WHILE Venus Bernal sees herself in soon-to-be-named MVP Sisi Rondina, former Queen Tigress Ging Balse-Pabayo sees a younger version of herself in Eya Laure.
The former champion is impressed with the rookie's tougness, playing despite a hurting left knee sustained from UST's Final Four tussle against La Salle.
"Ako, nakikita ko ang sarili ko kay Eya," she said when asked if she could draw similarities from this team to their championship-winning squad back in 2007, where the Golden Tigresses swept the FEU Lady Tamaraws.
"Nung time na yun kasi injured din ang right knee ko pero nag-champion kami. Ngayon, nakikita mo kay Eya na pinupush pa rin niya kahit na masakit ang tuhod niya. Lumalaban pa din siya para sa team."
Laure is set to be hailed as this season's Rookie of the Year, while Balse-Pabayo won the same plum 14 years ago.
The 35-year-old middle hitter also agreed that Rondina does evoke memories of a young Bernal.
"Si Ven, nakikita ko kay Sisi," she said.
The two joined UST supporters including legendary coach August Santamaria at Smart Araneta Coliseum in the opener of the best-of-three women's volleyball finals to support the Tigresses in their return to the championship round for the first time since 2011.
"Lahat ng alumni, lalo na si boss August Santamaria nandyan," said Balse-Pabayo, who was sitting beside Bernal in the patron section. "Yung pagpunta lang ni coach August ngayon, malaking impact na yun sa team. Na-boost yung morale nila na kaya nilang manalo. Positive talaga."
Balse-Pabayo said she sent Rondina encouraging words ahead of the pressure-packed series opener.
"Sa Instagram, minessage ko siya. Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Sisi, good luck sa game. Yung game ngayon, i-dedicate mo lang kay God. Maglaro ka lang like an angel and empower Him. Mananalo kayo sa game ngayon.' Sabi niya, 'Thank you so much, Ate Ging. Sana manood po kayo.' Sabi ko, 'Oo naman,' kaya nanood kami ngayon lahat," she shared.
Rondina did not disappoint, unfurling 23 ponints powered by 20 kills to lead the Golden Tigresses to the straight-sets win over the Ateneo Lady Eagles to move on the cusp of reclaiming the tiara that has eluded them for almost a decade now.
Balse-Pabayo could see it in Rondina's eyes that she won't be denied.
"Nafi-feel ko yung galaw ni Sisi ngayon, yung energy ni Sisi. Makikita mo sa aura niya na mananalo kami," she said.
Balse-Pabayo hopes UST could sustain this groove, close the series out on Wednesday and turn the team's "Kami Naman" battlecry from words to reality.
"Ituloy-tuloy lang nila," she said. "Kung ano yung galaw ngayon, yung energy ngayon, kung paano sila natulog, paggising sa umaga, tuloy lang nila kung paano sila nanalo. Dapat nandoon lang ang tiwala nila sa isa't isa."
"Sabi ko nga kay Sisi kanina, dalhin mo yung team dahil malaki ang tiwala namin sa yo as a team captain. Kahit konting mali mo lang, bawi ka kaagad. Pag may isang teammate ka na nawala sa game, suportahan mo siya at nandoon na sa kanya yun. Bilang team captain, hindi lang sa sarili niya pero sa buong team, dadalhin niya yun sa court."
And the UST community will be right by the Golden Tigresses' side every step of the way.
"Sa Game Two, manonood kami," Balse-Pabayo promised.