Yayoy and the rise of the Cobras

I had a lengthy phone conversation with Cebu City Councilor Raul Alcoseba yesterday. No, our talk did not delve into politics. And, no, I did not ask the three-term councilor if he’s eyeing a congressional seat in two years’ time.

We talked basketball. If you recall, Coach Yayoy joined the CESAFI tournament for the first time. He led the Cobras collegiate team of Southwestern University. In just his first season, he transformed a previously unrecognized SWU team into a title-contender.

What happened this 2011? SWU lost their first two games. At that point, the critics barked on Yayoy and his prediction of the Cobras biting and unleashing venom. Naysayers laughed. But, as each game and week and month progressed, the Cobras turned lethal. They won. At the end of the First Round, they had a positive win-loss record. In the Second Round, they swept the enemies to score 6-0. They beat UC. Then, in a twice-to-beat scenario against UV, they lost the first game. Finally, they rebounded and won the decider in a lopsided (and, yes, controversial) manner.

SWU faced UC in the finals. Again, they were down. Game 1 they lost. Game 2 they lost. Nobody had ever recovered from a 0-2 score-line. But, minute after minute, SWU recovered. They regained their confidence. They won Game 3. They won Game 4.

“This whole season,” said Coach Yayoy, “has been one of downs and ups for Southwestern. We were down in our opening two games. We came back. We were down against UV. We won. We were down 2-0 against UC.”

Win? Did SWU steal that victory, like a Pacquiao over Marquez, in Game 5? No. The fairy-tale ending did not happen. Still, what an amazing, roller-coaster-like, near-championship-victory for the Aznar-owned squad.

“As each game progressed,” said Alcoseba, “more and more fans went to watch SWU. We were not this popular before. Not until this year.”

The reason? “We’re the underdogs,” he said. That’s true. Don’t ordinary followers often gravitate towards cheering for the ones not expected to succeed?

UC is a giant. I’ve coined the nickname for them: University of Champions. They’ve been—and are—winners not only in basketball but everything from athletics to tennis to swimming to name-the-sport-and-UC’s-won-it. One of the Philippines’ largest schools (they’ll soon surpass 50,000 enrollees), UC is a behemoth in sports.

SWU? In volleyball and others, yes. But not in CESAFI basketball. Not until this 2011. Back to Game 5: SWU won it…. Almost.

With three minutes left in the season, they led. It evaporated. With Pao’s double three-pointers, it disappeared. “Inexperience,” Yayoy calls it.

Still, the season was a success. “The support of the SWU management was all-out,” said the coach. Specifically, Maris Johana Aznar Holopainen, the chairperson of the Board of Trustees; Annette Alfonso Almario, treasurer; Andrew Aznar, team manager; and, my good friend and an impassioned sportsman, SWU’s athletic director, Ryan Aznar.

One name also emerged in our phone conversation: Michel Lhuillier. Though not an owner of the team, thanks to his over 25 years of close ties with Mr. Alcoseba, M. Lhuillier supported the SWU team in many ways. The uniforms. Extra support when they reached the finals. And, most of all, Michel funded the TV coverage on SkyCable.

“Showing the games on TV was important,” said Alcoseba. “The Cebu Coliseum was over-capacity. More wanted to watch but could not be accommodated. The airing of the games gave plenty the chance to see this season.”

This season, of course, turned out to be one of the 11-year-old CESAFI league’s most enthralling. Both the high school and the collegiate finals reached the precipice—the Game 5 finale.

“Our season is not finished yet,” Alcoseba said. On Nov. 27, both UC and SWU will play in Ormoc. They’ll face the Mindanao and W. Visayas champions, respectively. If both win, they’ll meet again on Nov. 28. The winner? That team will represent Vis-Min in the Phil. Collegiate Champions League in Manila.

Game 6, UC v. SWU? Abangan.

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