Gilas Pilipinas Women are just weeks away from competing in the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, which runs from September 27 to October 3 in Jordan.
“I’m very excited. This is the future of women’s basketball,” Gilas Women head coach Patrick Aquino said in a recent interview on The Game.
“We have young ones and veterans coming together. We have Afril (Bernardino) there, Janine (Pontejos), Ella (Fajardo), Camille Clarin, and Kristine Cayabyab also coming in. I think the excitement is more of starting (with this new group). Let’s see what we can do when we play in this tournament.”
The women’s national team is holding its training in Lipa, Batangas with four newcomers, namely Ella Fajardo, Karl Ann Pingol, Kristine Cayabyab, and Camille Clarin.
“To be representing my country and to be playing alongside them is literally a dream come true,” said Fajardo, who is the youngest member of the squad at just 18 years old.
Fajardo, who was invited by Aquino to observe practices a few years back to gauge her interest in the national team, said joining the Gilas Women was a lifelong dream.
“I never expected that it would be this soon that Coach Pat had entrusted me to be on the team with my ates. I’ve looked up to them my whole life and I’ve watched every single game of theirs,” she said.
Fajardo also had encouraging words to young players who are aspiring to make the national team someday.
“Whatever you want to do in life, whether that be in sports or any type of passion — make sure you do your part, you put in the work, especially the work that nobody else sees… and let God do the rest,” said Fajardo, who also vows to help increase opportunities for Filipina athletes everywhere.
“To the youth especially, me, Ate Afril, Ate Janine, we are doing everything that we can to give them more opportunities so that whatever they want to pursue, they’re going to have more exposure, they’re going to have more places to go to play the sport that they love. So just continue to work hard and just know that we’re working even harder so that your hard work will pay off in the end,” said Fajardo.
Guidance and advice to younger players
Meanwhile, the veterans of Gilas Women, such as Bernardino and Pontejos are prepared to guide and mentor the new recruits who have never participated in international play.
“Yung sinasabi lang namin sa kanila, matuto lang sila every day. Gawin lang nila yung gusto nilang gawin and yung mga advice ni Coach Pat sa mga plays, mga options na pwede gawin, additional na lang ‘yun,” said Bernardino. “Kami naman maglalaro, guide lang si Coach Pat, ituro (niya) sa amin ang pwede naming gawin and dun na kami didiskarte.”
Pontejos, on the other hand, was named team captain—a challenge she’s willing to take on knowing that this new group will play together for the first time.
“Mas nakaka-excite kami panoorin kasi first time namin sila makakasama, first time rin nila kami makakasama,” said Pontejos.
Bernardino and Pontejos have represented the Philippines in numerous competitions and have a lot of international experience under their belts. Both know it takes a lot of hard work to get to where they are now—something they want to impart to the next generation of female athletes.
“Patuloy niyo lang abutin yung mga pangarap niyo. Kung may gusto kayong gawin, gawin niyo lang habang bata pa kayo,” said Bernardino. “Kahit na maraming nagda-down sa inyo, gamitin niyo as motivation din na i-improve yung sarili mo.”
Pontejos had the same sentiments: “Ipagpatuloy pa nila yung dream nila sa basketball kasi malaking bagay ang basketball sa buhay nila para makatulong sa family nila.”
Gilas Women opens its FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign against China on September 27 at 9:00 PM. They will take on Australia on September 29 at 12:00 AM then Chinese Taipei on September 30 at 12:00 AM.
For more updates on Gilas Women, follow the SBP on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To get the latest information on the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2021, check out the tournament’s official Facebook page.