JAJA Santiago stood tall in National University’s title run in the Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference.
Splitting time between her school and club teams, the 6-foot-5 Santiago was solid all-tournament long in helping the Lady Bulldogs win the championship.
NU annexed its third V-League crown with a 19-25, 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 15-4 victory over Ateneo before a huge Wednesday night crowd at the Philsports Arena.
“Hindi expected magchampion this year kasi ang daming nawala sa amin, ang daming kulang,” Santiago, named the conference MVP, said shortly after the title-clinching win.
The road to winning a back-to-back Collegiate Conference crown was not easy for the Lady Bulldogs.
Parading a 10-player roster since the Open Conference, NU lost a lot of players from last season’s UAAP lineup, leaving Santiago, Jorelle Singh, Risa Sato and setter Jasmine Nabor to lead the fight.
Despite having a short rotation, the Lady Bulldogs thrived and delivered to beat an overachieving Lady Eagles squad, which made it to the Finals in their first tournament in the post-Alyssa Valdez era.
Assistant Edjet Mabbayad, who steered NU to its first title as head coach in 2013, also credited Roger Gorayeb for the team’s latest success which he hopes would serve them in good stead in next season’s UAAP wars.
“Masaya, pero with guidance naman ’yun ni coach Roger kasi yung program naman namin, galing sa kanya, kumbaga ginawa lang namin ’yung instruction niya,” said Mabbayad.
Looking at the bigger picture, the victory will help the Lady Bulldogs in their bid for redemption in UAAP Season 79. Definitely, NU will slug it out against last season’s Top 4 - La Salle, Ateneo, Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines.
“Sobrang laking tulong patungo sa UAAP, kasi siyempre UAAP team din ’yung Ateneo. Wala na ’yung takot,” said Mabbayad.
The conference was also a coming-out party for Nabor, who won the Finals MVP award.
Living up to the trust and confidence of hercoaches, Nabor simply got the job done as the Lady Bulldogs’ chief playmaker.
“Kumuha lang ako ng kumpyansa sa sarili ko, tapos sa mga teammates ko na nagtitiwala sa akin,” said Nabor, who brilliantly connected well with Santiago.
“Kilala na namin ’yung bawat isa hindi lang sa loob ng court,” she added.
A different NU team was seen in the conference, which was in contrast to its tumultuous end in its UAAP campaign last April.
“Nakita namin ’yung improvement ng mga bata. ’Yun naman ’yung goal namin as coaches,” said Mabbayad.