Nine years on, Illa Santos looks back on UAAP volleyball career

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 16 2018 05:03 PM

La Salle icon Manilla Santos speaks during "The Legacy of Greatness" forum in FEU. Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines – Nine years after wrapping up her illustrious UAAP career, and in a forum that took place on enemy territory, the iconic Manilla Santos took a fond look back at her time as a De La Salle University Lady Spiker.

Santos, a four-time UAAP women's volleyball champion and the Season 71 Most Valuable Player, was among eight personalities invited to speak at the Far Eastern University (FEU) Auditorium on Wednesday to discuss "The Legacy of Greatness" in the collegiate league.

Together with more recent UAAP stars such as Alyssa Valdez of Ateneo de Manila University and Gelo Alolino of National University, Santos reminisced about her time as a UAAP athlete – a stretch that saw the diminutive player raise La Salle's women's volleyball program to great heights.

"Isipin mo, after nine years, mapag-uusapan ulit," said Santos. "Nakakatuwa."

It was quite ironic that the forum took place in FEU, the hosts of Season 80. After all, some of Santos' greatest moments as a Lady Spiker came against the Lady Tamaraws – including her final game in Season 71 when she led the Lady Spikers to the championship.

It was the crowning moment of an incredible UAAP career that saw the 5-foot-4 Santos win Best Receiver honors three times, while also winning the MVP trophy in 2008. With her at the forefront, La Salle established itself as the new women's volleyball powerhouse in the UAAP, overthrowing the traditionally dominant FEU and University of Santo Tomas squads.

La Salle would eventually cement Santos's legacy by retiring her No. 14 jersey – an unprecedented honor for a female athlete and a volleyball player at the time.

Since then, however, Santos has stepped away from the spotlight. She has not played in a professional league like most of her peers, some of whom are still active nowadays. Instead, she made the conscious decision to step away from the sport.

"There was a small percentage of me na, not closing my doors totally to the sport. First love ko talaga eh," she said. "Pero iba na talaga 'yung priority ko."

Instead of pursuing a professional career, Santos moved on and helped with their family business. Soon after, she decided to start a family, which remains her top priority up to now.

But this does not mean that she has completely tuned out what is happening in volleyball, particularly in La Salle. Santos remains an avid observer of the sport. Last month, she was in the audience when the Lady Spikers defeated the FEU Lady Tamaraws in the finals of Season 80 – the first time in nine years that the two squads met for the title.

Indeed, she is not totally ruling out a potential return to the La Salle women's volleyball program – in whatever capacity.

"I cannot speak for the future," she said. "Pero, if that time comes, why not, 'di ba?"

For now, however, Santos is content with focusing on her family and watching the Lady Spikers when she can. One of the true icons of La Salle's sports program, she continues to show her support to their women's volleyball team and has no doubt that they will continue to prosper.

"Obviously, Coach Ramil (de Jesus) is doing a good job," said Santos. "And I'm also thankful for the school, which is very, very supportive to all the sports."

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