FROM the near-flawless “Arabian Nights” routine nine years ago to the lively and synchronized “Cheer-obics” performance Saturday night, National University Pep Squad has set the UAAP cheerdance competition bar high under coach Ghicka Bernabe.
A former Far Eastern University star cheerdancer, Bernabe stepped down after steering NU to a seventh crown as she is set to get married soon.
“Siguro wala ng emotion akong mailalabas ngayon kundi happiness, kasi since ito yung last season ko and I’ve been working with the NU Pep Squad for 12 years. And with the 12 years, out of nine seasons, nakakuha tayo ng seven championships at two podium fnishes,” Bernabe said, trying to fight off tears.
“Siguro yung happiness ko ngayon, mas malaki pa sa arena. Ganun siya, kasi at least, kung last season ko man, hindi ko nabigo ang bawat supporter, lahat ng umaasa sa NU Pep Squad na kayang-kayang ibalik ‘yung (championship) trophy na to sa NU,” she added.
Riding on a strong showing on dance, which Bernabe emphasized prior to the competition, stunts, pyramids and tosses, NU’s high-risk, high-reward showing in front of 18,029 fans gave its decorated cheerdancers 723 points to end FEU Cheering Squad’s six-month reign in the league’s biggest special event.
It was a fitting send off for Bernabe, who was just overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who has been with her in this historic 12-year run for the squad.
“I’m so happy that lahat ng plinano, lahat nang bagaya na pinractice, lahat ng taong nakapaligid sa ‘kin, they are destined to be with me sa journey na ito with the NU Pep Squad,” Bernabe said.
It was an unexpected road for Bernabe as she had not seen herself leading a squad, more so, putting it in the spotlight like what she had done with the program.
It was in 2013 that began the remarkable rise of NU, a perennial cellar-dweller who ranked sixth two years before that and achieved its first-ever podium finish by placing third the following season.
Now, NU has moved closer to University of Santo Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe and University of the Philippines Pep Squad, which are still tied as the most successful cheerdance squads with eight.
“Yung seven championships na nabigay natin sa university, I believe achievement iyon. It’s a milestone for me, kasi before I don’t consider myself na mag-coach na this long — 12 years na matagal talaga,” Bernabe said.
“Hindi ko lang siguro nakita yung sarili ko at first na magco-coach ako. Pero nung time na nakikita ko na ‘yung improvement, kinakaya naman natin na mag-champion, I’m just so grateful to the management na nagtiwala sa ‘kin kasi isa ako sa pinaka-simpleng cheerleader before nung college ako,” she added.
FEU coach Randel San Gregorio paid tribute to the legacy left by Bernabe, not only in the UAAP but to the Philippine cheering community.
“She is the heart and soul of NU,” said San Gregorio on Bernabe.
Paying homage to the late rap great Francis M., FEU recorded 719 points, thanks to its solid tumblings to finish second.
The Lady Gaga-inspired performance gave UST’s best performance in five years, as it reached the podium with 640 points.
University of the East Pep Squad placed fourth with 606.5, followed by Adamson Pep Squad (595), UP Pep Squad (575.5), La Salle Animo Squad (528.5) and Ateneo Blue Eagles (502.5).