AFTER a busy 2016, Jaja Santiago is hoping her year-long exposure in local and international tournaments will translate into a breakthrough in UAAP Season 79 as National University guns for its first title in almost six decades in the volleyball league.
"Malaking tulong sa akin for UAAP ('yung mga tournaments) kasi parang nape-prepare na rin ako and ‘yung momentum pagdating sa UAAP nandoon," she said.
It has been quite a year for Santiago. After NU failed to make the Final Four in Season 78 early in the year, Santiago bounced back strong in leading Foton to a runner-up finish in the Philippine Super Liga All-Filipino Conference in July.
The incoming fourth-year NU middle blocker then split time between two teams in September, steering the Lady Bulldogs to a championship in the Shakey's V-League Season 13 Collegiate Conference while playing a vital role for Foton in the AVC Asian Women's Club Championship.
The following month, she made heads turn during her stint in the FIVB Women's Club World Championship as she held her ground against the world's best volleyball players including Gabi Guimaraes and Anne Bujis of Rexona Sesc, Rio Olympics MVP Zu Ting and Lonneke Sloetjes of VakifBank Istanbul, and Rachael Adams, and Neslihan Demir of eventual champion Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul.
Santiago then capped an eventful 2016 with a championship, as Foton retained the PSL Grand Prix title.
Now she’s raring to maintain her momentum in the new year, starting in UAAP Season 79.
"Sobrang naging productive itong taon na 'to sa akin lalo na patapos yung year. Sana maging maganda start ng bagong taon 'to," said the 6-foot-5 middle blocker.
"Sana madala ko sa UAAP ‘yung mga natutunan ko," she said. "Mas nae-excite ako sa UAAP kasi syempre iba ‘yung level ng PSL sa UAAP. Tingin ko sobrang laki ng nakuha kong experience all throughout nitong taon na 'to.”