2011: UM Hawks celebrate NAASCU Title #7
TOWARDS THE close of its first decade, the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) began to experience better and balanced competition. Sweeping the fledgling league’s first five seasons, the once formidable University of Manila Hawks were a shadow of their old self as three other schools shared the next four championships – or so they thought.
The school parted ways with legendary mentor Loreto Tolentino Sr., the architect of their five-year reign, and hired former national coach Francis Rodriguez to take over for the 2008 wars. Despite his glowing credentials, Coach Rodriguez’ stay lasted for only one forgettable NAASCU thus paving the way for the entry of young coach Felix “Jojo” Castillo for 2009.
The Hawks managed to return to the Finals but were swept by the powerhouse San Sebastian College-Cavite Baycats who took their second straight trophy. However, the pieces were slowly being put into place led by Rookie of the Year Jeff Alvin Viernes.
All the hard work finally bore fruit the following season as Viernes teamed up with super rookies Eugene Torres and Randell Colina from Davao to finally capture UM’s sixth title in 2010 over the very game STI College Olympians. Torres was named as MVP and ROY while Colina led the league in scoring in his lone NAASCU stint.
With the trophy back with the Hawks’ talons, the team was poised for greatness as Coach Castillo added a few more players. Sadly, their title defense started on a sour note after the team left some of their key players’ uniforms in the taxi forcing them to go in defeat shorthanded against a complete STI, 72-90.
That proved to be UM’s only loss of the tournament as they bulldozed through the opposition to finish the eliminations with an 8-1 card. The Hawks then swept their five quarterfinal games to earn the top seeding at 13-1, capped by a 64-50 revenge victory over the Olympians.
In the crossover semifinals, the Hawks disposed of fourth seed Informatics College, 98-66. Second seed STI needed an extra game to eliminate third seed Centro Escolar University and thus set the stage for a championship rematch with the Hawks.
New NAASCU rules called for a one-game finale instead of the usual best of three series. With Viernes and Torres at the firing end, the Hawks retained their title, 69-66, with Viernes earning MVP honors.
2010: UM Hawks Return to the top.
Sadly, the celebration was short-lived no thanks to a brewing internal conflict among the school’s management. Varsity sports became collateral damage as UM’s entries for the NAASCU’s second semester events failed to complete and eventually led the way for their exit from the league they helped found in 2001.
To this day, UM’s seven NAASCU Seniors crowns remains unmatched. For sure, the last generation of Hawks have continued to cement their legacy.
Taking advantage of a league rule that allows players from disbanded teams to transfer sans residency, Viernes and Torres took their talents to Saint Clare College of Caloocan. Together with UM Juniors coach Jino Manansala, who was hired as the new Saints coach, the trio gave the school its first NAASCU title with Viernes securing his second straight MVP in 2012.
Forward Jayson Ibay took a year off and joined the Saints in 2013. Meanwhile, teammate Kiko Flores stayed one more season in the NAASCU with Trace College while Sherwin Castro and Jerald Serrano tried their luck with Emilio Aguinaldo College as the rest of the team did not continue collegiate ball.
Viernes eventually had two stints with Phoenix Petroleum and GlobalPort in the PBA plus playing as an import in leagues around Southeast Asia. Torres and Ibay made it as far as the D-League.
As for Coach Castillo, his post-NAASCU coaching journey took him to Vietnam where he was tasked to handle the Women’s National Team. It is to be noted that his former players like Viernes, Flores and Alain Bonleon have begun to enter the coaching profession at various levels.
Other members of the last championship squad of the UM Hawks include rebounding demon Jay-Ar Manuel, JR Ancheta, Luis Garcia, Salvador Guti-ay, Clemente Ruiz, Michael Eneria, Jayson Gonzales and Fil-Am Andrew Rivera. Coach Castillo’s assistants were Mark Javier, Kaka Espartero and Manansala with Rex Manansala serving as team consultant and manager.
In recent years, the NAASCU has seen the return of members like AMA University and Holy Angel University after a leave of absence. Perhaps it’s time to see if the purple and green will soar again.