MANILA, Philippines – There can be no doubts regarding Sisi Rondina's impact on the University of Santo Tomas (UST) women's volleyball program, as the diminutive spiker has been the heart and soul of the Golden Tigresses for the past couple of years.
The Cebuana star, who led the Golden Tigresses to the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball finals, earned the adoration of fans for her all-around skills, competitive fire, and deep love for her alma mater.
Rondina's influence goes beyond the volleyball court, however. Her story has already been immortalized in an episode of "Maalaala Mo Kaya" earlier this year, and ahead of UAAP Season 82, she was asked to speak to the UST men's basketball team.
"Sinabi ko lang naman sa kanila na, huwag silang maglaro for their surname lang," Rondina said. "Maglaro sila for the school, ayun lang."
Her words of wisdom stayed with rising star Rhenz Abando, who can still vividly recall how the fiery open spiker fired them up before they kicked off their campaign in men's basketball.
"Sobrang nakaka-inspire 'yun kasi grabe na 'yung ginawa niya sa buong UST," said Abando. "Tumatak 'yung mga sinabi niya."
"Before mag-start 'yung season namin, sinabihan niya kami na, 'Love UST the way I love UST.' Naa-appreciate namin siya, nakaka-inspire," he said.
It's clear that the admiration is mutual: Rondina is one of UST's most vocal supporters on social media, and she is especially impressed with the high-leaping, sweet-shooting Abando.
Abando, a transferee from the Philippine College of Science and Technology in Pangasinan, has been one of the surprise packages in the UAAP this season. He has amazed fans with his athleticism, and is one of the reasons that UST is in the midst of a heated battle for a spot in the Final 4.
Earlier this season, Rondina tweeted: "OA talon ni Abando." She later joked that the forward could qualify as a middle blocker in volleyball, and even lightheartedly suggested that Abando could play for the Tiger Spikers in the second semester.
That Rondina calls him "idol" on Twitter is mind-blowing for Abando.
"Na-amaze lang ako," he says. "Kasi dati, dati naman, noong nakikita ko siya, ako nagpapa-picture sa kanya. Tapos ayun, parang wala lang."
"Ngayon, parang bumaliktad, ganoon. Nakakatuwa lang," he added.
With Abando and the Growling Tigers in a dogfight for a semifinal seat, Rondina doubled-down on her message to them at the start of the season.
"Huwag lang sila magsawa lumaban para sa pride ng UST," she advised. "Huwag lang silang atat sa lahat ng ginagawa nila."
"Lagi nilang iisipin na kahit anong mangyari – manalo, matalo – basta alam nila na binigay nila ang best nila, walang problema 'yun," she added. "Lagi nilang isipin lahat ng mga paghihirap nila, lahat ng mga sinakripisyo nila para lang makarating sa ganyang sitwasyon."
"Huwag nilang kalimutan ang nasa itaas, paa mas plantsado lahat ng mga gagawin nila."
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