s Individual Butterfly. 

Nadine Tee Ten and Chesca Joves also added two bronzes to the count in Women’s Individual Freestyle and Backstroke, respectively.

Team captain Pogiongko noted that amid all of UP’s wins, the relay win was particularly sweet, with Canaya and Taguibao graduating. According to her, the team wanted to give Canaya and Taguibao the send-off they deserve.

Canaya even described her final UAAP season as a “special episode,” describing the record break as a peak in a topsy-turvy season one that began with the VST losing their pool.

The loss of the pool is something all of UP’s Day 3 medalists agreed upon as their biggest obstacle. Pogiongko, Castrillo and Tee Ten all noted at how the irregular training schedules and venues took a toll on their mental toughness.

“It’s been a very difficult process,” said Tee Ten on the loss of the pool. She also noted how losing the pool meant that oftentimes, the team couldn’t train together.

“Our schedules are very different,” said Tee Ten. “Sometimes we start at 10 instead of the usual 6, and sometimes we train at 7pm [until 9pm].”

Castrillo added to this saying in spite of the disadvantage, what pulled the team together was just the desire to win. “We want to succeed. Pipilitin namin talaga,” she said.

As for Pogiongko, she hopes everyone can see and respect the difficulty of being, almost literally, fish out of water.

“What people, and the other schools don’t see is the struggle we went through,” said Pogiongko. “That’s why sobrang saya namin, kahit isang gold lang. Di nila alam anong pinagdadaanan namin – palipat-lipat, nagpapakahirap – pero worth it lahat.”

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