2023 saw the Philippines’ talented female athletes achieve big career milestones and prove their places among the world’s best.
Filipina athletes have been going above and beyond in the name of representing the Philippines on the international stage, and 2023 was a banner year for many of them. It was a year of highs and lows, hitting milestones, overcoming odds, and reaching career-defining moments. And we can’t let the year end without remembering and acknowledging the pride they have brought to our sports-loving country.
From football to motorsports, and from tennis to martial arts, the country has many representatives that have been putting our flag on the map. Here are the Philippines’ top female athletes for 2023.
2023 was a big year for the Philippines’ rising athlete, Alex Eala.
After a historic 2022 that saw the youngster become the Philippines’ first Grand Slam champion after winning the US Open Juniors Singles Title, she has since progressed as a professional. This year, she won two ITF singles championships — the W25 Yecla in Spain and the W25 Roehampton in the United Kingdom — and bagged two bronze medals in her Asian Games debut.
These mark the 18-year-old’s milestones for the year. But Eala spent 2023 traveling from country to country, competing in different tournaments to add to her experience as a young pro, even when she wasn’t winning. She capped off the year with an impressive runner-up finish in the W40 Kyotec Open in Luxembourg, and thanks to all her results this year, she rose to her career-high WTA ranking when she hit No. 189 in October.
She’s not a junior anymore. Alex Eala is rising through the ranks.
Filipinos will find it difficult to forget the feeling of hearing their national anthem playing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time in history. The Filipinas’ debut at the international competition was as emotional as it was historic.
But an arguably even more emotional moment? When Sarina Bolden scored the Philippines’ first and only World Cup goal in their 1-0 victory over tournament co-hosts New Zealand. It was only fitting for Bolden to score the goal, as it was also her winning penalty in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup that booked them their tickets to the World Cup.
The euphoria on the Filipinas‘ faces when her World Cup goal went in was priceless and will be burned into our memories — and we have Sarina Bolden to thank for that.
Chezka Centeno will definitely remember 2023 as one of her biggest years as a Filipina athlete. After all, she did achieve her childhood dream of becoming a world champion.
In October this year, Centeno won the WPA World 10-Ball Women’s Championship after a 9-5 victory in the finale against China’s Han Yu. With this win, the four-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist became just the second Filipina to claim the championship, joining another one of the Philippines’ great cue artists, Rubilen Amit. And to make this even sweeter, this also marks the Philippines’ third world title in women’s 10-ball.
The Philippines now has a new 10-ball queen. And at only 24 years old, who knows what else this world champion might still achieve?
2023 was a big year for basketball in the Philippines, and Afril Bernardino made the most out of it. As a veteran of Gilas Pilipinas Women’s squad, she led the team through three major events this year.
In the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, she averaged 13 points and was Gias’ top scorer, leading the team to their sixth-place result — their highest finish since 1984. Later in the year, it was Bernardino’s game-winning layup that sent Gilas to the gold medal 3×3 match in the Southeast Asian Games and assured the squad of their silver medal. Finally, the Gilas Women made their Asian Games debut this year, and in the team’s impressive 99-63 win over Hong Kong, Afril was among the top scorers once again, scoring 20 points.
As far as women’s basketball goes, Bernardino is one of the country’s best talents, and 2023 definitely put this in the spotlight.
Two-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Meggie Ochoa continued to pad her résumé in 2023, as the Filipina athlete competed in two major events this year — the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games — and though she brought home medals from both events, it was a challenging pair of competitions.
As a highly decorated athlete, many expected Ochoa to win the gold medal in her Southeast Asian Games event, but after sustaining an injury in her final match, she (still very proudly) settled for a silver medal. The Asian Games was a chance for her to bounce back, and she did in a big way. Despite running a high fever in the days leading up to her first bout in China, she powered through and won the Philippines’ second gold medal in the Games.
Her resilience has proven her place among the top athletes for 2023, as she managed to push her limits and prove herself on the mat.
In 2023, the Philippines had not just one, but two female athletes who ruled both the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games for Jiu-Jitsu, as Annie Ramirez also had an impressive year, taking home gold medals from both major events. This marks her first-ever Asian Games medal and her third straight SEA Games gold.
After winning her gold medal from the 32nd SEA Games, Annie Ramirez set her sights on an even bigger goal: she wants to chase the record of her coach, John Baylon, who won nine straight gold medals for Judo. In fact, she hopes to not only meet the record but surpass it.
If 2023 was a marker for anything in Ramirez’s career, it’s that this big goal may already be in sight.
This year was a big one for Filipina golfer Bianca Pagdanganan’s career.
Despite a slow start to her 2023 season, she managed to turn things around towards the end of the year. At the end of September, she notched her first top-three finish since her professional debut in 2020 and matched her career-best result, finishing in a tie for third place. Not long after, she pushed herself to beat her previous career-best and win a top-two finish in The Ascendant LPGA Championship.
With these back-to-back top-three finishes, Bianca’s career standings went from World No. 314 to No. 160. On top of this, the 26-year-old’s performances also assured that she will regain her LPGA tour card for the 2024 season. We’ve got more of Bianca Pagdanganan coming next year.
Bianca Bustamante had a 2023 she will never forget. This year, she competed in the inaugural season of the F1 Academy, an all-female Formula 4 racing category, and on this big stage, she made a name for herself in a big way that has made her one of the most-talked about Filipina athletes in the world.
After notching a debut podium finish and two major race victories in her first season at F1 Academy, Bianca ended the season on a high note, as her team, PREMA Racing, won the Team Championship. And thanks to her impressive performances and undeniable growth as a driver, she has received a huge offer from another major team: McLaren.
At the end of her 2023 season, the Filipina youngster became the first female to join the McLaren Driver Development Program. Not only is this Bianca’s dream team, but it also means that she will get to continue her blossoming racing career in F1 Academy next season, and she will get to learn from some of the best in the industry.
2023 was indeed a huge year for so many female athletes from the Philippines. What will next year bring?
Banner images from Fox Soccer, Alex Eala, Bianca Bustamante, and FIBA.