MANILA, Philippines -- Competing again in a local volleyball tournament for the first time in two years, star middle blocker Jaja Santiago admits that she still needs time to adjust and develop chemistry with her teammates.
Santiago, 25, last played in the Philippines during the 2019 All-Filipino Conference of the Philippine Superliga, where she and the Foton Tornadoes finished in fourth place.
The team was rebranded as the Chery Tiggo Crossovers for the 2020 season of the PSL, but the Grand Prix was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Santiago played for the Saitama Ageo Medics in Japan last year, and this March she helped the team win the V.Cup crown.
She's now back with Chery Tiggo, which now plays in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL). In their first game of the Open Conference, Santiago put up 11 points in a 25-20, 25-17, 25-6 sweep of PLDT.
"Actually, mahirap din kasi talagang naga-adjust sa lahat," said Santiago after their triumph that took an hour and nine minutes.
"Noong umalis ako dito, pandemic. Hirap na hirap ako ibalik 'yung kundisyon ng katawan ko," she admitted. "Noong bumalik ako sa Japan, nag-simula bumalik ulit. Tapos, pag-balik ko dito, pandemic pa rin. Walang training, hirap kami."
"Kumbaga, ang tagal ko talagang 'di naglaro sa team namin. Sobrang hirap," Santiago said.
Of her 11 points, seven came on attacks as she converted seven of her 17 hits. Santiago also had four service aces.
She gave full credit to her teammates for how they played together despite having only a brief time to prepare for the competition.
"Natutuwa ako sa mga teammates ko, kasi kahit kaunti lang 'yung pagsasama namin, 'yung jelling time namin as a team and kaunti lang 'yung preparation namin, naga-adjust talaga at pinipilit nila na ibalik agad 'yung laro nila, at ma-feel nila 'yung connection sa loob ng court," said Santiago.
Chery Tiggo will face a quick turnaround as they play again on Monday, this time against Cignal HD. For Santiago, it's another chance to work her way back to full fitness and elevate her game further.
"Andoon pa rin 'yung kailangan kong gawin 'yung best ko," said Santiago, who reunited with older sister Dindin in Chery Tiggo. "Kailangan kong mag-adjust agad."
"Ito 'yung sport ko eh. Ito 'yung love ko, so kailangan talaga, gawin ko 'yung lahat para maibalik ko 'yung laro ko dito sa Chery," she said.