Up in seventh heaven

Date Posted: July 3, 2017 at 04:50 PM

Ana Maria Santiago on her coaching stint in Adamson, the National team, and the future of AdU's softball program

In the world of sports, mere flukes do not determine greatness. For one’s name to be enshrined in the annals of sports history, one need not only perform continuously, but also ultimately produce a string of championships under his or her belt. The trek towards sports greatness is long, winding, and difficult – where careers could be offset by slumps and losing streaks, and in some cases, ended in an instant by injuries. Others reach the top of the competition through sheer discipline and determination, with only a little luck to thank for. In the case of Adamson University’s very own Ana Maria Santiago, a slew of championships for teams under her helm has helped her leave her mark not only in the softball leagues in the Philippines, but also in tournaments abroad. And with her seventh straight UAAP softball championship, one can only expect nothing else but greatness from the Falcons Softball team under her guidance and tutelage.

Looking back, Ana Santiago’s humble beginnings in the world of softball started when she played for the Soaring Falcons Softball team between 1995 and 2000. Back then, Adamson was just starting its softball program, with Santiago being part of the pilot team that played in the UAAP. Nonetheless, the team immediately started making waves in the UAAP, winning four straight championships from 1997-2001. It was also during this time when she came under the tutelage of the great Filomeno “Boy” Codiñera, architect of Adamson’s baseball and softball programs. From being a player in the diamond, working as a member of Codiñera’s office staff in the Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines (ASAPHIL), serving as an assistant coach, up to ultimately inheriting the coaching duties for the Adamson softball team, Santiago’s experience with Codiñera had prepped her up for the variety of shoes she had to fill as head coach of the softball program. The steady ascent towards the coaching seat had paid off for Santiago – armed with the experiences she gained inside and outside the diamond, she soon started making waves in the softball scene.

Remembering her years under and with Coach Boy, Santiago said: Magagalit ka sa kaniya kasi sobrang hirap niyang magpatraining.” She also talked about her experience with Coach Boy in ASAPHIL. When the late Codiñera was elected as ASAPHIL’s president in 2001, he needed an office staff that could fulfill all-around duties. Fresh out of Adamson, Santiago was hired by Codiñera, and in here, she learned the ropes in team management and tournament organizing. A year later, a vacancy appeared in Adamson, and Santiago volunteered to be a part of the coaching staff. Multiple years and championships between them showed the success of Adamson’s softball program. The two were both enshrined in Adamson’s Athletes Hall of Fame during the University’s 80th Founding Anniversary celebration in 2012.

It was a few years back when the Adamson coach cemented her legacy in the ballpark. Under her, the Lady Falcons softball team managed to be enshrined in history by performing the longest winning streak in any sport in the UAAP – 73 wins spanning seven years, from February 2010 up until March 2016. The parade of victories might have ended last year but the San Marcelino squad still reigned supreme in the ballpark as they won their seventh straight UAAP championship last March 24 at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.

Looking back at the Falcons’ seven-year historic run, Coach Santiago said that she might be strict and a disciplinarian, but she would still echo fairness in her years of handling the softball team. “No star player,” she emphasized, “even sa lahat ng nagkaka-awards sa UAAP, mapa-MVP ka man or mahakot mo lahat ng awards, pag ikaw nagkamali, may punishment ka.” According to her, it’s a way of instilling a competitive mentality among her players, especially the younger ones, in an effort to continuously improve through rigid discipline. The seven-year stretch of the team’s historic run has seen players come and go; the team has had its share of different faces.Gumagraduate ang mga players at five years ka lang namang puwede maglaro sa UAAP,” the coach remarked. Year after year, the dynastic run has been sustained through the stepping up of younger players and the willingness to fill up vacant roles, a mindset imbibed through Santiago’s mentoring.

Ana Santiago’s accolades don’t end with Adamson and the UAAP; besides those, the Falcons coach has also won championships in softball leagues both here and abroad. Aside from being a staple in the Southeast Asian Games – and winning the championship in Singapore in 2015 with the Blu-Girls – she was also part of first non-US team to win the coveted title in the Big League Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Michigan back in 2012. These coaching gigs have helped her bring her batters and pitchers from Adamson, for them to display their skills in the ballpark beyond the UAAP and into national and international leagues.

Commenting on the Adamson players’ experience of playing under her with the National team, she notes that there isn’t much difference with how she handles her players. Given the composition of players in the national team, Coach Santiago needs to further emphasize fairness in trainings and competitions. And similar with how she coached the Adamson squad, she still retains her belief in equality in the playing field and giving no special treatment to star players. “Wala ring Adamson,” she also pointed out, echoing the fairness she wants the players to feel in order to command respect from players from other teams. “Kahit taga-Adamson ka, pag nagkamali ka, may punishment ka pa rin sa ‘kin,” she added.

But before the spotlight given to her by her impressive run in the diamond, Ana Santiago was but another Adamsonian with a dream for greatness. During her years as a Business Administration student, she said that before her stint with softball, she also had dreams of working for a bank. Recalling her student years vis-a-vis her playing years, Coach Santiago boasted of finishing her degree on time in 1999 with still a year of eligibility to play in the UAAP. Kaya galit ako sa mga player kapag hindi pumapasok,” she remarked, explaining that balancing sports and academe is just a matter of time management. She also compared Adamson’s sports program during her playing years and now that she’s already a coach; she took note of the vast improvement in terms of the school’s support for its student athletes. Given the circumstances of playing and the strict discipline in practice and training with the softball team, if you complete the program, “survivor ka talaga,” Coach Santiago recounts.

Looking forward, Coach Santiago noted that although the program is in a precarious position without the influx of new blood brought about by the curriculum shift to K-12, she still has nothing but high hopes for its future. “Surprise me,” she would always challenge her team. Players have come and gone—some graduate, others transfer—but the important thing is that the program stays and continues the positive things that it has been doing while improving on the shortcomings. One can argue that softball is not as popular a sport as basketball, but Coach Santiago prefers to do as she always does: demonstrate excellence in the sport and continue to encourage others to walk the same path that she did.