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Top 10 Stories of 2015

SPORTS YEARENDER

(Second of two parts)

No. 6 – COLLEGE CHAMPIONS

When the NCAA season began, Letran was not even a blimp on the radar. The pundits were talking mostly about San Beda’s six-peat quest.

But when the so-called smoke of battle cleared, it was the Knights who were on top of the world, beating San Beda in a deciding third game that many say will go down as one of the most thrilling NCAA finals ever.

Powered by small but terrible Mark Cruz and gutsy forward Kevin Racal and shooter Rey Nambatac, the Knights tamed the Red Lions, 85-82, in overtime to clinch their first title in 10 years.

Letran’s celebration, however, was short lived. True, it won the title, but the school lost its coach Aldin Ayo, who many credited as the man chiefly responsible for the victory.

The rookie coach was made an offer he could not refuse. He signed as coach of La Salle reportedly for the staggering sum (for a college coach) of P3 million a year. The contract was for three years.

Whether Ayo will be happy with his millions than a second straight title with Letran will be known next year.

Like Letran, Far Eastern University also needed three games to finish off University of Santo Tomas in an equally thrilling UAAP basketball finals.

The Tamaraws appeared to be goners after their Game 2 meltdown but they surprised the UST supporters with a strong start in the deciding Game 3, 67-62.

Mark Belo, Roger Pogoy and Mike Tolomia where the FEU heroes. But strangely, the highest individual award – the MVP – did not go to the players of the two champion schools.

Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena won the UAAP MVP for the second straight year while Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme, a Cameroonian, took the Rookie and MVP awards in the NCAA.

No, 7 – NIETES, DONAIRE STRIKE

Nietes

Nietes

Donnie “Ahas” Nietes and Nonito Donaire kept the Philippines in the boxing map with their resounding wins.

Nietes successfully defended his World Boxing Organization three times this year to extend his reign as the longest reigning Filipino champion, bettering the record of the legendary Gabriel “The Flash” Elorde who reigned in World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight division for seven years and three months.

Nietes has been the champion since September 30, 2007 when he first wrested the WBO minimumweight title.

After scoring a technical knockout (TKO) victory over Juan Alejo, Nietes went on to beat Francisco Rodriguez, Jr. and Gilberto Parra by a similar unanimous decision.

Donaire, on the other hand, confirmed his return to form by also carving out a unanimous decision over Mexican Cesar Juarez in their WBO super bantamweight fight in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Donaire’s impressive win augurs well to his bid to earn another mega contract.

No. 8 – NADAL, SERENA WOW ’EM

Nadal

Nadal

Spanish Rafael Nadal and American Serena Williams captivated the hearts of the Filipinos with virtuoso performances during the three-day Manila leg of the IPTL held at the Mall of Asia Arena two weeks back.

The two stars got a rock star reception and repaid it with brilliant plays.

Wearing his signature white bandana, Nadal drew wild chants of “Bravo!” from fans even though it was just an exhibition.

Serena, winner of 21 Grand Slam titles, joined hands with Canadian Milos Raonic to lead  the Philippine Mavericks over Nadal’s Micromax Indian Aces, 25-24, in the title match.

But for Filipinos, there was no winner or loser. They embraced the two superstars and were simply glad to have seen them play.

No. 9 – LADY GOLFER RISES

Rodriguez

Rodriguez

Another golfer who made an impression was Cyna Rodriguez.

Rodriguez realized her dream of playing in the tough Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour by finishing fourth in the Final LPGA Qualifying School at the LPGA International Hills Course in Florida

In doing so, Rodriguez became the second Filipina to play in the LPGA in 15 years.

“It’s a dream come true and I’d like to thank those who supported me and believed that I can pull it off someday,” said the 24-year-old Rodriguez, a former Philippine Ladies Open champion who also racked up a number of amateur titles here and abroad.

Rodriguez thus became the second homegrown talent to earn a LPGA ticket after Jennifer Rosales in 2000.

10. CENTER OF ATTRACTION

Fajardo

Fajardo

San Miguel re-established itself as the top franchise in the PBA after winning two of three titles in the 40th season of the PBA.

The Beermen won their first title under new coach Leo Austria as it bested the Alaska Aces in a thrilling seven-game encounter in the Philippine Cup finals, which they wrapped off with an 80-78 victory in front of a mammoth crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum thanks to the clutch shooting of Finals Most Valuable Player Arwind Santos and Best Player of the Conference recipient June Mar Fajardo

The celebrations didn’t end there as the Beermen won their second title in three conferences, this time the Governor’s Cup, with a masterful four-game sweep of the same Aces, 81-71.

The series showed little resemblance of their thrilling encounter in January as the Aces looked far from the squad which made the Beermen sweat in the All-Filipino Cup finals as AZ Reid reinforced the high scoring duo of Fajardo and Santos to notch their 21st title, the most in the PBA.

Fajardo also took home his second MVP award this year after posting averages of 17.4 points and nearly 13 rebounds a game.