LPU Cavite Junior Pirates Bag Silver and Gold at NCAA 96

By John Encela

The National Collegiate Athletic Association saw a major shift in its recent season and the cancellation of its former iteration due to the ongoing effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic which served a big swing in the collegiate sports industry. But for its 96th athletic year, the NCAA made its long-awaited return in the playing field but without its two major games, volleyball and basketball, and with only two non-contact sports set to go: online chess and taekwondo where LPU Cavite’s junior athletes scored big.

Leonel’s gambit

18-year-old Leonel Escote is far from a pawn and more of a queen now when it comes to university or collegiate chess competitions. “Simula Grade 8 po ako nakakasali na po ako bothUAAP and NCAA”, says Leonel on his beginnings and stints prior to the 96th NCAA. When asked about how and where he started chess, Leonel says as early as 10 years old, he has already locked his eyes on a career in the black and white board and that it’s his family that’s motivating him particularly his father who told him that a career in boardsports will get him into whichever university he desires. “Back then, sumasali na talaga ako ng tournaments at laging naka-support father ko sa ‘kin. Fortunately, nagbunga naman ‘yung suporta niya.”

What Leonel misses in pre-pandemic chess tournaments is observing his opponent’s psyche and attitude during games. “Kapag over the board makikita mo ‘yung reaction ng kalaban mo, kung tama ba ‘yung tira nila.” But a lot has changed when the pandemic swept in as these chess tournaments were transferred on virtual to accommodate non-contact sports with the humble homes of the athletes serving host to the games. “Kapag online chess, hindi mo kita ‘yung reaction kung kinakabahan ba siya, o natataranta.”

Now on his recent silver win, Leonel honestly opens about his disappointment as it is his last year and he couldn’t score gold but despite that Leonel says, “proud pa din po ako kasi dala ko po ‘yung pangalan ng school.” Asked about what influenced his silver-winning move, Leonel quotes his coach Mr. Emerson Sayaman saying, “focus lang po one game at a time at ‘wag mag-worry sa ibang bagay.”

Win in sixty seconds

“Within one minute po kailangan niyo pong maka-at least 70 kicks”, says recent speed kicking silver and gold medalists Dirk Ranque and John Patrick Moneda when asked to provide a crash course on what the sport is about. But it’s not as easy as it sounds like as taekwondo athletes are to also deliver 14 punches and kicks as high as the Alps which requires a lot of precision and strength.

A culmination of years’ worth of training, most of taekwondo athletes really start young and has been in and out of the training room as early as they can remember. “Nag-start po ako mga 4 or 6 years old kasi ‘yung papa ko po taekwondo instructor po siya”, says Ranque on his roots, even describing himself a salimpusa at firstwho-over the years-has eventually turned play into passion. And the same can be said to John Patrick Moneda who also had a father figure to push him in this world of competitive Korean martial arts. “’Yung tatay ko po kasi gusto niya po akong matuto ng self-defense”, says Moneda on what propelled him to pursue taekwondo. “Para po kung mapunta man po ako sa alanganin, marunong po akong dumepensa sa sarili ko.” But later, JP realizes that competitive taekwondo can also be pursued as a career that’ll help him secure a scholarship and help his family and their household at the same time.

On the difference between trainings before and during the pandemic, both Ranque and Moneda indisputably agree on major shifts that heavily affected their preparation. For example, during face-to-face and even with or without upcoming tournaments, LPU Cavite’s taekwondo team trains thrice a day for 2 to 3 hours in campus where they fully enjoy large training spaces. Now, the team only meets virtually on Zoom, their trainings held in the athletes’ own little spaces at home. “Iba po ‘yung level ng training dati kapag magkakasama kayo ramdam niyo po ‘yung energy ng bawat isa”, says Ranque on the intensity of their trainings during normal times.

But despite the pandemic running and flipping tables around, Ranque and Moneda stayed on course and focused on the goal of always bringing their A-list performance in these games that eventually helped them snatch silver and gold, respectively. “Naging successful po ‘yung pinaghirapan ko this pandemic. Mahirap po, pero kailangan lang po ng tiyaga”, says Moneda on bagging gold. Moneda also thanks LPU Cavite, their coach Mr. Ramon Abejero who taught them of perseverance and the value of training, his family for the never-ending support, and the Lord for always having his back in every game. A little different though for Ranque as he was first surprised by his silver win. “Sobrang tuwa po kasi ‘di ko po akalain na makaka-silver ako. Sobrang tuwa ko po pati po nung family ko”, says Ranque on the moment he first knew of his win.

On what’s next for our junior athletes, Ranque and Moneda says they are both eyeing the next NCAA and to win gold finally and once more in their respective divisions because after all, the only way is up, time is in their hands, and they’re only getting started.

John Encela is a writer and a filmmaker and is currently a 2nd year Multimedia Arts student under the College of Fine Arts and Design. He is also a member and a former company manager of Tanghalang Lykeion.