Having a perfect season in the UAAP is a feat on its own, but a perfect record for an entire UAAP career is an accomplishment only a handful of athletes can brag about. One of those athletes is De La Salle University Lady Paddler, Ian “Yanyan” Lariba.
Ian learned to play Table Tennis when she was in grade three, “it was one summer and my parents wanted me to try something new,” says Ian, “at first it was badminton but maliit pa ko nun, hindi ko abot yung net so table tennis nalang cause abot ko yung table”.
From that point on, Ian never looked back. Just a year after she learned the sport, she started playing competitively in provincial tournaments and eventually, National competitions. “Nakatulong din kasi na yung school ko nun active sa pagsali sa competitions. Tapos sa provinces kasi dati sikat yung local tournaments, so sumsali ako kaya tuloy tuloy na din,” Ian adds.
Coming to La Salle for college was a decision Ian was happy to make. She has always wanted to don the Green and White. “La Salle was my first choice. Six years ago, La Salle was already attractive to me”, Ian exclaims, “of course nag weigh din ako ng options ko like UP (University of the Philippines) and Ateneo, pero in the end La Salle talaga yung pinaka gusto ko”.
Tradition of winning
In the five years that Ian played in the UAAP, she has won a massive five individual awards. In her first year, she won the UAAP Season 74 Rookie of the Year award and for Yanyan it was more than overwhelming, “Hindi ko inexpect na mananalo ako kasi ang dami namin rookies nun tapos ang daming nag eexcel. Kaya nung nanalo ako natuwa talaga ako na yung effort ko and ng team ko were recognized”.
Ian followed up her rookie success with her first Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and her first taste of the Championship in the subsequent year, “Nung nag MVP ako, bonus nalang talaga yun kasi mas na-appreciate ko yung first championship of my career”.
An MVP trophy in just her second playing year is a huge achievement but Ian did not let it get into her head, “sinasabi nila na second year pa lang ako MVP na agad. Pero sinasabi ko sa kanila na hindi lang naman dahil sakin yun. Kasi sa Table Tennis hindi ka naman pwede mag MVP pag hindi kayo champion at hindi naman kami magchachampion kung hindi dahil sa buong team ko. Isang point lang din naman yung nabibigay ko and the rest teammates ko na”. Ian humbly adds.
During her third UAAP Season, Ian felt an added pressure but not because of her huge success the previous year, but because of the responsibility she was given when she was appointed as the co-captain of her team, “yung third year ko kasi it was more of knowing my new role in the team. Before kasi I was just following my seniors so yung added pressure nung time na yun is because I was finding ways on how to motivate not just myself but my whole team”. Her third playing year however, was the year where Ian experienced the biggest setback of her UAAP career.
After sweeping the UAAP Season 76 elimination rounds, Lariba and the rest of the DLSU Lady Paddlers gained an automatic seat in the finals with a thrice-to-beat advantage. They faced the University of the Philippines for the championship and unfortunately, the Lady Paddlers squandered their huge advantage and succumbed to the Lady Maroons.
“This is one of the biggest heartbreaks of my entire career,” says the Cagayan De Oro native, “pero ito din yung year na madami akong natutunan at ito yung year na mas tumatag ako. At first mahirap siya tanggapin kasi na-sweep namin yung eliminations tapos sa finals pa kami natalo, tapos sweep pa. May mga times nun na magigising ako bigla tapos maiiyak nalang ako kasi hindi ko talaga alam kung ano nagyari sa amin nun, pero narealize ko din naman na lahat naman ng nangyayari may purpose. Siguro to make us appreciate all our victories more”. Lariba and her teammates eventually chose to move on since they knew that they could not dwell on the tough loss for too long, as they would need to prepare for the next tournament.
The following Season, Lariba made true her promise to bounce back. She not only led her team to the UAAP Championship but she also won her second Most Valuable Player award for Table Tennis and won the elusive UAAP Athlete of the Year recognition. The perfect bounce back.
The perfect exit
Entering her last UAAP Season, Ian had not dropped a single game. Keeping her flawless record though, was not something that Ian focused on, “naniniwala kasi ako sa jinx kaya ayaw ko talaga isipin yun. Ang mindset ko nun is to just take it one game at a time” says Ian. “I didn’t want to be too forward-looking din cause based sa mga experiences ko before sa past UAAP Seasons, madami pa talaga pwede mangyari; madami pang plot twists”.
Ian gives credit to her coaches and mentors for always reminding her not to think about her record but to focus on every game, every ball instead. She feels that the main key to her success is her mindset, “I always enter the games thinking like I’m the underdog, but I play with the heart of a champion”.
After her last playing year, Ian achieved a feat only a rare few has successfully earned before. An Undefeated Record. A Flawless slate after five playing years.
Such a high level of gameplay for five years is difficult to maintain. What motivated Ian is her will to continue improving, “Lagi ko iniisip na every year yung opponents ko magiimprove so dapat ako din. I remember sir Nong (Calanog) shared before to always empty my cup so that I can learn more because if I don’t empty my cup there will be no room for something new.” says Ian. “I always think that as an athlete there’s always room for improvement.”
Hanging her jersey
For someone who has so much accomplishments, it is indeed admirable that her favorite moment of her entire career is whenever she is on the stands, cheering her teammates on, “tahimik lang ako pag ako yung naglalaro pero pag nasa bench na ako, sumisigaw talaga ako kahit maubusan na ako ng boses para ma-cheer ko yung teammates ko”.
As for her advice for those aspiring to become just like her, Ian believes that it is humility that is most important, “Humility in everything you do. Always be humble enough to be coachable because if you’re not you won’t improve. And of course, never forget to be grateful to the Lord who gave you everything”.
With all the accomplishments under her belt, Ian Lariba is undeniably one of La Salle’s most decorated athletes, but even with all the awards, Ian wants to simply be remembered as the athlete who had an impact in the lives of others, someone who gave others an inspiration to also find their purpose in the team.
Lariba’s efforts followed those of Lady Tennister Ma. Regina Santiago’s similar unbeaten five-year UAAP (S73-77) career. However, Ian extends her dominance in the national scene as she ranks number one in the Philippine women’s table tennis team for several years now.