How the Fighting Maroons rode through the ebb and flow of UAAP 85

After holding two seasons under “unprecedented circumstances,” the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) finally returned to normal operations last year.

With the theme “Rise as One,” Season 85 featured 60 events across 21 sports, marking the league’s first full athletic calendar since the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ: Full-swing return: What to expect from UAAP Season 85 

It was a rollercoaster ride for the University of the Philippines (UP) after celebrating emphatic victories in some events and suffering heartbreaking losses in others.

In total, State U landed third in the general championship tally of UAAP Season 85, after racking up 260 points, including podium finishes in 17 different events.

As the collegiate tournament reopens today, the new set of Fighting Maroons this season now faces the challenge of building on UP’s previous milestones and hardships.

Rising to the top

The UP Ballroom Formation Team (UP BFT) reigned supreme on the dance floor last April, after completing a rare sweep of all three categories in ballroom formation. 

The UP BFT claimed its third straight title in the Latin category with its 1980s-inspired routine. Photo by Glecelyn Simba

The squad proved to be unrivaled in the demonstration sport as they clinched the crowns in the Standard, Latin and Latin-Mix divisions. 

READ: ‘Gold or nothing’: How the UP BFT danced their way to the top in UAAP 85

In men’s athletics, meanwhile, the maroon tracksters continued their winning tradition after nabbing their second straight and 20th overall title.

Season MVP Rhyan Labita contributed to UP’s medal haul with three golds (400-meter hurdles, 4×400-meter relay, 100-200-400-meter sprint) and a silver in 4×100 relay. 

Rookie sensation Eduard Josh Buenavista also had a prolific outing, taking home the gold in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. 

Josh Buenavista, son of two-time Olympian Eduardo Buenavista, dashed to one of his two golds at the PhilSports Track and Field Oval in Pasig City. Photo by UAAP Season 85 Media Team

Buenavista finished at 32 minutes and 8.30 seconds in the latter, surpassing the 15-year-old UAAP record previously held by Far Eastern University. His teammates, Eduard Flores and Roy Laudit, closely followed behind to snag the silver and bronze, respectively.

In the discus throw sporting event, Ed Delina achieved a record-setting distance of 44.97 meters to clinch the gold. UP also took the silver as rookie Neil Salvador tailed his senior Delina by 0.34 centimeters to snatch the silver medal. 

High hopes and heartbreak

In women’s athletics, the maroon shirts settled for bronze anew after finishing third in 2019. 

Rookie of the Year Abegail Manzano stood out in her UAAP debut after pulling in a pair of golds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000-meter run, as well as a bronze medal for the 15,000-meter run. 

Sally Campus also contributed to the team’s success, dominating the women’s 3,000- and 5,000-meter races. 

UP made a splash in swimming as well, taking home the silver in the women’s division and bronze in the men’s side.

The UP Men’s Swimming Team returned to the podium after missing out by a wide margin in Season 82. Photo by Guinevere Latoza

Both squads set new records in the 4×100-meter medley. In addition, lady tanker Camille Buico earned Rookie of the Year honors.

Meanwhile, the softball and baseball teams marked a new chapter for their varsity squads as they made a return trip to the finals after eight and 17 years, respectively.

Despite falling short of the title, not all was lost, especially for the softball team. Infielder Nickole Dela Cruz earned MVP honors, the Best Hitter and Best Slugger awards, and Most Runs Batted-Ins at 10.

By the end of the season, Dela Cruz was also crowned Athlete of the Year in collegiate team sports by the UAAP.  Photo by Glecelyn Simba

On a more unfortunate note, the men’s basketball team failed in its title retention bid after suffering from an error-prone Finals series against Ateneo de Manila University.

READ: UP MBT surrenders UAAP crown to Ateneo in heartbreaking Game 3

Diouf fashions for a dunk at the Mall of Asia Arena. He later became the third Fighting Maroon who was awarded Season MVP. Photo by UAAP Season 85 Media Team

Senegalese standout Malick Diouf was hailed season MVP, while sophomore sensation Carl Tamayo was included in the Mythical Five. 

The women’s badminton team had a similar fate as they succumbed to Ateneo in the Finals, earning silver. On the other hand, the men’s team copped the bronze medal at the expense of the University of Santo Tomas. 

Meanwhile, the women’s fencing team managed to salvage the bronze thanks to Juliana Gomez’s gold in individual epee — the first medal for UP in the said category since 2007. 

The duo of Euri Eslapor and Alyssa Bertolano also spiked their way to bronze in women’s beach volley after defeating De La Salle University in three sets. 

The UP Women’s Football team, meanwhile, was able to end the season in third place, snagging individual awards for Jennifer Baroin as Best Defender and Frances Caroline Acelo as Best Goalkeeper.

Completing the medal haul are the maroon judokas with the men’s team placing second and the women’s crewlanding third.

Road to redemption

Still, not all varsity squads were as successful as others in their campaign. Some teams will aim to make up for a subpar Season 85 outing. 

In women’s hoops, the Lady Maroons will be building on a promising fifth-place finish last season, which included a highlight win over hardcourt rivals Ateneo, for a chance to make their first Final Four appearance in 15 years.

READ: Bittersweet end in elims for UP with MBT stinger, WBT victory vs Ateneo

UP’s Justine Domingo wrestles through the tight Ateneo defense. Photo by UAAP Season 85 Media Team

In the same vein, the men’s and women’s 3×3 basketball teams will try to stay in the game longer after bowing out early last season at sixth and fifth place, respectively.

On the field, the UP Men’s Football Team seeks to return to their winning ways after landing fifth last season — their lowest finish since 2009. 

In their ending matchup against FEU, the Maroon Booters played inspired football in honor of forward Yoro Sangare, who passed away hours prior to the game.

READ: #ForYoro: UP MFT honors fallen teammate, ends season with emotional draw vs FEU

Meanwhile, on the blue mats, the revamped UP Pep Squad will attempt to vault itself back to cheerdance glory after finishing sixth for five consecutive seasons.

READ: ‘A new legacy’: UP Pep Squad ushers in ‘new generation’ at cheerdance tilt

Ending at the bottom two of their respective tournaments, the UP indoor volleyball teams will also aim to bounce back in the upcoming season, following the appointment of tactician Oliver Almadro as the new volleyball director.

Ace player Louis Gamban and libero Johnlee Juntilla will be leading the charge for the men’s team, while 2nd Best Middle Blocker Niña Ytang, who recently donned the national colors at the Asian Women’s Volleyball Championship, will be at the forefront of the women’s net defense. 

Other varsity teams that will be plotting their comeback this season include the men’s beach volleyball, fencing, lawn tennis, table tennis and women’s taekwondo, which jointly finished in fifth place. Meanwhile, the men’s taekwondo and women’s chess team both settled for sixth.