4 Decades and Counting: No slowing down Toni Leviste, the longest-serving Philippine equestrienne

ATHLETES come and go and that’s a fact, but there are a few of them who choose to stay on — for the love of the game — and keep that competitive spirit within.

One of them is equestrienne Toni Leviste, the longest-serving Philippine athlete, who remains competitive for nearly four decades.

Just recently, Leviste competed in the Asian Championship and her team, alongside Joker Arroyo, daughter of the late Senator Joker Arroyo and Fil-American Colin Syquia, won the silver medal.

It was a silver that glitters like gold as Leviste and co. completed the feat despite having only three riders in an event usually being participated by four in a team event. Normally, each team is composed of four riders where each squad is required to have a drop score — the lowest output in each round.

But for the three-man Philippine squad, they need to compete as faultless as possible.

Denied of an opportunity to participate in the SEA Games as an equestrian, for some reason, was not included by organizers in the multi-sports event hosted and won by the country this year, the trio put on its best effort ended up with a solid second-place finish.

“Because equestrian was not included in the recent SEA Games in Manila, unfortunately, we opted to join the Asian Championship.  FEI (International Equestrian Federation) wants to do it every two years. It’s the same way as the European Championship and the Pan-American Games,” Leviste told FOX Sports Philippines.

But unlike in other major regional events in sports, the Asian Championship in equestrian does not serve as a qualifying event either for the Olympics or the World Championship as the international federation of equestrian select only one event which is normally being done in Europe.

“It’s not a qualifying event for the Olympics, but they want to make it as a qualifying event in the future. It was well-supported and it was on CNN (international), like it was aired three times. There were 13 countries competed,” added Leviste.

A GLORY ROAD

Facing the daunting task of competing against the best in the region, which now includes Australia and New Zealand, the Philippine triumvirate had to play a near-perfect game and had to be aided by luck and Grace of God.

True enough, that moment came on the second day of the competition, but Leviste and her teammates had to make a big charge to stay in the medal hunt.

“We are only three that is in this level. One guy, is based in the US, Colin Syquia, he’s half Filipino, half American. Joker Arroyo, daughter of the late Senator Joker Arroyo, and myself,” added Leviste.

The Philippines were running fourth by the end of the first day and need to come up with a flawless performance on the final day of competition.

But as fate would have it, the Filipinos were able to come up with a much better show and luck took its turn next.

“After the first round of the team competition going to the second round the next day, we were running fourth — a far fourth place. First was Hong Kong, and they were very solid kasi nga they have a drop score. The other riders were riding their horses for a long time and had been competing as a team many, many times and all of those things contributed to your success. Second was Kuwait and third was Uzbekistan,” recalled Leviste.

“We were far from them. From third, we were eight faults away or two bars down. From the silver, we were, I think 15 faults.  That’s a lot of faults. Sure, they can also have faults, but we can also have faults for the next day. We have to ride as faultless as we can and they have to screw up. We had to rely on that, in fact.”

Leviste, an Olympian and the most seasoned among the three riders, served as the anchor rider and not minding the pressure, she came away with a faultless final round, enough for the Philippines to secure a guaranteed bronze at least.

Little did they know, they’re in for even something better.

“I am usually the anchor rider, the last to ride and usually, the last rider has the most pressure because depends on what happened, everything relies on you, especially when you’re just three and every score is counted. I was second to the last to go and the last rider was the rider from Kuwait who was the individual gold medalist last year in Jakarta. He was faultless in the first round. He would normally not have a fault and so, when I came in. I didn’t know I rode a clear round,” added Leviste.

The Philippines’ road to winning a medal was also aided by a bad luck from Team Uzbekistan, which made mistakes ahead of Leviste’s turn to come up with a perfect round.

“Apparently, Uzbekistan made mistakes and I could not afford a fault. When I jumped, everybody wants us to win because we were the underdogs. When I finished my round without a fault, you could hear in the commentary that we won the bronze already. When I crossed the finish line, we won the bronze,” she added.

“The last rider, the guy who won the gold medal last year in the Asian Games, Ali Al-Khorafi from Kuwait, had to have 10 faults, which is like an impossibility, like saying Michael Jordan should not be able to shoot one shot out of three in a free throw. Normally, it’s impossible for him to have a fault — and we needed 10 for us to claim the silver. His horse stopped in one obstacle so that’s already four faults and so he needs to make a circle and jump again and then he had one more bar down, so that’s already eight faults, but because he made that circle, that added time, so when he crossed the finish line, he already had 10 faults, so we won the silver. Only God can make that happen. You can’t even say it’s a miracle. But if it’s something meant for you, it will not past you. So we fought for that silver and it felt like a gold.”

DRIVEN BY PASSION

For nearly four decades, Leviste has been on board different horses.  Beginning 1985 when she competed in the Pony Club at the young age of 11, the well-traveled equestrienne didn’t stop from there even though some of her peers — from Mikee Cojuangco, Denise Yabut-Cojuangco, and Jones Lanza, among others had long been retired — and appeared no signs of slowing down.

“I am actually the longest-serving national athlete in an Olympic sport. I was competing since I was 11 years old. My first competition was in 1985 and I was 11 for the Pony Club of the Philippines and it’s now 2019. It’s a dual meet between Hong Kong and the Philippines. I’m 46 and I’m still competing and still dreaming of that Olympic gold. What drives me? Why I’m still doing it? The fuel that drives me is an Olympic gold medal. It sounds like an impossible dream, but when you dream, you have to dream big. For as long as there’s a Filipino with that dream in her heart, then the gold medal is not an impossibility for the Philippines because someone is dreaming it. Whether or not I can achieve it. It’s God’s will. God has put the dream in my heart. It’s up to me to nurture it,” she said.

“For as long as I have the passion to continue and everyday that I wake up it’s still there. So I have it. No one is making me do it. I’m living in my suitcase. I travel all over the world, all year round. I just come home during Christmas because my family is, of course, celebrating Christmas, the New Year and Ramadan.”

Last year, Leviste competed against some of the world’s best in the World Championship, the only Filipino to see action in the prestigious world meet for showjumping twice.

“I was also there in 2002 in Spain,” said Leviste. “I was able to compete in the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney and the World Cup Final in Sweden in 1999. No Southeast Asian had done all three. It’s really hard to qualify for the World Championship and the Olympics. I’ve been blessed with good partners. You’re only as good as your best horse. They say horses are the athletes, in a way, they’re right. In these sense that they have to jump these obstacles, whereas we have to pilot them to do so — and to do so gracefully, harmoniously, with good camaraderie — so that they are willing to do it for you and to fight for you. But they get old and die, as we do as well,” added Leviste.

But equestrian is a sport that was created on equal opportunities. Men and women can compete with one another as the chemistry between the horses and the riders are the ones determining which of these pairs can stand out among the rest.

“In equestrian, it’s not about brute strength. That’s why men and women can compete equally against each other. The older you are, the more experiences you have in the ring. The different courses, because every course is different. Not like gymnastics or basketball or even golf. I know the factors in golf are different every day. But when you played that course, you more or less know that course and just adjust to the variables. In showjumping, there’s not one course the same, every single time. It changes every single time. The more courses you jumped in your lifetime, the more analytical you are. The more you can assess all these number of strides,” added Leviste.

THE ULTIMATE DREAM

Competing in the Olympics is probably the pinnacle of every athletes’ career and an Olympic gold is the highest achievement for any of them.

Leviste wants to be part of that circle and just like every athlete, she has that dream of winning the elusive Olympic gold medal. No Filipino athlete has ever won a gold medal in the world’s biggest show spectacle, but Leviste never gets tired of trying her luck even though she saw her peers come and go.

“We didn’t qualify for the 2020 Olympics. We tried to. We’re going to vie for the 2024 Olympics in Paris,” she said. “We tried as a team last August, but again, because we were only three and because we’re against New Zealand and Australia, they’re all in the Asia Pacific region. Our groupings are done in a different format. They grouped us with the Asia Pacific, so that includes all of Southeast Asia. All of Asia and including Australia and New Zealand, which is not really fair.”

“In our sport, they have that advantage. It’s not fair for us. Because equestrian is part of their culture. They live in the countryside and they’re farmers. It’s part of their lifestyle. That’s their sport. It’s like us doing sipa. Dapat kasama sila ng mga Europeans, but it is what it is. That’s why it’s very tough. Yet, I did it, so it’s not impossible. It’s just difficult. And we were trying to do it as a team this time. We’re trying to become the first Southeast Asian team to qualify, but we did it.”

Australia and New Zealand were able to qualify for the spot for the Olympics and the next major event lined up for the Philippine equestrian squad would be two years from now.

“The next World Championship is 2022. It’s always the same year as the Asian Games. Last year, I went to the Asian Games in Jakarta and then I went to the World Championships after,” added Leviste.

Looking back at her already stellar career, competing in the Olympics is like no other.

“My greatest achievement for me is being an Olympian. I think once you’re an Olympian, you will always be an Olympian. That’s why we have the POA — the Philippine Olympian Association. It’s easier to become a Senator than being an Olympian. I’m not downplaying the Senators. I’m just trying to make a comparison at how difficult it is to become an Olympian. You cannot buy a spot in the Olympics. You have to work sweat, blood and tears, literally — to make it there.”

“I have highlights in my career that keeps me going, but the dream or the fuel that drives me is the dream of the Olympic gold. I think every Filipino athlete dreams of winning the gold. I know it’s a near impossibility because what are the chances? Even qualifying is hard enough, but if you dream, you dream big.”

Unlike in other sports, earning a berth in the Olympics or the World Championship is as tough as nails.  There are no qualifying events lined up as compared to basketball, for example, which has windows for either the Olympics or the World Championship through their series of qualifying events.

In equestrian, there’s only one.

“I think we are always allowed to have a swimmer or an athlete in track and field in the Olympics — every country. They are always allowed of those spots. Mandatory ang swimming and track and field sa Olympics, so we have to choose at least one. Our best swimmer and our best track and field to be in the Olympics.  That’s why in every Olympics, we have athletes in swimming and track and field,” said Leviste.

“I tried to qualify every four years. What’s hard for our qualifiers, there’s only one competition — it’s always do-or-die. The international federation chooses only one competition and it’s normally done in Europe and on that day, the best team qualifies. No wildcards.”

PROUD TO BE FILIPINO

In 2006, while competing in the Doha Asian Games, Leviste, a Muslim, was offered to become a Qatari. It was a tempting offer, one that is hard to refuse as it is known as a staunch backer for equestrian.

“I won a team silver in Busan Asian Games in 2002. We won a team gold during the Manila SEA Games in 2005 and I won an individual silver. In 2011 during the SEA Games in Jakarta, I won a team silver and an individual silver,” added Leviste.

“When I was competing in Qatar in the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar offered me to become a Qatari. They knew I was Muslim. They wanted to encourage Muslim women to be involved because Prophet Mohammed loves horses. They wanted to encourage women to be involved in equestrian so they wanted me to be part of the team.”

Known as an oil-rich country and also a destination of choice by Filipinos who want to work overseas, Qatar is hard to pass up, but Leviste has better reasons to turn it down.

“Team Qatar in equestrian sport is the highest funded team in the whole world. They love horses. They have natural gas. They don’t have to worry about training or finding horses. You just have to concentrate on finding the horses and competing and that’s it. It was a tempting offer, but very easy to refuse for me personally, because I believe that,” said Leviste.

“I ride with passion because I ride for my flag and country. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t ride at all. That’s what drives me, too, just like the Olympic gold medal, for the country. Anywhere in the world I am, every rider that’s invited in an international event, their countries’ flags were raised. Whenever I see the Philippine flag flying high, hoisted up among the other flags, even if I’m the only one who knows that’s the Philippine flag, my heart is so proud that it’s there because of me. It represents a hundred million people. Even if they don’t know nor care, I care. That’s important to me. I couldn’t ride for another country.”

Zamboanga rips Imus; Pacquiao dishes out triple-double performance in MPBL’s Canada invasion

ALvin Pasaol and the Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines handed the also-ran Imus-Luxxe Slim a sound beating on the day Senator Manny Pacquiao dazzled the Pinoys based in Canada in the 2019 Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan Cup Saturday morning (Manila time) at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Zamboanga ran roughshod over the Imus Bandera, 88-72, to keep the sixth spot in the Southern Division of the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league. The Universal Canning-owned franchise improved its win-loss record to a 17-10 slate.

Pasaol finished with 21 points and six rebounds to lead Zamboanga to its fourth straight victory.

Raphy Reyes and Reggie Morido, along with Pasaol capped the first half with seven unanswered points to turn an eight-point lead to a wide 46-31 gap.

The Chooks-to-Go 3 x 3 star continued the assault, firing five points in an 8-0 run to give Zamboanga its biggest lead of the ball game at 23, 54-31, with 9:10 remaining in the third.

Gerald Anderson, Jayjay Helterbrand, and Jojo Cunanan joined forces in a 14-0 swing to cut the lead to nine with 6:24 left in the third.

However, it was the closest Imus could get as Zamboanga’s Anton Asistio and Aaron Black doused cold water to the rallying Imus side with baskets of their own.

Black added 13 points, seven rebounds, and three assists while Asistio chipped in 12 points, all of them coming from rainbow territory.

Anderson paced Imus with 14 points and five assists while Jeric Nacpil had 13 markers and eight boards.

The Luxxe Slim-backed squad dropped to 6-21 in the Southern Division.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao flaunted his all-around game as Team Pacquiao cruised past Casem Calgary, 116-99, in the MPBL exhibition match.

Pacquiao finished with a triple-double of 31 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds to lead his squad’s 17-point rout of the Calgary squad which was composed of several Overseas Filipino Workers.

The Mark Yee-led MPBL All-Stars settled for a draw against Calgary Storm, 95-95.

Yee posted 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting on top of 12 rebounds.

The Calgary-based team owned by Filipino Tony Tan was led by Kenny Oteneo with 24 points, six assists, and five boards.

Zamboanga-Family’s Brand Sardines, Imus headline MPBL’s Canada invasion

The Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League will show its brand of play to Canada starting Friday, December 27, (December 28 in Manila) when Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines tangles with Imus Bandera at Seven Chiefs Sportsflex in Calgary, Alberta.

Now known as Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan Season, the 31-team league founded by Sen. Manny Pacquiao, will be making its second international foray after a two-game swing in Dubai, UAE, in September.

Apart from the Zamboanga-Imus tussle, Pacquiao will be bringing along a 21-man All-Star team which will be facing local selections from Calgary and Edmonton in the event dubbed as MPBL Canada Invasion.

Majority of the Bandera, including actor Gerald Anderson and former PBA MVP Jayjay Helterbrand, left on Christmas Day in two batches, same with the Zamboanguenos.

MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes, Deputy Commissioner Zaldy Realubit and Operations Head Emmer Oreta and some league personnel flew out in separate flights Wednesday.

Duremdes, a PBA all-time great, and Oreta will be playing in the All-Stars which will be split into two teams to be headed by Pacquiao and Cong. Bobby Pacquiao. Realubit will serve as All-Stars coach.

The All-Stars are MPBL Datu Cup MVP Gab Banal of the Bacoor Strikers, Chris Lalata (Bicol Volcanoes), Spencer Eman (Socsargen Marlins), Mark Yee (Davao Occidental Tigers), Michael Juico (Pampanga Giant Lanterns), Val Acuna (Valenzuela Classic), Paulo Hubalde (Valenzuela Classic), Chris Bitoon (Manila Stars), Aris Dionisio (Manila Stars), Jeff Viernes (Batangas Blades), Jhayman Eguilos (Batangas Blades) and Anderson (Imus Bandera).

Others in the roster are MPBL panelists Christian Luanzon, Martin Antonio, and Rodney Santos, co-operations head Satar Macantal, and marketing officer Seth Jamora.

Pacquiao, wife Jinkee and their children will leave for Calgary on Thursday night.

Tagging along are the rest of the MPBL staff, including three referees who will officiate MPBL’s first game in North America.

The Friday (Dec. 27) games in Calgary will be held at Seven Chiefs Sportsplex while Edmonton Expo Centre will host the games on Saturday (Dec. 28).

Olympian Onyok Velasco sees a lot of potential Pinoy boxers to qualify to the Tokyo Games

Twenty years before weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz settled for a silver medal finish in the 2016 Olympic Games, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco, then a sensational amateur boxer, nearly won the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

A former Asian gold medalist, Velasco was able to push eventual champion Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria to the limit before ending up with a silver medal.

His gutsy performance served as his ticket meal to stardom as he landed a more promising career — not inside the boxing ring, but in front of the camera as a comedian.

In the recent SEA Games campaign, Velasco was among sports legends who paraded during the opening ceremonies joined by fellow greats such as four-time MVP Alvin Patrimonio, four-time bowling world champion Paeng Nepomuceno, former Asia’s queen of sprint Lydia de Vega,  two-time world pool champion Efren “Bata” Reyes, and 13-time SEA Games gold medalist Eric Buhain among others.

As the Philippine boxing team plunged into action, Velasco became a first hand witness on the impressive performances of our local pugs.

Seven fighters pocketed a gold medal each and helped out in the golden haul, allowing the Philippines to win the overall championship in this year’s Games.

Velasco believes there are a lot of fighters who have a shot of making it to the Olympics and possibly win a medal in the world’s biggest multi-sports event.

“Maganda ang future ng boxing natin, kasi maganda ipinakikita ng mga boxers,” Velasco told FOX Sports Philippines in an exclusive interview.

According to Velasco, all gold medalists in the SEA Games — Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial, Charly Suarez, Josie Gabuco, Carlo Paalam, James Palicte, Rogen Ladon — are capable of going to the Olympics.

“Halos lahat naman sila,” added Velasco. “Future to Olympics yang mga yan. Pero siguro kailangan nilang i-improve yung bilis nila. Kailangan mabilis sila, kasi iba yung level ng Olympics, kailangang mabilis ka talaga.”

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Big Mac makes debut with new MPBL team Bacoor as Strikers battle crack Makati Super Crunch

LeBron James reacts after winning all-star game

JOURNEYMAN Mac Andaya is going to see action with the new MPBL team Bacoor when the Strikers face the Makati Super Crunch at the Aznar Coliseum at Southwestern University. 

Andaya, the 6-foot-8, former PBA player, will be playing in his fourth MPBL squad. He saw action for the Valenzuela Classic, the Pasig Pirates and the now-defunct Mandaluyong El Tigre.

He will provide the extra ceiling needed by the Strikers as they make their final push for the playoffs.

Andaya confirmed his inclusion in Bacoor’s squad to FOX Sports Philippines.

“I’m with Bacoor now. Nakuha ako a few weeks after magpa-release ako sa Valenzuela for personal reasons,” Andaya wrote in an online interview.

Andaya will join forces up front with Michael Mabulac, PBA-bound Michael Cañete, Mark Montuano, King Destacamento and the father and son tandem of Marlou and Matthew Aquino.

He is expected to be utilized against the Super Crunch in their 7 p.m. encounter. Host Cebu battles General Santos City in the main game at 9 p.m.

Mindoro snaps MPBL skid with tense win over Rizal; Biñan, Bataan prevail

BALANGA, BATAAN — Mindoro snapped its five-game losing skid this after the Tamaraws edged the Rizal-Xentro Mall Golden Coolers, 74-73, in the MPBL Lakan Season Thursday at the People’s Center here.

Richard Abanes split his charities with 2.9 seconds left for the final tally, but the Tamaraws had to watch Jordan Rios missed his jumper as time expired before heaving a sigh of relief.

Abanes finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists to help Mindoro post a 9-18 win-loss slate, good for 12th in the tough southern division.

“It was a good win for us, especially na-hit namin yung purpose namin in joining this league. May bagong umusbong na player tulad ni Richard Abanes. It’s a big win for us,” said Mindoro head coach and team owner Justin Tan.

Rodel Vaygan added 16 points and five rebounds while Luigi Natada and Mac Baracael had nine and eight markers, respectively, for Mindoro.

Biñan City turned to Kyle Neypes, who delivered the clutch baskets to propel the Heroes to a 72-68 win over the Caloocan Supremos.

Neypes and Allan Mangahas conspired in a big play in the last 22.9 seconds as the cool and calculating guard set up the talented forward for the go-ahead bucket, 70-68.

In the next play, it was the other Mangahas, James, who made his presence felt as he completed a steal, resulting to an easy basket for Neypes at the other end.

“Masaya ako para sa kaniya kasi nag-step up siya. Kailangan ko siya eh, lalo na sa depensa. Silang dalawa ni Ivan [Vilannueva], pasalamat talaga ako sa kaniya kasi nag deliver siya,” said Biñan head coach Denok Miranda on Neypes’ solid outing.

Neypes tallied 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field to power Biñan to its fifth straight victory. The win allowed the Heroes to improve their record to 10-13.

Bataan brought down Basilan, 91-83, to stay on track for a possible playoff berth.

 

 

Chris Dumapig, Hesed Gabo might stay with MPBL’s Basilan Steel without offers from PBA teams

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CHRIS Dumapig was chosen in the third round of the recent PBA Rookie Draft by the NorthPort Batang Pier. Hesed Gabo, the talented guard from the MPBL, ended up undrafted.

Both of these players might end up going back to the Basilan Steel-Jumbo Plastic without firm offers from PBA squads as their aspirations playing in the big league remain hanging in the balance.

Regarded as one of the best point guards in the MPBL, Gabo applied in the recent Rookie Draft to pursue his dreams of playing in the big league.

“Undrafted ako, so free agent na ako,” Gabo told FOX Sports Philippines. “May mga options pa naman.”

This means Gabo, a product of the Mapua Cardinals, can be picked up by any PBA team or go back playing for the Steel where he is already part of the regular roster and help the squad in its playoff push in the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league.

Dumapig, one of the top rebounders in the ongoing MPBL Lakan Season, has yet to receive a firm offer from NorthPort, which is currently playing in the ongoing PBA Governors’ Cup semifinals.

According to Dumapig, he was told by NorthPort that they’re going to sign him up, but is still waiting for the formal offer.

For the time being, both players could still suit up for the Steel.

 

Zamboanga, Davao Occi, Pampanga stay in the hunt for MPBL playoffs after contrasting victories

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ZAMBOANGA-Family’s Brand Sardines drew another solid game from Alvin Pasaol, who propelled his team to an 85-78 triumph over the Valenzuela Classic in the MPBL Lakan Season at the Bahayang Pag-asa Gym in Valenzuela City, Tuesday.

Pasaol ended a rebound away from posting a double-double performance as he finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, towing the Universal Canning Inc.-owned franchise to its 15th win in 25 games.

Three more players ended up in double figures for Zamboanga — Leonard Santillan (14), Raphy Reyes (12) and Anton Asistio (11).

Davao Occidental racked up its fourth straight victory, but not after repulsing Pasig, 75-71.

Yee finished with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added 16 rebounds to help Davao strengthen its grip on the top spot of the tough southern division of this tournament put up by Senator Manny Pacquiao with PBA legend and former MVP Kenneth Duremdes serving as commissioner. The Tigers improved their record to 20-3.

Davao Occidental head coach Don Dulay could only heave a sigh of relief after his squad got past a tough customer in Pasig.

“I think we handled it okay. I think we can do a lot better, a lot better, but they played us tough. The coaching staff of Pasig did a great job and I’m just happy we won, that was a tough win and you know, I’ll take it any day,” said Dulay.

With his squad down by three points in the final period, Yee took charge and converted an and-one play to lock the scores at 67-all.

Yvan Ludovice drew two consecutive fouls on Lester Tamayo, converting both of his first free throws while splitting the second set to give the Tigers a 70-67 lead. Billy Robles then drained a jumper on the left wing to stretch the lead to five with 2:25 remaining.

Thurlough Grealy and Richard Velchez stopped the bleeding and trimmed Davao’s lead to just one, 71-72, but a turnover by Grealy with 1:08 remaining proved to be too costly for Pasig, resulting to Yee’s completed three-point play at the other end.

Earlier, Pampanga relied on Mark Cruz’s solid overall outing as the Giant Lanterns dumped the Pasay Voyagers, 75-65.

Cruz bucked a slow start and turned on the heat in the second half. Reduced to only two points in the first half, the spitfire guard knocked in 12 of his 14 points in the next 24 minutes of play.

But Cruz’s overall impact was also felt in the assists department as he dished out 14 dimes, grabbed seven rebounds and picked up four steals in a solid all-around effort that propelled the Giant Lanterns to their 15th win in 24 matches.

Pampanga has solidified its hold of the fifth spot in the northern division of the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league.

“Nag celebrate, nagkaroon ng complacency eh. Kaya nire-remind ko sila, ‘wag tayong maging complacent. ‘Wag tayong mag celebrate ‘di pa tapos ‘yan. Well, they played good defense, they executed our game plan,” said Pampanga head coach Bong Ramos.

Bacolod-Master Sardines makes it back-to-back; Iloilo, Imus hurdle MPBL foes

IMUS– Bacolod-Master Sardines remained in the heated playoff race of the 2019-20 Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan Season, fending off Bicol LCC Stores in overtime, 76-72, Monday at the Imus Sports Complex here.

After Volcanoes big man Chris Lalata made the first two points of the extra period at the 4:30 mark, Bacolod’s defense clamped on their foes, holding them scoreless for the remainder of the game.

The trio of Pao Javelona, Ben Adamos, and Edgar Charcos punched in the buckets for the Master Sardines-backed squad.

“That’s what I am trying to make in this team, a defensive team, kasi I am more of a defensive coach. Ngayon ko lang talaga nakuha yung mga players na gusto ko na susunod sa sistema,” Bacolod coach Vic Ycasiano said.

Ralph Tansingco had 15 points and five rebounds while Adamos got 11 markers and seven boards as the Master Sardines-backed Bacolod improved to 8-15 for 11th place in the South division.

Javelona sent the game to overtime after he made a floater with 9.3 ticks left in the fourth frame, 70-70, before Bicol star Ronjay Buenafe failed to take a shot in the ensuing play.

Yankee Haruna, Jopher Custodio, and Jess Villahermosa punched in 10 points apiece for Bacolod.

Iloilo United cruised to its sixth-straight victory after surviving Rizal Xentro Mall’s fourth quarter scare, 71-65.

Trailing by one with 3:57 left, the Royals launched a game-ending 9-2 blast, highlighted by Alfrancis Tamsi’s triple at the 1:11 mark to put his squad up 69-65.

Jerson Prado provided the much-needed baskets for the Royals, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the payoff period to go along with seven rebounds and two rejections.

Imus-Khaleb Shawarma banked on a strong first half to snap its seven-game skid at the expense of Navotas-Uni Pak Sardines, 86-71.

The Khaleb Shawarma-backed Bandera unleashed an 18-5 barrage midway through the second period to turn a close 32-28 lead to a commanding 50-33 halftime advantage.

The Bandera didn’t look back from there.

Basilan, Biñan City pull off tough wins to stay in hunt

STA. ROSA — Playing in its surrogate home court, Biñan City went through the proverbial eye of the needle before outlasting the Imus Bandera, 88-83, in the MPBL Lakan Season at the Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Complex here Saturday night.

Basilan also went similar route before edging a pesky Sarangani side, 85-82.

Chris Dumapig had a monster game, finishing with a double-double of 15 points and 18 boards while Dennis Daa returned and ended up with 15 markers on top of nine boards as the Steel’s frontline showed their toughness against the Marlins.

Pushed to the limit by Sarangani, Basilan had to rely on veteran Daa, who sank a backbreaking jumper with three seconds left to bail his team out of the jaws of defeat.

It was the sixth straight win for Basilan, which improved its win-loss record to 15-8 and moved up to fourth spot of the tough southern division of this tournament put up by Senator Manny Pacquiao with PBA legend and former MVP Kenneth Duremdes serving as commissioner.

 

Taekwondo, boxing deliver 1-2 punch as MVPSF-supported sports rake 78 medals in SEA Games

Taekwondo and boxing proved why they are a powerful combination in the Pinoys’ onslaught in the recent Southeast Asian Games as the two sports sparked a productive campaign for the Philippine athletes, allowing the country to win the overall championship.  

The Philippines won the overall championship, this after the Pinoy athletes produced 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals, their best ever output in the history of the Games.

For the MVP Sports Foundation, the teams from taekwondo and boxing had become the group’s 1-2 punch, allowing them to garner 78 medals — 35 gold, 29 silver and 14 bronze medals to be exact.

Taekwondo picked up eight gold medals, the most among the sports being supported by the MVPSF, as the country’s poomsae were able to pocket four gold medals courtesy of Jeordan Dominguez (freestyle individual for men), Rodolfo Reyes Jr. (recognized individual men), Joel Lyn Ninobla (recognized individual female), and team of Dustin Jacob Mella, Raphael Enrico Mella, and Reyes Jr. (recognized team male).

Four silver medals were claimed by Janna Dominique Oliva (freestyle individual female), the team of Juvenile Faye Crisostomo, Marvin Mon, Patrick King Perez, Darius Venerable and Oliva (freestyle mixed team), the trio of Rinna Babanto, Aidaine Krishia Laxa, Jocel Lyn Ninobla (recognized team female), and the duo of Dustin Mella and Rinna Babanto (recognized mixed pair).

Taekwondo’s kyorugi unit were likewise productive as Kurt Barbaso (men’s finweight), Dave Cea (men’s lightweight), Pauline Lopez (women’s featherweight), and Samuel Morrison (men’s welterweight) all delivered a golden finish.

Winning seven gold medals in the SEA Games, the Philippine boxing team has become one of the most productive sports for the MVPSF and lived up to its billing as a medal-rich sport.

Bannering our side with gold medals were Josie Gabuco (Women’s Light Flyweight), Nesthy Petecio (Women’s Featherweight), Carlo Paalam (Men’s Light Flyweight), Rogen Ladon (Men’s Flyweight), Charly Suarez (Men’s Lightweight), James Palicte (Men’s Light Welterweight), and Eumir Marcial (Men’s Welterweight).

Finishing silver were Irish Magno (Women’s Flyweight), Aira Villegas (Women’s Bantamweight), and Marjon Piañar (Men’s Welterweight), while Ian Clark Bautista (Men’s Bantamweight) took bronze.

A total of six gold medals  were captured by our bets from skateboarding with 2018 Asian Games gold medalist Margielyn Didal winning gold in both the Women’s Street and Game of Skate Events. Four other gold medals were won by Christiana Means (Women’s Park) Jericho Francisco Jr. (Men’s Park), Daniel Ledermann (Men’s Game of Skate), and Jaime de Lange (Men’s Downhill).

Means also took two silvers in Women’s Game of Skate and Women’s Street while Renzo Mark Feliciano (Men’s Street) and Duke Pandeagua (Men’s Downhill) won our last two silvers. Rydelle Abarico took our solitary Bronze in Women’s Downhill.

Then, there’s a rare sweep by basketball, which ruled all the events lined up both in the 3 x 3 and 5-on-5 events.

CJ Perez, Jason Perkins, Chris Newsome, and Mo Tautaa went undefeated enroute to the men’s 3 x 3 gold while Jack Animam, Afril Bernardino, Clare Castro, and Janine Pontejos avenged their early loss to Thailand with a 17-13 win over the Thais in the finals.

Both our men’s and women’s 5 x 5 teams defeated their Thai counterparts in their respective final matches to clinch the gold. The Men’s 5 x 5 was composed of Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Vic Manuel, Greg Slaughter, Stanley Pringle, Kiefer Ravena, Troy Rosario, Chris Ross, LA Tenorio, Christian Standhardinger, and Matthew Wright.

The women’s 5 x 5 team completed a historic feat and gave the country its first gold medal finish in the SEA Games. The members of the squad are Afril Bernardino, Danica Jose. Jack Animam, Janine Pontejos, Clare Castro, Khate Castillo, Kelli Hayes, Chack Cabinbin, Ria Nabalan, Eunique Chan, Andrea Tongco, and Mar Prado.

Cycling also provided an exciting finish for our countrymen as it pocketed three gold, four silver and four bronzes.

The Philippines had a 1-2 finish in Men’s Downhill with John Derrick Farr taking gold and Eleazar Barba Jr. with the silver. Jermyn Prado took home the gold, winning the Women’s Time Trial then silver in the Women’s Road Race while Lea Denise Beligra struck the gold in the Women’s Downhill.

Men’s Cross Country saw a 2-3 finish by Nino Surban (Silver) and Edmhel John Flores (Bronze). Daniel Caluag was also able to rally back for a Silver in the BMX Men’s Race. Bronze medals were won by Avegail Roman in Women’s Cross Country, our Men’s Team Trial quartet (John Mark Camingao, Jan Paul Morales, Ronald Oranza and George Oconer) as well as our Men’s Road Race Team (Jonel Carcueva, El Joshua Carino, Marcelo Felipe, Ismael Grospe Jr., and Jun Rey Navarra).

Also taking center stage were Olympians Carlos Yulo and Heidylyn Diaz.

Yulo, who recently won the World Gymnastics Championship in Germany, grabbed two gold medals in the SEA Games. He ruled the all-around and floor exercise then ended up with a silver medal in five different events — the pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bars.

Diaz won one of the two gold medals secured by weightlifting as the 2016 Olympics silver medalist dominated the 55-kg event for women’s.  Her teammate, Kristen Macrohon, also bagged a gold in the 71-kg. for women.

Finishing with a silver each were Margaret Colonia (women’s 59-kg.), Eileen Ann Ando (women’s 64-kg.), John Fabuar Ceniza (men’s 55-kg.). Mary Flor Diaz (women’s 45-kg.) and Nestor Colonia (men’s 67-kg), settled for a bronze medal finish.

Golf also came up with two golden finishes, reigning Asian Games gold medalist Bianca Pagdanganan stamped her class in the women’s individual then teamed up with Lois Kaye Go and Abegail Arevalo to rule the women’s team gold medal. The trio of Sean Ramos, Aidric Chan and Luis Castro also made it to the podium by winning the bronze.

The Philippine rugby team also ruled the field and in the finals, the Filipinos were able to give Malaysia a sound beating, 19-0. The women’s team settled for silver.

Composing the men’s team are Tommy Gregory Gilbert, Donald Canon Coleman, Robert Luceno Fogetry, Justin Villager Coveney, Timothy Alonso Berry, Joe Palabay Dawson, Luc Villaba Smith, Ryan Reyes Howe, Patrice Ortiz Olivier, Vincent Amor Young, Ned Plarizan Stephenson and Harry Dionson Morris.

The women’s team is comprised of Ada Milby, Sylvia Tudoc, Jacqueline Rodriguez, Patronicia Duffy, Erica Legaspi, Aiumi Ono, Helena Indigne, Aldee Denluyo, Nicole Kovanen, Agot Danton, Rassiel Sales, and Anna Beatrix Pacis.

The Foundation sees this level of success on the regional stage as a positive step towards higher level international competitions as it looks towards its ultimate goal of giving the Philippines its first taste of Olympic Gold, especially with Tokyo 2020 Olympics only months away.

“The MVP Sports Foundation will not cease on its support of the Filipino athlete and the Philippines’ unrelenting quest to finally get an Olympic gold medal,” said MVPSF president Al Panlilio. “We’re proud to have played a part in the success of select Filipino athletes in the Southeast Asian Games as the different programs getting support from the MVPSF garnered 78 medals, 35 of which were gold.”

“As seen in the SEA Games, sport truly has the uncanny power of uniting us Filipinos and it is this idea that powers us in the MVPSF. We want to invest on nation-building through discovering and developing new heroes that the younger generation could look up to as they also strive to be the best individuals they could be. We’re proud of the achievements of all Filipino athletes but we can’t stop here. We will use this momentum to try and get even more Filipinos to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

MVPSF believes that the 2019 SEA Games also served as an introduction for several of our national athletes to the general Filipino public, who were able to watch their talents on display first-hand.

“The best thing about winning 35 golds out of the 78 medals from athletes that MVPSF supported is that a lot of our champions are strong Olympic hopefuls,” said Ryan Gregorio, the foundation’s executive director. “We’re proud of every athlete we supported and we’re hopeful for those who can carry our flag in Tokyo,” he added.

Bacolod-Master Sardines not ready to throw in white towel on MPBL playoff bid

Bacolod-Master Sardines may be struggling in the ongoing MPBL Lakan Season, but that doesn’t mean the team is ready to throw in the white towel and fold up easily.

On Friday’s resumption of the third season of the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league, Bacolod thwarted Quezon City, 68-63, and kept its flickering hopes alive for a quarterfinal berth.

In picking up its seventh win in 22 games, Bacolod was able to snap its seven-game losing skid.

“We’re not about to throw in the white towel,” Bacolod coach Vic Ycasiano told FOX Sports Philippines. “But whether we make it to the playoffs or not, our mindset right now is to win as many games as possible.”

Yankie Haruna, the former NCAA slam dunk champion acquired from Bataan after the player was released thru free agency, went a rebound away from posting a double-double performance and provided the spark needed by Bacolod. He ended up with 14 points and nine rebounds.

Ben Adamos, the towering 6-foot-7 center, added 10 points while fellow newcomer Ralph Tansingco contributed nine.

Bacolod is hoping to establish a winning run and looking to change its fortunes early next year when the league resumes from a Holiday break. The team is set to welcome veteran forward Jeff Javillonar, who is on his way to completely recover from an ACL injury.

 

 

 

After Bong’s SEA Games gold medal feat in 1991, son Kiefer wins latest one at home

Bong Ravena was a member of the 1991 Philippine men’s basketball team back when the country was still fielding in amateur players to represent the country in the Southeast Asian Games.

A product of the University of the East in the UAAP, Ravena was called up to play along with several amateur standouts at that time. Among them include Johnny Abarrientos, Vergel Meneses, Vic Pablo, Jun Limpot, and Marlou Aquino among others.

Francis Rodriguez coached the squad to a gold medal finish and would win it in front of our home crowd.

Nearly three decades later, his son, Kiefer Ravena, would win his latest SEA Games gold medal here and just like his dad, the younger Ravena is cherishing this special moment.

It was the fifth gold medal won by Kiefer and while his dad would only win one, the significance of winning it right before the eyes of their countrymen makes it truly special.

“It’s significant because he won it at home. I know the feeling. I was once in his shoes and I told him to grab that opportunity,” the elder Ravena told FOX Sports Philippines.

Playing in the SEA Games this year wasn’t planned for the younger Ravena. In fact, he was not included in the original pool selected by Tim Cone.

His entry only became possible when Jayson Castro got injured and Ravena, the only young player in the line-up, became an exception.

“Kiefer is probably the youngest guy in the line-up, but he’s the most veteran in terms of playing in the Southeast Asian Games,” said Cone. “Plus the fact that Kiefer played here without hesitation. He was not chosen in the original pool, but he has no problems when we asked him to join the squad as a replacement for Jayson Castro.”

For the younger Ravena, daddy knows best.

“My dad told me na since I’m already here, I have to contribute with the national team. Yung opportunity na ito hindi para sa lahat,” added Kiefer.

In the end, it was all worth it for the young Ravena, a fifth SEA Games gold medal won right in front of fellow Filipinos.

“It’s important. It’s a privilege to be part of this program. This one is a little bit special because I didn’t expect to be part of this one. Now, I got my fifth gold medal (in the SEA Games) and hometown pa. If this is my last SEA Games, what a way to end it playing in front of our countrymen,” said Ravena.

Photo credit from Retro PBA Facebook

After golden finish by Gilas belles in SEA Games, coach Patrick Aquino wants to have a ‘league of their own’

For many years, Philippine women’s basketball team coach Patrick Aquino watched rival countries in the Southeast Asian region running their own basketball league, a distinction which the Filipinas shared during the 1990s when the Philippine Basketball League was having a tournament for women.

That league turned out to be short-lived and would only last for three seasons with Ever Bilena, coached by Aquino, winning all those tournaments in the late ’90s and on its revival more than a decade ago.

Since then, Aquino would only wait once every year to form the national team to compete in the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA), which serves as a qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia and other major tournaments like the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games.

The SEA Games are being held every two years while the Asian Games follow the Olympic cycle, holding events every four years.

What Philippine women’s basketball needs is a regular tournament to have a continuity program for our belles, a vision being shared by Aquino.

The multi-titled women’s basketball coach is hoping his team’s recent golden feta in the SEA Games would open the doors for the revival of the women’s basketball league and provide the country’s cagebelles of a league of their own.

“That’s the dream na gusto ko. As of now, I’m the program director for women’s basketball. I really wanted women’s basketball to grow and hopefully, sponsors would come in next year and help us out to have a league of our own for women’s basketball,” said Aquino.

A few years ago, the PBA tried to provide these cagebelles a platform, even including them as a sideshow event. The pro league even created a 3 x 3 event for these ladies and would allow them to play during the interval of every scheduled doubleheader.

There was one time the league even created a selection of players and grouped them into two to play against each other and they served as an appetizer for the All-Star game.

But Aquino wants a regular league for these cagebelles to have a continuity program and provide exposure for those untapped talents.

“I think they’ll be proud. These girls really worked hard. Walang mga primadona. They’re gonna play as hard as they can. They would dive for the ball, fight for the defense, fight for box out or rebound. Sana lang yung dream ko na yan maging dire-derecho sa susunod na mga taon,” added Aquino.