Jaja Santiago out to prove she can play defense from back row amid Gorayeb anger at liberos
NU coach Roger Gorayeb's growing displeasure over her liberos has forced Jaja Santiago to do the work defensively from the back row. Jaime Campos

NATIONAL University skipper Jaja Santiago has embraced the challenge of becoming a complete player as she leads the Lady Bulldogs' quest for a maiden UAAP women's volleyball championship.

With NU coach Roger Gorayeb's frustration over his liberos mounting every day, the 6-5 Santiago has been forced to play extended minutes while doing the work defensive from the back row.

Against Ateneo on Wednesday, Santiago had a big offensive game with 25 points broken down to 16 kills, eight of the team’s 13 blocks and one service ace.

She also was up to the task on defense with seven successful digs from 13 attempts.

“Up naman ako sa challenge kasi ‘yun nga katulad doon sa Foton, hindi rin ako nilalabas so kailangan inaccept ko na sa sarili ko na kailangan kong dumepensa, kailagan kong maging all-around (player),” said Santiago.

“Kailangan kong matutong dumepensa at rumeceive kasi hindi ko kailangan i-pressure ang mga teammates ko na, ‘Sige, kayo lang mag-receive.’ Kailangan ko din syempre na tulungan sila,” she added.

[See NU wins five-set thriller to end Ateneo win streak at eight]

With Gorayeb firm in his decision to bench liberos Gayle Valdez and Joni Chavez, the fourth-year spiker said she has to add a new dimension to her game.

“Chinallenge din kasi kami ni coach na kailangan niyo maka-receive, kailangan niyo makadepensa, wala kayong libero. Nakita namin na hindi namin kailangan umasa (sa iba),” she said.

“I mean, hindi namin kailangan maghanap ng wala, kailangan lang talaga magtulung-tulong magkaroon ng teamwork para mas umangat ang laro namin,” she added.

The pride of Tanza, Cavite admitted it's hard for her to bend down and get the ball with her height.

But Santiago vowed to do the best she can.

“Mahirap, kasi hindi naman talaga ako rume-receive at saka dumepedepensa, ‘di ba? At saka matangkad pa ako, mahirap bumaba para sa akin,” she said. “Pero ‘yun nga kailangan mo lang kasi mahalin ang ginagawa mo para makuha ang gusto mo."

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