MANILA, Philippines -- Not even Jaja Santiago expected her older sister, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, to turn back the clock in such sensational fashion during the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference Finals.
In Game 3 of the finals between the Chery Tiggo Crossovers and the Creamline Cool Smashers, it was Santiago-Manabat who top-scored for Chery Tiggo with a stunning 32-point performance. With Jaja starting off slow, it was Dindin who kept the Crossovers in the fight as they battled back from a two-set deficit.
Chery Tiggo went on to win in a five-set classic, 23-25, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-8. Jaja earned Finals MVP honors after finishing with 26 points, but even she admitted that her older sister also deserved the honor.
"Sabi ko nga sa mga teammates ko and other people na nagsabi sa akin na, 'Congrats for Finals MVP,' sabi ko, 'Kay Ate Dindin talaga 'yung Finals MVP.' Kasi, alam mo 'yung kapit ni Ate Dindin, first set and second set pa lang, sabi ko, grabe, talagang walang matataas na bola 'yung kalaban, kasi hanep, hanep 'yung palo niya," Jaja said on the "Post-Game" podcast.
"Kumbaga, 'yun talaga 'yung gumising sa team namin na, 'Uy lumalaban si Ate Dindin, laban na tayo.' 'Yun talaga. Kahit sa akin, 'yun 'yung nagpagising din sa akin, na hindi pa tapos, 'yung ate mo lumalaban, tulungan mo," she added.
Jaja was well aware that her sister has the capability to put up big numbers -- she's been seeing that from Dindin since their days together in National University. Yet Dindin's performance was also a surprise to her, given her sister's journey in the past few years.
Dindin took a break from volleyball due to pregnancy in 2015. Shortly after her return in 2017, she suffered an ACL injury that necessitated another long stretch of time away from the sport. Just as she was starting to regain her bearings, the COVID-19 pandemic came and kept her from playing for another year.
"Nagulat din ako, somehow," Jaja said of her sister's explosive performance in Game 3. "Kasi galing sa panganganak, na-ACL, and then nag-pandemic, tapos eto, araw-araw na laro."
"Parang, wow, sino ka, sino ka ngayon? Bakit ganyan laro mo? Para kang bumalik ng 18, 18 years old ka girl? Saan mo kinuha lakas mo, hanggang Game 5 pa ba?" she said.
"Nagulat din ako din ganoon ang pinerform niya. 'Yun din ang hinahanap din namin na dati pa, na laro niya. Sabi niya sa sarili niya, welcome back, Dindin."
Winning the PVL championship was special for Jaja, as it was a historic achievement in several ways. It was the first professional volleyball tournament in the Philippines, held in a unique bubble in Ilocos Norte, and marked the successful comeback of the sport after all competitions were scuppered last year due to the pandemic.
For Jaja, however, what made it most unforgettable was that she won with her older sister -- a feat they last achieved together in the Shakey's V-League as collegiate players.
"Nakita ko 'yung paghihirap niya talaga na makabalik sa tunay na laro niya, 'yung dating laro niya, noong nasa Petron pa siya, noong nasa college pa siya," Jaja said of Dindin. "Nakita ko 'yung struggle niya talaga doon."
"So sabi ko, napaka-worth it talaga, lahat ng ginawa niya para sa family niya and para sa amin. Sabi ko, thank you Lord talaga for giving this championship, lalo na kasama ko si Ate Dindin."
For more on Jaja Santiago's thoughts on the Crossovers' campaign in the PVL Open Conference and her plans for the future, check out the "Post-Game" podcast.