COME the next UAAP volleyball season, Jaja Santiago won't be the lone player standing out in a crowd.
Meet Milena Alessandrini.
The Fil-Italian arrived recently to bolster the University of Santo Tomas roster, raising hope that the Tigresses can finally end a long title drought in a tournament they once dominated.
Alessandrini has attracted a lot of attention since coming in, but UST assistant coach Yani Fernandez is careful not to put too much pressure on the 6-foot-1 recruit.
After all, the 20-year-old beanpole has yet to get used to the Filipino style of play.
"We're not pressuring her. Sa amin lang, come what may," said Fernandez of Alessandrini, who played volleyball in her school in Italy but not in a varsity squad.
"She's still a rookie. Andun yung expectation, pero kasi she's still adjusting to the style of play in the Philippines," he added. "Syempre iba rin 'yung sa Italy. Hindi naman makukuha in one click yun, hindi naman agad maa-absorb lahat yun. We will see. Sana mabilis adaptation."
Although she plays as an outside hitter, Alessandrini's size should come as a big boost for a UST team that needs to shore up its frontline after the departure of middle blocker Ria Meneses.
"Big addition sya kasi the height is there," Fernandez said.
Alessandrini, who sources said joined Ateneo in practice but never made any commitment to the Lady Eagles, is set to show her wares in practice with the Tigresses this week.
"Sa Monday pa lang sya mag-start mag-train... Iwo-work out namin yung condition kasi yung skills andun na, marunong naman sya. We'll see sa training camp," added the longtime UST deputy coach.
The shy, prized recruit, who is struggling to speak in either Filipino or English, said she's excited to suit up for the alma mater of some of her relatives - the reason she chose UST over other schools.
"Yes!" said Alessandrini when asked if she's excited to play.