A shot at history awaits the Gilas Pilipinas Women team as they aim for the prestigious gold medal in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
"Everybody's excited for the SEA Games. We really prepared well, and hopefully, we can show everybody, our countrymen, especially that it will be held here in Manila," said national team head coach Pat Aquino. "Just excited and hopefully, we get that elusive gold now."
The Philippines has not captured the top prize in the women's basketball division of the biennial meet since entering the competition in 1981. The country has instead earned six silver medals, most recently in 2011 and 2013. For the last two editions of the SEA Games, however, the women's national team has settled for back-to-back fourth-place finishes.
The team's hunger and fervor to finally win a gold medal especially on home soil is what Aquino is banking on.
"Our strength most probably is their eagerness to get the gold. Some have been there and some want to prove they can play and compete with other ASEAN countries," Aquino said.
Familiar faces banner the women's national team led by Jack Animam, Afril Bernardino, Janine Pontejos, and Clare Castro. The team also boasts of versatility and firepower with the inclusion of Kelli Hayes, Ria Nabalan, Chack Cabinbin, Danica Jose, Khate Castillo, Eunique Chan, and Andrea Tongco. Former National University standout Gemma Miranda will unfortunately have to sit out due to an ACL injury. Nonetheless, consistency and chemistry will also play huge factors as a number of players were part of the 2019 FIBA Asia Women's Cup and the recently concluded FIBA Women's Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament.
Aquino also gave the assurance that Animam will suit up for the SEA Games. The Lady Bulldog star is coming off an eye injury she sustained in the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament two weeks ago in New Zealand. She was unable to return home in time and compete in her last UAAP finals as Aquino and NU won their sixth straight title. Fortunately for the Philippines, Animam will be healthy and ready to represent the country once again.
Gilas Pilipinas Women will go up against three other countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Though there is a higher percentage for the Philippines to win gold with only three other competing teams, these were the top teams in the 2017 games. Malaysia won gold, its second consecutive SEA Games title, and 14th overall. Thailand captured silver followed by a bronze finish from Indonesia in the field of seven teams two years ago.
"For me, all the teams have improved and really prepared for the SEA Games," assessed Aquino. "So we have to be ready every game."
Capturing gold will undoubtedly be a historic feat for Gilas Pilipinas Women. At the same time, Aquino believes that finally winning the SEA Games will also be a significant achievement for women's basketball in the country.
"It (gold) means a lot not only for me but for the federation because it will be our first gold in the SEA Games," said Aquino, who has been the head coach of the program for the last five years. "And it will solidify our rank that we are one of the best teams in Asia in this era. It will also establish that women's basketball is recognized as a premier sport in our country."