SPORTSMEN WHO CHANGE THE GAME
Jaja Santiago
by Mei-Lin Lozada

Jaja Santiago loomed as a towering figure in Philippine volleyball in 2016 - and it's not just because of her height

IF a volleyball player could be honored for a feat similar to winning a PBA Grand Slam, Jaja Santiago would undoubtedly be the runaway winner in 2016.

The 6-foot-5 Santiago only won two titles the entire year, sure, but her willingness to join local and international tournaments, sometimes running simultaneously, has made her not just a champion but also an inspirational figure.

It wasn’t a fruitful UAAP campaign for Santiago as she failed to give the Lady Bulldogs a championship in the UAAP Season 78 women’s volleyball tournament in April. Foton also fell short in the Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Conference as the Tornadoes bowed to the La Salle-powered F2 Logistics in July.

But her multitasking efforts in September when she traveled from Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna all the way PhilSports Arena in Pasig City showed her dedication to the sport she loves.

The NU team captain swiftly made her exit from Foton’s game in the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship to make it to the semifinals match for NU in the Shakey’s V-League Season 13 Collegiate Conference.

What’s more impressive was while the rest of the team stayed in a hotel in Alabang, Muntinlupa, which is just a 30-minute drive through South Luzon Expressway to the venue, Santiago would sometimes ask for permission if she could go home because she has an exam in the morning.

The Tornadoes may have just finished seventh in the Asian tournament but her sacrifices paid off for the Lady Bulldogs who successfully retained the crown in the SVL.

But a month after the AVC AWCC, Santiago had to make use of her multitasking abilities again.

She had to wake up early for the 7 a.m. practice for the PSL F2 Logistics practices at the Arellano gym in Taft Avenue, where Serbian head coach Moro Branislav along with his deputy Japanese coach Shun Takahashi held grueling training stretching three to four hours.

Right after the practice, Santiago barely takes a breather while her teammates have their hearty recovery meal at the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. office, as she would immediately leave for her training in NU at Johnson St. in Manila.

Santiago’s efforts, though, have turned heads and got the attention of international scouts and coaches after her impressive performance for PSL F2 Logistics Manila in the FIVB World Cub Women’s Championship on October 18-23 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

One of Santiago’s highlights was when she turned an excellent set from Thai setter Tichaya Boonlert into a powerful kill that went straight to the face of Pomi Casalmaggiore libero Sirressi Immacolata.

The do-it-all volleybelle from Tanza, Cavite also played a vital role in the team’s one set win over eventual champion Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul in the group stage meeting.

All the setbacks were richly repaid at year’s end, however, as the driven Santiago brushed off fatigue once more in capping her busy 2016 with a championship.

With the help of prolific American imports Lindsay Stalzer and Ariel Usher along with her older sister Dindin and Foton mainstays Make Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Sisi Ronda, EJ Laure, Angela Araneta, Patty Brendan and libero Bia General, the Tornadoes demolished the Stephanie Niemer-led Petron team in the PSL Grand Prix on December.

For the cherry on top of Santiago’s cake, she was named MVP in the conference. Truly, Santiago has had quite a Grand Slam year and she’s only fueled by her desire to achieve more in 2017.