Cebu City, Philippines—Consider this: during the 2018 Cesafi season, neither the Southwestern University (SWU)-Phinma Cobras or the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) Baby Jaguars made it to the Final Four of the collegiate and high school divisions, respectively.
Less than a year later, here they are, champions of the 2019 Cesafi Partner’s Cup preseason tournament.
With the 2019 Cesafi season nearing the horizon, this latest development begs the questions: Could this be the year of the underdogs? Are fans going to see new contenders rise up apart from the traditional powerhouse schools?
With the new Cesafi season set to open a few weeks from now on August 31, 2019, several coaches chimed in.
“I think this made the two teams hungrier for the title,” said SWU-Phinma Baby Cobras head coach Jerry Abuyabor. “Our key players have already embraced their roles and are more committed to make the extra pass and find the open man which made us more competitive team this year.”
But Abuyabor tempered any title expectations, aware of the real battle that is to come.
“However, winning the preseason title doesn’t guarantee the season title We need to double our effort for the coming days,” he added.
University of the Visayas (UV) Baby Lancers assistant coach Ronald Bucao, meanwhile, expressed that all the Cesafi teams have become more and more competitive this year, which bodes well for the league.
“I could say that all teams are very competitive. We saw that in the Partner’s Cup where nearly every game was close especially in the juniors division,” said Bucao. “Every team is doing their very best so in the coming Cesafi season, we can expect that it’s going to be anybody’s ball game.”
Leode Garcia, the head coach of the USJ-R Jaguars, said that the players’ games maturing played a key role in the uprising of both the Cobras and the Baby Jaguars.
“SWU-Phinma has a lot of matured and experienced players aside from a big foreign player. And they have already embraced a team system that they are very comfortable with,” said Garcia of the Cobras. “The Baby Jaguars on the other hand, their lineup is very competitive. They have a lot of big guys who can stretch the floor. And they have really prepared hard for this and have embraced the system that Coach Etoy Salacut has put in place.”
USJ-R assistant coach Eduard Sumanpan concurs with Garcia’s assessment of the high school squad, saying, “The victory that we had is the result of our team collaboration with the USJR administration, the coaches and most importantly, our players. We are now reaping the harvest of our rigid practices and trainings. This is just a start of a long journey. Hopefully we can sustain the momentum with the upcoming Cesafi 2019.”