(Photos by Richard Esguerra/ Sports Gateway PH)
Despite their team being at the bottom of the standings, Mapua University guards Almel Orquina and JP Nieles showed Cardinals are no pushovers as the duo bagged the Three-point Shootout and Skills Challenge competitions respectively at the NCAA All-Star festivities, Friday at the Fil-oil Flying V center in San Juan.
“Kahit na down kami, na-prove namin na kaya pa rin namin mag-step up,” Nieles said on their wins despite Mapua’s disappointing 1-8 standing.
The speedster Nieles was crowned the Skills Challenge champion after overcoming a field of San Sebastian’s Michael Are, San Beda College’s Radge Tongco, Jose Rizal University’s Aaron Bordon, Emilio Aguinaldo College’s Jervin Guzam, University of Perpetual Help’s Keith Pido, Arellano University’s Levi Dela Cruz, Lyceum of the Philippines University’s Jaycee Marcelino, Collegio de San Juan de Letran’s Jeremiah Taladua and then edging College of St. Benilde’s Unique Naboa in the final round to keep the Skills crown with Mapua after former Cardinal Shane Menina won it last year.
Nieles even used Menina’s performance last season as a benchmark heading into the competion, “Bago ako pumunta dito, chineck ko si Shane. 24.6 seconds ‘yung kailangan ko, na-inspire ako sa ginawa niya.” The diminutive floor general Nieles, who missed last season due to an ACL injury, finished with the fastest time in the preliminary round with 20.7 seconds.
For the gunner Orquina, overcoming a field of Arellano’s Brylle Meca, St. Benilde’s Matt Johnson, Emilio Aguinaldo College’s Sidney Onwubere, Collegio de San Juan de Letran’s Jerrick Balanza, Jose Rizal University’s Aaron Bordon, Lyceum of the Philippines University’s Spencer Pretta, San Beda’s AC Soberano, San Sebastian’s RK Ilagan, and University of Perpetual Help’s Jack Hao was the least of his concerns– he first needed to overcome a flu that’s been nagging him for the past week.
“Nagka-sakit po ako, kaka-balik ko lang kanina,” Orquina shared after his win. “Actually ‘di ako nakapag-laro nung last game bago pa ‘yun tapos kanina lang ako nakapag-practice.”
Orquina finished with 15 points in the final round to edge Perpetual’s Hao. “Sa akin po, sobrang importante nito kasi NCAA na ‘to e, ‘di na ‘to basta-basta,” the second-year sharpshooter bared.
“Tsaka pati na rin sa team. Kasi ang sama na nga ng laro namin so, at least, kahit papano sana may nauwi.”
With all the turmoil that’s been going on with the Cardinals, at least, even for one brief moment, they found escape and solace at NCAA All-Star Friday.