From the beginning of the season, the UST Golden Tigresses understood that they were expected to be underdogs, especially considering the departure of their former key players and having one of the smallest rosters in the UAAP.

However, they have embraced the underdog label—and being dubbed the “Mini Misses” of the UAAP—and this season, they were the first team to secure a Final Four spot.

Following UST’s ninth victory that secured its Final Four spot, head coach Emilio “Kung Fu” Reyes attributed the team’s success to the school’s grassroots program.

“Ito ‘yong lagi naming ibinibida, ‘yong grassroots program namin,” Reyes said. “Nagde-develop talaga kami ng mga players.” 

He said the consistency of having the same system in both the high school and college levels contributed significantly to the team’s continuity.

“‘Yong talagang program ni UST itself, ‘yon talaga ang nagdadala. Same people kasi ‘yong nasa high school at nasa college. Mahabang proseso talaga ‘yong ginagawa. At least, kahit papaaano, nagbubunga ‘yong mga pinaghihirapan nila.”

Team captain Detdet Pepito, MVP candidate Angeline Poyos, and reliable lefty attacker Regina Jurado are among the players who came from the UST high school program.

“We’re happy kasi ‘yong hard work ng mga bata, hindi mo matatawaran e. Sila mismo, nakikita nila ‘yong dividends ng tinatrabaho nila,” Reyes said.

Reyes acknowledged that luck also played a part.

“May kasamang swerte at nakuha namin ‘yong dating inaasam namin na at least mapasama kami sa Final Four. Ngayon andito na.”

Pepito said UST’s young core has been the game changer this season, as their drive has influenced the rest of the Golden Tigresses.

“Iyon iyong sa tingin kong unique this season,” Pepito said. “Siguro talagang dahil mas maraming mas bata, mas maraming fresh legs ba kumbaga. Talagang fresh sila sa system and ‘yon nga, naa-adapt naman nila agad.”

Reyes said he was still expecting more maturity from his young players.

“Ang [gusto] lang namin is mag-mature, kasi nga nandoon naman iyong skills…Nagugulat kami sa result pero ‘yong sa galaw nila kasi, ‘yon na ‘yon e,” he said. “Mahabang proseso talaga ‘yong ginagawa. So eto, at least kahit papaaano, nagbubunga ‘yong mga pinaghihirapan nila.”

With four more games remaining in the elimination round, the Golden Tigresses are aiming to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage.

“[We’ll] just keep grinding,” Reyes said.

The UST Golden Tigresses will next face the UP Fighting Maroons on April 10, Wednesday, at 2 p.m.