MANILA, Philippines -- A record-tying effort by Sisi Rondina was not enough for University of Santo Tomas to end seven years of futility against Ateneo de Manila University on Wednesday night.
Rondina was at her explosive and tireless best against the Lady Eagles, pounding in 30 kills and adding three blocks and two aces to finish with a career-high 35 points.
It was a remarkable output, tying the mark set by former Ateneo star Alyssa Valdez in Season 75, when the "Phenom" also put up 35 points in a five-set loss to Adamson University.
Much like Valdez, Rondina's monstrous outing still could not push UST to victory. The Lady Eagles recovered from a two-set deficit, rallying for a 19-25, 22-25, 27-25, 25-22, 15-11 triumph -- their seventh consecutive win of UAAP Season 81.
"Kinapos lang talaga kami," said Rondina after the game. "Napunta sa kanila 'yung momentum."
Rondina did her best to push the Golden Tigresses to victory; she even put them at match point, 25-24, in the third set before the Ateneo's Maddie Madayag and Bea de Leon came through in the clutch.
She continued to swing away in the fourth and fifth sets, willing away the exhaustion. Rondina attempted a whopping 102 spikes in the match.
"Iniisip ko lang na bawal ako mapagod," said Rondina after the two-hour, 32-minute marathon. "Sinabihan ko 'yung mga setter ko na hindi ako mapapagod, 'wag lang kayo mapagod mag-cover."
"Gagawan ko ng paraan lumusot . . . kasi ang lalaki talaga. Swear to God, ginawa ko na 'yung best ko. Dinaan ko na lang sa words na hindi ako susuko," she said.
Rondina kept encouraging her teammates, even after Ateneo dragged the match to a deciding frame, even after the Lady Eagles overtook them in the fifth set and seized a 13-10 lead.
"Sinasabi ko lang kanina na walang bibitawn, atin 'to, maniwala kayo na atin 'to. Nandoon pa rin 'yung pagiging positive ko kahit sobrang down na. Pinapa-feel ko pa rin sa mga bata na hindi pa tayo talo kaya nga may fifth," she said.
That the match ultimately ended because of her attack errors was ironic. After firing an off-the-block hit to trim the deficit to two points, Rondina sent her next attack long, putting Ateneo at match point. Her next spike hit the antenna, and the match was over before the ball even hit the mat.
"Natawa lang ako noong pagka-palo ko kasi, OK, tapos na," said the Cebuana. "Ako 'yung nagpatalo."
"Siyempre, marami pang mangyayari kung napuntos ko 'yun. It's God's plan din, let it be. Tatanggapin ko 'yun ng buong puso," she added.
The loss ended a three-match winning streak for UST, and put them at 5-3 -- still good for solo third place. Rondina was admittedly disappointed that her career-best effort was squandered in a heartbreaking defeat, but stressed that they are looking at the positives.
"Ganoon talaga -- may nananalo, may natututo," she pointed out. "Matututo din kami sa ginalaw namin kanina. Napuri pa nga kami ng coaches kanina kasi nga ang ganda nga daw tignan."
"Naglaro kami nang maayos. Kinapos lang talaga. Mapag-praktisan pa 'yun. Experience pa 'yun sa mga bata, lalo na sa akin," she added.
Rondina remains upbeat that the Golden Tigresses can recover from the loss and move forward in their campaign in Season 81. What's not as certain is if she will get the chance to get back at the Lady Eagles again this year. Ateneo swept UST again this season; this was the Lady Eagles' 15th straight victory over the Tigresses since 2012.
Ateneo remains the only team that Rondina has not beaten in her glittering UAAP career.
"One game at a time," said Rondina, when asked about a future match-up with the Lady Eagles. "Kanina nga, akala namin mananalo na kami. Pero bilog ang bola."
"Andoon pa rin 'yung babawi kami," she vowed.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.