MANILA, Philippines -- Towering hitter Jaja Santiago has been showing her versatility with the Foton Tornadoes.
Shifting from the middle position to utility under the watch of Serbian coach Moro Branislav, the 6-foot-5 Santiago proved to be an unstoppable force when she led Foton to a historic back-to-back title in the Philippine Superliga Grand Prix where she won Most Valuable Player.
But come UAAP Season 79, the 20-year old Santiago will have to slide back at the middle.
National University (NU) head coach Roger Gorayeb has no choice but to keep Santiago in her natural position when the league opens shop on February 4.
“Malaking bagay sa kanila (Foton) si Jaja sa ngayon kaya lang ako naman ang mahihirapan niyan in the near future,” said Gorayeb. “Kasi ang laro ni Jaja doon ay utility eh.”
The mentor added that the incoming fourth year player, who won the Middle Blocker and MVP awards while leading NU to back-to-back titles in the V-League Collegiate Conference, is their strongest piece at the middle and he won’t gamble by using her as a utility.
Gorayeb said he’s already confident with his wingers like Jorelle Singh, Audrey Paran, Roma Joy Doromal and Aiko Urdas and there’s no need for Santiago to change her role.
“Eh ang hirap. Sabi ko nga kay Jaja, ‘OK lang ‘yan Ja, kasi talagang may matibay kayo na panggitna tapos ang hina ng utility ninyo kaya pwede (ka sa ibang pwesto). Eh pero doon sa sitwasyon natin sa NU panggitna ka,’” he said.
Gorayeb admitted that after Santiago’s stints in the PSL and in the Asian Club Championship and FIVB Women’s Club World Championship, the Lady Bulldog star is having difficulty playing back as a middle.
“Ang hirap kasi minsan nagpa-practice kami wala na siya sa timing eh,” Gorayeb explained. “Tapos nakukursunadahan pa niya ‘yung posisyon (utility) na ‘yun.”
“Eh hindi niya pwedeng gawin sa amin ‘yun eh. Wala akong panggitna eh,” he added. “Talagang maoobliga siya (maglaro sa middle). Buti natapos na (ang PSL) at makakapag-adjust na kami.”
NU will continue with its preparation until December 21, will have a short Christmas break then back to training again on December 30. They’ll take a rest the next four days then back to their last stretch of preparation starting January 4.
The Lady Bulldogs trained in Japan a month ago as NU builds up for the UAAP wars where they set their sights to get back to the Final Four after missing the cut last season.
This article originally appeared on the ABS-CBN Sports website.