AT 6-foot-4, Jaja Santiago is one rare player who is taller than her sister, National University star Dindin.
But Jaja admits she really looks up to her older sibling.
“Masaya ang feeling kasi dati idol ko lang siya,” said Jaja, who had no interest in any sport as a young kid and only became a volleyball player because she wanted to emulate her Ate Dindin.
“Ginagaya ko lang siya dati. Di ko akalain na makakasama ko pala siya maglaro."
Now the two towering sisters are not only teammates at NU, but they are also on course to turning the Lady Bulldogs into the newest power in the fast-growing sport of women's volleyball.
The Santiagoses have been the major reason for the rise of the Lady Bulldogs, who battle reigning two-time champions Ateneo Lady Eagles in the 10th Shakey’s V-League First Conference Finals beginning on Thursday.
The sisters have literally and figuratively stood out during NU's run to the Finals. Not only are the two talented, but they also bring the best out of each other by inspiring one another.
The 19-year-old Dindin shared, “Lagi niya ako kukulitin, `Ate Din mag-pratice na tayo ganyan.’ Nakakatuwa kasi sabi niya idol niya daw ako. Masaya siyempre kasi kasama ko siya sa isang team."
With her Ate Din beside her every game, Jaja said she feels a lot more confident.
“Siya kasi ‘yung inspirasyon ko sa paglalaro,” Jaja admitted. “Kasi nakikita mo siya ang galing-galing niya. Sabi ko sa sarili ko dapat ako din ang galing-galing ko din.
“’Yung ang saya kasi sa pakiramdam na sasabihin ng ibang tao na, ‘Wow naman, ang galing naman nitong magkapatid na ito,' parang ganoon.”
That the two would grow so tall and excel in sports seemed inevitable. Their father,a former basketball player, is 6-foot-6 while their mom stands 5-10. Their eldest sister and brother are, like mom, both former volleyball players while their youngest sister, 10, is way taller than girls her age.
Still, the two got involved in the sport only accidentally.
Dindin was only lured into volleyball because of her height, while Jaja was recruited as a replacement for her Ate Din once her playing days with the school is over.
"Track and field ang laro ko talaga, pero may isang coach noong elementary ako na nagsabi bakit hindi ko i-try mag-volleyball sa UST. Nakuha ako kasi matangkad ako, pero ang alam ko lang noon mag-serve," recalled Dindin, who is a little shorter than Jaja at 6-2.
"Tinutukan ako ni coach Vince hanggang sa natuto ako," she said, referring to her former mentor at UST Francis Vicente, who soon transferred to NU and became her college coach.
Jaja, 17, would often tag along with her Ate Din and was soon recruited for the girls volleyball team of University of Santo Tomas on Vicente's instructions.
But now that her sister is starting to come into her own, Dindin is one proud Ate.
“Si Jaja wala talaga siyang alam na sport dati,” shared Dindin. “Bale sabi dati ni coach Vince pag-graduate na ako dapat may kapalit ako na kapareho ko, kaya naisip ko si Ja.
“Pero noong time na ‘yun hindi ko akalain na lalaki siya ng ganyan na 6-foot-4,” she said. “Ngayon proud ako na kasama ko na siyang naglalaro. Masaya ako na kasama ko siya.”
They have one more year left playing together before Dindin leaves school to focus on her other dreams. And she has no doubt that little sister Jaja has what it takes to inherit the mantle at NU.
"Masipag siya (Ja), para siyang bata na walang kapaguran na maglaro," Dindin said. "Kaya alam ko marami pa siyang ma-a-achieve. Malayo pa ang mararating niya."