MANILA, Philippines -- Chery Tiggo can be a championship-caliber squad, but Jaja Santiago believes they should not feel pressured to immediately deliver a title in their first season in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL).
Chery Tiggo, backed by the United Asia Automotive Group, Inc., is one of the Philippine Superliga (PSL) teams that made the jump to the pro league in the past month.
"I can say na we can be a championship-caliber (team)," Santiago said of the squad, during an appearance on "Volleyball DNA" over the weekend.
Aside from Santiago, Chery Tiggo also features her older sister, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, sisters Eya and EJ Laure, and former UAAP standouts like Maika Ortiz, Jasmine Nabor, and Mylene Paat.
Despite their solid lineup, Santiago is the first to temper expectations from their team, citing the COVID-19 pandemic that prevented them from training together for more than a year now.
"Galing tayo sa pandemic. One year, no training, no tournament. So I don't wanna expect (or) give them a high expectation," she said. "Siyempre ang pinakagusto ko na mangyari for PVL bubble is makalaro kami lahat, walang injury, walang masakit."
Santiago knows first-hand how it feels to plunge into action after not training for months.
That was what she did for her club in Japan, Saitama Ageo Medics, when she rejoined them for the V.League. The middle blocker noted that it was difficult for her to regain her conditioning after six months of mostly online workouts.
It wasn't until the latter phase of the V.League that Santiago regained her rhythm and conditioning. Her fine form continued to the Division V.Cup where she helped Ageo Medics secure the gold medal.
"Ganoon din dito sa atin. One year sila na walang training, walang laro. So mas mahirap para sa bawat isa na maglaro ulit, na mabigay kaagad 'yung 100%," said Santiago.
"Siyempre andoon pa rin 'yung skills mo, pero the condition, sobrang hirap ibalik talaga," she added.
Thus, she is constantly reminding her teammates to take things slowly.
"Sabi ko naman sa team ko na unti-untiin natin. Itong PVL naman, PVL bubble is preparation natin for long term, not for short term, 'di ba," Santiago pointed out.
"So, hindi natin kailangan i-pressure 'yung sarili natin na kailangan mag-champion kaagad tayo. Unti-unti," she stressed.
Nonetheless, Santiago made it clear that Chery Tiggo won't be a pushover come the PVL season.
"Masasabi ko na lahat ng makakalaban namin, mahihirapan doon sa line-up namin," she guaranteed.
Chery Tiggo experienced great success in the PSL, winning the Grand Prix in 2015 and 2016 while playing under the banner of Foton.
The PVL season was supposed to start in late May in a bubble at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.
However, the opening has been moved anew due to the rising COVID-19 cases in the country. Laguna is one of the areas that has been placed under enhanced community quarantine.