Photo by Quin Astilla

Eleven former members of the UP Women’s Basketball Team (UPWBT) are set to make history in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) —  the biggest stage of Philippine women’s basketball and the very first of its kind. 

The WNBL received over 700 player applications this year, following the Games and Amusement Board’s approval of its bid to become the first pro sporting league for women in the country.

The league announced its official player pool of 177 qualified entrants who will take part in the inaugural draft on Oct. 30, including 11 of our very own Iskas.

Maroons in the elite ranks

Past and present generations of the UPWBT are now in pursuit of making the cut and moving forth to the newest benchmark of professional sports for Filipina athletes. 

Among UP’s 11 WNBL hopefuls vying for a spot in the league are guards Klarisse Bascon, Fille Claudine Cainglet, Marika Esplana, Elisa Gepilano, Ayra Nil Hufanda, Christine Isip and Karen Salapong. 

Completing the maroon brigade is the forwards’ selection led by UPWBT Season 82 team captain Pesky Pesquera, Katherine Binamira, Noella Cruz and Samantha Tan.

Pesquera, whose half-court buzzer-beater against UE in UAAP Season 82 halted UPWBT’s 38-game losing drought, was grateful for her inclusion in the league’s maiden draft pool. She may now face a potential double act with her soon-to-be life in the pro league and her current life in law school.

“I’m actually so happy that I have an opportunity to play with old teammates and compete with old opponents from the UAAP. It’s just that I’m currently in law school…  [and] school is my priority at the moment. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to participate and manage to excel in both, because I really want to play,” the former skipper said.

After ending their winless skid last season, Pesquera reflected on how her time with the Fighting Maroons has profoundly influenced her fighting mentality today.

The UPWBT Season 82 team captain said that the process of learning, failing, recovering, and reaching her dreams “requires a lot of faith and grit and I’m fortunate enough to have already experienced this in my time in UP.” 

Breaking barriers

With only one full season in the books as an amateur league, the WNBL heeded the call to pioneer the first pro sporting league for women in the country. 

After the Gilas Women team claimed regional glory in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in both the 3×3 and 5×5 divisions, it was due time that the collective demand for a bigger platform in women’s basketball finally came into fruition.

“WNBL is already a huge stepping stone not only for the future of women’s basketball but also for other women’s leagues. I only hope that they remain true to their belief in women and I also hope that they remain motivated in pursuit of a solid and reputable platform for women’s basketball,” Pesquera said.

This step towards inclusivity in Philippine sports has traversed a whole new level by taking down basketball’s antiquated male-centric narrative and opening its doors for women in the professional ranks. 

Glimpse of the future

With the WNBL slated to tip-off early next year, the ultimate dream of the Filipina athlete will soon be realized. The league’s first year in the pros is set to pave the way for even more Pinay ballers to rewrite history and cement their legacy on home soil. 

“It will never be about the accolades or the money for us women; we play hard because we want to and we fight for that respect,” Pesquera said. “Talent and passion will never run out, and as long as there’s a platform, we’ll all continue playing the sport we love.”

Establishing the first women’s pro-league in the country is a major step towards a future where the WNBL becomes one of many rising avenues for the next breed of homegrown athletes to shine and flourish.

The Filipina ballers will soon take center stage in the 2021 WNBL Philippines’ debut pro season early next year, with the first-ever league draft set on Oct. 30.

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