Second place in the rankings
Twice-to-beat advantage over a team brimming with individual talent,
Losing game 1 to said team,
The Soaring Falcons have been here before.
In UAAP Season 74, the Adamson Soaring Falcons recorded their best season in recent memory, soaring the highest with a huge statement win over a then-undefeated defending champion. That win notched them a 10-4 record. It also eventually gave them the team’s first ever twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four era of the UAAP. The writing was on the wall, that year, “The Soaring Falcons, the lone team to pose a threat to the defending champions had a real, feasible shot at ending a championship drought that stretched into the ’70s.”
Before this season, the UAAP was not kind to the Soaring Falcons. Being a team coming from a relatively small school in the UAAP, the Soaring Falcons often found themselves in the cellar. They stayed there so long that the league might have considered charging them rent. There were winless seasons, single win seasons and generally directionless seasons for the Soaring Falcons. Losing on the court almost became expected of them, success and excellence were the last things you’d associate from Adamson.
It was not until the late 2000’s that a shift in tone started to happen. Upon hiring a then relatively new collegiate head coach in Leo Austria, the Soaring Falcons were able to bust into the Final Four for the first time on the back of then MVP Ken Bono. Sure, they were readily eliminated from the semi-finals in one game, but at least they got there.
But it was a short-lived taste of success as Leo Austria left the Falcons to pursue a professional coaching opportunity.
Again, the Soaring Falcons slipped back into irrelevance. Without a shot at the Final Four, without an MVP to call their own, they were once again relegated to the cellar, playing in the league without any expectations of success.
For the longest time, the motto of Adamson University was, “Education with a heart.” They touted the lowest tuition rates among Catholic universities in Metro Manila. In other words, the goal was to give those without wings a chance to fly, soaring to new heights was totally up to you.
This reflected on the team as they would always be asked to give a good fight each game, nothing more. Little was expected, little was asked and so, little was achieved.
It was only upon the long-term return of Coach Leo Austria that the ghost of low expectations began to fade away. Season after season he held his players accountable, constantly challenging them to work harder, play smarter and have more pride in themselves. In a matter of two seasons, the Soaring Falcons starting to show more direction as a team, improving their win total from the previous outings until they reached the point where they earned another seat at the Final Four table yet again by Season 73. They were readily dispatched by the eventual champions, but it came as no surprise. This was a new high for them.
The following season they built on their newfound altitude and dared to dream of winning the crown. They sent statement after statement, game after game, forcing the collegiate basketball world to take notice, winning hearts through heart. And when the world’s eyes were trained on the Soaring Falcons, when the world finally knew their name, they soared to yet even greater heights… only to fall before them.
Despite a twice-to-beat advantage, the Soaring Falcons were devastated by the more experienced FEU Tamaraws, ending their hopes and dreams of winning the championship.
Any other year, they would have patted their backs and congratulated one another for reaching yet another milestone. After all, they were up against a team that had been in the Final Four several times, had MVPs and national team players, just being able to go toe-to-toe with them should have been enough satisfaction.
No, not this time.
There was crying, sobbing, regret, pain, and most profoundly, pride.
Playing with heart, giving a good fight simply was not enough anymore. There was accountability.
The seasons that followed saw the team plagued with issues weighing them down, preventing them from soaring back to the heights they once knew.
Coaching changes landed them back into the cellar, totaling just 4 wins through two seasons. The days of lack of expectation past were looming on the Falcons yet again. It would have been easy for them to rest on their laurels and chosen to look up at the heights they once reached, reminiscing of that one time they had the attention of the world.
Fortunately, the coaching changes led to UAAP coaching legend Franz Pumaren taking the helm. Immediately he turned the team away from complacency and steered them toward success. With the help of some ace recruits, he brought them back to the Final Four, again and again, each time hungrier than the last.
There were no saving graces, no moral victories to be had. This is not a team that rests on “heart” anymore. No, this is a team that strives and expects excellence.
Once again the Soaring Falcons are back to the heights they once soared- 10-4 record, twice-to-beat advantage, a real, feasible title contender. This time around, let those heights not be mere pursuits anymore. May they be actual destinations, one promised by Coach Franz Pumaren two years ago.