Faced with a daunting task after a 0-1 start in the finals, Cebu City pride Henze Lucero found himself in a critical position of saving the CSB Blazing Paddlers from a brewing upset. The ROTY-MVP kept his composure and trusted his body of work - point after point, match after match - digging deep from an incredibly dedicated season. 

Learning about his attitude towards the game makes it easier to imagine that the best paddler in the NCAA right now is just getting started.



Mental and emotional fortitude typically comes with experience. It is normal for rookies to make silly decisions and have early-career jitters. But not when hard work meets talent. 

Henze, 20, is a natural prodigy whose table tennis journey started at the age of nine when his enthusiast father purchased a table. 

“Sinubukan ko maglaro-laro, nakita niya may potential sa akin kaya nagtuloy-tuloy na.”

The rest is history for Henze.

Coming off an impressive ‘Rookie of the Year’ season for the University of Santo Tomas in 2019, the 2nd-year BS Tourism student was recruited by CSB’s Coach Bong Palermo during a formidable showing at an international tournament. 

Notably, he was one of the 60 paddlers from all over the Philippines handpicked to fly to Palawan for the 2023 Cambodia SEA Games selection process. Only five were picked to represent the flag - Henze ranked 7th. He was only 19.



During the Blazing Paddlers’ championship game in the NCAA Season 99 Table Tennis Tournament, they leaned on the heroics of the young Cebuano prodigy.

The accomplished rookie mobilized the uprising by winning the second match, not only preventing the Taft-based squad from slipping to 0-2, but more importantly boosting the morale of a stunned CSB team who was poised to win the chip after going undefeated the entire season.

In an exclusive interview, Henze shared how the Blazing Paddlers were able to keep the optimism alive despite the early loss. 

“Sinabi ko sa teammates ko na wag tayo panghinaan ng loob, kahit na natalo yung first singles namin, kasi meron pa ako eh, meron pang doubles. Saka pinaghandaan naman namin ito, kaya hindi dapat matakot.”

It also helped that head tactician Coach Bong Palermo’s trust remained steadfast.

“Sabi niya focus pa rin kami. Kahit talo yung una namin, walang problema. Walang kaso iyon, kasi magaling rin yung kalaban. Focus lang,” shared Henze on what Coach Bong’s instructions were entering the second match. 

A doubles win courtesy of teammates Joshua Lim and Neo Laudato set the stage for a fourth singles match that witnessed the MVP play in true MVP fashion. Needless to say, it was a Henze Lucero masterclass, sweeping handily his San Beda counterpart, 3-0, to bring the trophy back to Taft Avenue.



Henze also talked about the struggles that fortified his team’s resolve leading up to the competition, and what propelled him to become the top paddler in all of NCAA right now. 

“Talagang mahirap po yung training namin. Naghirap po talaga kami. Halos isang taon namin pinaghandaan itong NCAA, kasi dapat November kaso na-move ngayong January, kaya isang taon po kaming nag-training,” he recalled.

Part of his commitment was his willing sacrifice to not spend the holidays with his family and friends back home in Cebu, prioritizing instead the finishing touches to his year-long preparation.

“Ako po sa sarili ko, hindi ako nakauwi noong Pasko gawa po ng training, pati nung New Year, hindi ako umuwi sa amin para lang mag-training pa rin,” said a very dedicated Henze.

“Naki-Pasko lang ako kay Coach Susan, at New Year naman sa isang teammate ko. Sabi ko, tiisin ko nalang muna to para sa NCAA,” he added.

It was nothing short of a dream come true for him and the CSB Blazing Paddlers. Their come-from-behind victory was just as anchored on their ego-less chemistry and unbreakable team spirit, as it is on Henze’ impressive finals performance. 

“Lahat po sila paborito ko, magkakasundo kami sa lahat ng bagay. Yun yung maganda sa amin, maganda team chemistry at walang ego,” said the 20-year-old when asked who his favorite teammate is.

Winning it all in your rookie year is no ordinary feat, but the ability to sustain the fire and not let it consume you is on a totally different level of difficulty. For Henze, showing up everyday and staying committed to his purpose are more than enough reasons to believe that he has what it takes to be just as excellent, if not better, than his rookie performance.