MANILA, Philippines – Sisi Rondina took a few precious seconds to hum a little prayer at the cross before striding back to the dugout.
Her team just came off an emotional 4-set loss against the reigning champions De La Salle University Lady Spikers, but the University of Santo Tomas Tigresses exited the Big Dome wearing proud smiles and with their heads held high.
Was there any pressure for the Tigresses playing in a bigger Final Four stage?
“Hindi ko inisip ‘yung sa Final Four (I didn’t think about the Final Four),” shared team captain Rondina. “I always treat our game as a championship game talaga.”
Although a lot can be taken away from the lopsided 4th set of the semifinal showdown, an enthusiast of the sport simply cannot deny the fight and heart UST showed during the last few stretches of the game – more so the whole season.
Never mind expectations and a rocky round one start, the Tigresses focused on getting better every single game as they ultimately snatched the 3rd seed of the league.
“At the end of the day, buo pa ring kaming lalabas ng court na sasabihin naming ginawa namin kung ano ‘yung best namin,” said head coach Kungfu Reyes. “At ‘yung pagiging fighter din ng mga players namin na nasaktan, tumayo, at naglaro ulit,” he added.
(At the end of the day, we’ll leave the court knowing that we did our best, [and] the fighting spirit of our players who get back up even after getting hurt.)
“We had a good run this season, we came short. Nakuha namin ‘yung 3rd seed, may kaunti rin kaming celebration (We got the 3rd seed, it still calls for a little celebration).”
Fall down 7 times, get up 8
The Tigresses became the epitome of resiliency all season long. They bucked a steady preliminary round start, went against all odds to take the no. 3 spot, and even used injury scares as a driving force to get back in the game.
One of their stalwarts EJ Laure suffered a bad fall early in the 3rd set, which momentarily silenced both crowds in the arena. Despite tweaking her ankle, Laure managed to get back up, returned halfway through the set and provided UST a point right away, as if the injury was no big deal.
“Nasaktan ako sa nangyari sa kanya kasi hindi ko tanggap na uupo lang siya sa laro namin. ‘Yung paglabas ni EJ, pinadama ko na sa teammates namin na kailangan nating ibawi siya,” she recalled.
(I got hurt because of what happened, I wouldn’t be able to accept it if she just sat the whole game. When EJ went out, I let our teammates know that we needed to win this for her.)
But Rondina knew that one way or another, her fellow spiker would find a way to rise back up again.
“Sa isip ko lang noong pagkababa niya, ipapadyak niya lang ‘yan. Noong pagkatingin ko, noong tumalon na siya, ay wala na. Papasok na ‘to.”
(When she fell, I thought to myself, she’ll just shake it off. [Then] when I looked at her and saw her jump, I knew she was going back in.)
While a loss is a loss, Reyes and the rest of the Tigresses opted to maintain a positive disposition as they close this year’s UAAP chapter.
More than anything, the girls of Espana wanted to provide their departing seniors Pam Lastimosa, Chloe Cortez, Alex Cabanos and Patrisha Rasmo a memorable finish in the collegiate ranks.
“Thankful pa rin kami kay coach na naniwala na kaya namin,” said Rondina. “Thankful kami sa mga taong nandiyan kahit down na kami.”
“Lalong-lalo na sa mga [mag]e-exit, kasi marami kaming nakuha sa kanila na pwede naming gamitin sa teammates namin.”
(We’re still thankful for our coach who believed in us, we’re thankful for the people who have been there through our downs. [Thank you] especially to those who will exit, because we learned a lot from them that we can apply for our younger teamates.)
Reyes also took the time to thank the UST community who has supported them in this rollercoaster journey.
“Nagpapasalamat kami na bumabalik na ‘yung tiwala ng UST community sa amin. [It’s a] good indication for us. Pipilitin namin na maging engaged pa sila sa mga susunod na laro.”
(We’re thankful because the UST community has brought their trust back in us, it’s a good indication for us. We’ll still try to engage them as much as possible in our upcoming games.)
The year marked a fresh perspective for the Tigresses as they finally made their way back to the map of UAAP volleyball.
The team defeated all odds and exceeded expectations - including their own - and with that in mind, there’s nothing but good things to come for the valiant Espana crew.
“[It’s a ] stepping stone, kasi ‘yun nga, galing kami sa 6 (we came from 6th place). It’s a good motivation for us to look higher for next year,” said the head shotcaller.
“Hinihingi lang namin [ay] pumasok ng Final 4. In-overachieve lang namin, nag-number 3. Very rocky ‘yung start namin, pero sumubok kami nang sumubok. Hindi kami umayaw.”
(All we asked for was to get into the the Final Four. We just overachieved when we got number 3. We had a very rocky start, but we kept on trying and working. We refused to give up.)
“Dito kami nagtapos, dito rin kami magsisimula.” (This is where we ended, and this is where we’ll begin) －Rappler.com