- March 17, 2021 12:13
In a sport where height is might, a notable center in a basketball team is considered a strong structure that can withstand the attack of its opponents through great defense and shot blocking.
In the recently concluded University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) season 81, Clare Castro caught every spectator’s attention as the player who steered Far Eastern University (FEU) women’s basketball team back into the UAAP Finals after a three-year absence.
As she stands at towering height of 6-foot-4, she would dominate the game in both offensive and defensive ends for the Morayta-based squad. But on the rear side of the tower tells another story.
A crumbling castle
During her rookie year with the team, Castro experienced a setback that changed their campaign in the 76th edition of UAAP. The Lady Cagebelles had to forfeit some of the games because of their teammate who was caught playing in an outside league while the season is ongoing.
“‘Yung rookie year ko, na-forfeit ‘yung games namin, ‘yung seven games yata namin, kasi nakahuli dito sa isa sa mga teammate namin naglaro siya sa ligang labas (During my rookie year we had to forfeit our games, I think it was seven games, because someone caught one of our teammates palying in an outside league),” Castro shared.
This setback was a big hit for FEU as they were aiming for a historic three-peat championship that time. With the forfeiture of the games, they fell into the fifth spot of the standings, a spot shy of a final four appearance.
“For championship sana kami. Tinarabaho namin in the next season kasi nung season na ‘yun madaming nawala. Ta’s sa susunod na season talagang nagtrabaho kami para sa team namin kasi syempre kailangan namin na patunayan na para sa amin talaga ‘yung place na ‘yun (We should have been for championship [contention]. We worked hard in the next season because that season we lost many. And then for another season, we really worked hard for the team because we need to prove that the championship place was meant for us),” Castro shared.
But after that misfortune, the green-and-gold castle started to fall apart into small fragments as their tower, Castro, had to leave the collegiate league for two seasons due to her personal and academic issues.
“‘Yung sa first, personal issue, tas ‘yung second may bagsak ako (The first one is a personal issue, and then the second is that I had a failed subject),” she admitted.
With this condition, Castro told FEU Advocate that she remained persistent and did not stop training with the team even during her UAAP absence.
As she put it, “Nag-tre-training naman din ako kahit nung ‘di ako naglalaro, nag-train at nag-train ako kaya okay pa naman (I still trained even though I didn’t play [in the league]. I trained and I trained so I think that’s okay),” Castro shared.
Fortifying the fortress
Amidst all the crumbles and cracks, when the stronghold of FEU came back last season 81, there was no deterioration found in Castro’s games who later on became an easy double-double machine for the Lady Cagebelles.
Castro’s approach to the games last year resulted to be flawless. She became a dominant force in the women’s basketball division, a stopper to the likes of Jack Animam from National University (NU) and the foreign student-athletes Rhena Itesi and Grace Irebu, who plays for NU and University of Santo Tomas (UST), respectively.
Moreover, FEU head coach Bert Flores playfully refers to Castro as the ‘June Mar Fajardo’ in a post-game interview when they advanced to the UAAP Finals after beating UST.
“Nahihiya ako kasi ‘di ko alam kung bakit gano’n pero yung nga kasi sabi nila parang ‘yung galaw ko daw parang may [ano] kay June Mar Fajardo ta’s parang nakakatuwa kasi parang meron pala akong nagagaya ganyan at may potential (I am embarassed about it, because I don’t know why, but they said that my moves are [alike] to June Mar Fajardo and I think it’s amusing that I can imitate someone and there’s potential),” she shared.
As she continued fortifying her walls of defense, Castro recently joined forces with her UAAP rival, Animam, to represent the Philippines in the FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) 3x3 Asia Cup last May. Upon her debut, she shared that it was a great opportunity that can be applied in her UAAP journey.
“Syempre nakaka-overwhelm na Pilipinas na nire-represent tsaka panibagong experience [na] madami natutunan na pwede i-apply sa UAAP (Of course it’s overwhelming that you’re now representing Philippines and [this is] another experience that can be applied in UAAP),” Castro humbly said.
After her premiere FIBA experience, Castro will be part of the Gilas Pilipinas women roster for the upcoming 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, in which the country will host.
However, the schedule of the 2019 SEA games is set near the end of the UAAP season 82 making it a matter of time management and sacrifices for Castro. She shared a thing or two on how she will prepare for the tournament.
“Siguro training at tiyaga-tiyaga lang, tiis kasi syempre para sa bayan, para sa FEU parang gano’n (I think training and perseverance. Endure, because of course, for the country, for FEU), Castro said.
Averaging 16.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game during UAAP season 81, the 22-year-old Lady Cager will continue to strengthen her defensive and offensive walls whether bannering the green-and-gold flag in UAAP or the Philippine flag in the upcoming 30th SEA Games.