MANILA, Philippines – Foton standout Jaja Santiago was surprised to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix, saying teammates Ariel Usher and Lindsay Stalzer are more deserving of the league's top individual award.
Santiago was named MVP after she helped the Tornadoes in their Finals victory over rivals Petron, giving them back-to-back Grand Prix crowns. She scored 10 points in their 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17 win in Game 2 last Saturday over the Tri-Activ Spikers.
"Hindi ko ine-expect na mag-MVP," Santiago admitted afterwards. "Ilang games din ako nawala, tapos sobrang baba din ng nilaro ko nitong past few games namin."
"Hindi ko rin alam. 'Yun 'yung iniisip ko kanina noong tinawag ako: 'Ako?' Parang, 'ako?'" she revealed.
Santiago had to leave in the middle of the Grand Prix to join National University in a training camp in Japan, and her absence proved her value to the team as Foton suffered its lone loss of the tournament – a four-set defeat to F2 Logistics – in her absence.
When Santiago returned, Foton regained its fearsome form, capped by a sweep of Petron in the best-of-three Finals that extended their dominance over their rivals.
Yet Santiago – who showcased surprising versatility as she shifted positions from middle blocker to open hitter to opposite hitter throughout the conference – maintains that her MVP award was unexpected.
"Sabi ko nga kay Lindsay, 'You deserve this.' Hindi ko deserve ito, kasi sa kanya talaga 'to," Santiago said.
"For me, it's Ariel or Lindsay, pero blessing ito sa akin kasi binigay nila sa akin. Natutuwa ako dahil pinagkatiwalaan ako noong pumili, kung sino man. Pero 'yun nga, for me it's Lindsay or Ariel talaga," she added.
Usher and Stalzer were both crucial to Foton's title defense, and Stalzer in particular was the star in Foton's Game 1 victory that saw them rally from a two-set deficit to win in five hard-fought sets. She went toe-to-toe with Petron's powerful import, Stephanie Niemer, scoring 30 points to the latter's 32.
Both imports had nothing but praises for Santiago.
"Jaja is a great player," said Stalzer, who had 14 points in Game 2. "I think she has the most potential in the whole league. She can be a world-class player."
"I think she did an awesome job," Usher, who led Foton with 19 points in Game 2, added. "I think she deserves MVP. She was awesome for us all season, and I'm so proud of her."
Usher did go home with a trophy as she was named Second Best Outside Spiker, with Petron's Niemer taking home First Best Outside Spiker honors.
F2 Logistics star Abigail Maraño was the First Best Middle Blocker, with Foton's Maika Ortiz the second Best Middle Blocker.
RC Cola-Army's Jovelyn Gonzaga was the first Best Opposite Spiker, and Petron's Aiza Maizo-Pontillas was the second best Opposite Spiker.
The F2 Logistics pair of Kim Fajardo (Best Setter) and Dawn Macandili (Best Libero) completed the awardees.
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