MANILA, Philippines -- The last time that University of Santo Tomas played Ateneo in the UAAP Season 81 tournament, Sisi Rondina attempted a whopping 102 spikes and came away with a career-high 35 points.
But the Golden Tigresses also absorbed a five-set loss to the Lady Eagles -- their 15th straight defeat to the Katipunan spikers since the second round of Season 74. Rondina, who played her usual frenetic game for over two hours, committed back-to-back attacking errors in the fifth set that gifted the final two points to Ateneo.
At the time, she was admittedly disappointed to have lost another chance to break their team's losing streak to the Lady Eagles. After all, there was no assurance that Rondina and the Tigresses would get another opportunity against Ateneo in Season 81.
"One game at a time," said Rondina, all the way back on March 20. "Kanina nga, akala namin na mananalo na kami. Pero bilog ang bola."
"Nandoon pa rin 'yung babawi kami," she said, optimistic even in the face of a tough loss.
Over a month later, Rondina and the Tigresses got another chance to end their losing streak to the Lady Eagles -- and in the biggest stage possible as UST and Ateneo were facing off in the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball Finals.
This time around, there was no need for Rondina to attempt 102 spikes. Instead, the diminutive UST captain swung 50 times in 3 sets, connecting 20 times while also adding 2 blocks and an ace for a game-high 23 points.
And this time around, her efforts were not for naught. The Golden Tigresses came away with a comfortable 25-17, 25-16, 25-20 triumph in Game 1 on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum, to move on the brink of their first UAAP women's crown in 9 years.
"Sobrang focused lang talaga ako. Wala akong ibang iniisip eh, laro lang talaga. Kagabi pa ako nag-iisip, ano yung galaw ko, ano yung magiging service ko, ano yung magiging receive ko," said Rondina, who also had 12 digs and 5 excellent receptions.
The graduating UST captain, who is set to receive the Most Valuable Player trophy ahead of Game 2 on Wednesday, bared that she even dreamt about the game -- although her dreams would not reveal who won.
"Nananaginip ako kagabi sa laro, pero hindi ko alam kung sino nananalo eh. Pagka-gising ko, okay siguro to, muscle memory na talaga siguro to," she said.
There was simply no stopping Rondina on Saturday. She scored in a variety of ways -- even unleashing a surprise running hit to give UST the set point advantage in the opening frame. In the third set, Rondina took off for a hit that caught the tape of the net, only to drop to an unguarded zone on the Ateneo court. Later, she would fire a hit over the Ateneo blockers that landed just inside.
When the Lady Eagles mounted a rally late in the game, it was Rondina who came to the rescue, breaking down the Ateneo net defense in back-to-back rallies to push the Tigresses past the finish line.
"Ang masasabi ko lang kasi sa palo ko ngayon, nilagyan ko lang siya ng variation talaga. Nakikinig ako sa mga bata at sa mga coaches namin, na hindi lahat malakas, hindi lahat brasuhan. Kailangan mo na utakan," Rondina said of her performance.
"Kanina medyo lumabas yung panggigigil ko. Buti na lang, na-compose ko ang sarili ko. And wala akong ibang ginawa, wala akong ibang inisip. Lulusot 'to, pupuntos 'to, para sa team ko," she added.
Rondina played like a woman on a mission in Game 1, and there is no doubt she will do so again in Game 2 as she tries to lift UST to its first title since Season 72. The Lady Eagles do know how to make life difficult for Rondina -- as they did in their second round match-up -- but the UST captain is ready for anything.
"Bumitaw na po ako ng salita, pinaka-una pa lang," said Rondina. "Gagawin ko po lahat, mabalik lang po namin 'yung UST sa Finals, and 'yung korona sa España."
"Papanindigan na namin 'to," she promised. "Sabi ko nga sa mga bata, walang aayaw, walang mawawala sa atin."
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