Eya Laure did not have to think long and hard about where to play in her first foray into club volleyball.
“Foton was an easy choice,” she said.
For starters, the UST star and reigning UAAP rookie of the year will have older sister EJ to guide her once again. But more importantly, Eya is a fan of how Foton treats its players.
“Like family,” she said. “You’re not just a player to them. You are part of a family. I saw how they took care of ate EJ when she was injured.”
No one knows that more than the Santiago sisters, who owe a lot of their personal growth to the club that put both their welfares ahead of the squad’s fortunes in the Philippine Superliga (PSL).
The Tornadoes, one of the powerhouses in the PSL, freed both Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat from their contractual obligations to the team to allow them to play as imports in the prominent Japan pro league.
“It started even before I played a single game for Foton,” Jaja said. “Even then, they already told me that if I had a chance to play internationally, they’d allow me to go.”
“Right there, you knew that they cared as much for our personal growth as they do for their club,” she added.
The Santiago sisters are more than willing to pay off that good faith when they bolster the Tornadoes in the PSL All-Filipino conference.
“We want to really help the team now,” said Dindin, whose situation was even more unique. While Foton had known beforehand that Jaja would play as an import in Japan, the Tornadoes’ management was not as prepared for Dindin leaving.
“Japan was sudden,” Dindin said. “It was unexpected. But when I asked permission, they were actually proud because not every player can play as an import abroad.”
Foton makes its debut in the All-Filipino against Sta. Lucia on Tuesday and while the Santiago sisters will automatically be at the forefront of the team’s campaign in the conference, the Laure sisters may have to wait a little while to make their conference debuts.
Both have been put on the reserve list as they work to get to tip-top shape—especially EJ Laure, whose nagging shoulder injury is still under rehab.
“I’m already joining the team in their conditioning,” EJ said. “But no on-ball training yet. I’m just practicing my reception but I can’t really force my shoulders so no spiking at the moment.”
But the presence of the Laure sisters, along with other newcomers of the team, has energized the Foton veterans and the Santiagos, the team’s long-time stars, look to ride that energy this conference.
“If you talk about skills alone, you can see that the young players can really play with the seniors,” Dindin said.
“If you look at the young players right now, they’re really talented and they can compete with the seniors,” Jaja said. “It’s an opportunity for us to learn from each other.”
“We can learn from the young ones too,” added Dindin, who waxed philosophical: “There’s a saying that you should also know how to empty your cup so you can have space to fill it with something new.”
The Foton sister duos guested recently at Sports IQ, the Inquirer’s live multiplatform sports talk show, filled with optimism about the coming season in a league that has been largely dominated by two squads.
They also spoke about their other endeavors, including the Santiago sisters’ stint in Japan.
“Homesickness was the hardest thing I needed to deal with,” Dindin said. “It was really a lesson for me to deal with things like that so I could take care of my future.”
“Of course, there is the usual struggles with the weather, the training and the culture. But once you get to adjust to that, though, you will really love it. Training was really hard. Weights. Practice. In fact, when it’s a day off, you really have no energy to go around anymore, you just want to rest,” Jaja said.
“But what was really hard was because you have high-caliber teammates, there will be times that you can’t keep pace with them. When that happens, you get stressed and frustrated and there’s no one to talk to. That’s what I really struggled with.”
Foton’s sacrifice may just pay off because those learnings and experience from Japan are transferable. Already, the Santiagos are living by the way of life they had to adapt to in their stint as imports abroad.
“Discipline, nutrition,” Dindin said. “Sometimes, when I’m alone at home, I have this urge to train. So I go out and look for a nearby gym so I can work out.”
That kind of training culture may rub off on the sisters’ impressionable young teammates, who can pick up those habits for their own good.
Having a sister in the same team will also help the team’s campaign this season.
Like Dindin puts it, “There is no teammate who can be as frank and as honest to you as your sister can be. She will tell you what’s wrong and she will push you hard.”
Eya Laure agreed.
“In high school, when we were teammates, ate EJ would sometimes tap me on the head to remind me about the little things I need to correct,” she said, laughing. “No teammate can do that to you.”
Besides, there is the obvious ease and comfort of having someone familiar beside you as you go through the daily grind of club competitions. The ennui of training, the long practice sessions and travels can sometimes take an emotional and mental toll on players. Having someone to banter with, someone who understands an inside joke, helps lighten the situation.
And it is no different with the Santiago and Laure siblings, judging by the way pointing fingers flew in every direction when asked who among the sisters was the naughtier one.
More importantly, there is the guidance that comes from someone who truly knows and understands you.
Like in the case of EJ, who constantly kept looking for ways to encourage and guide Eya during the UAAP Finals, where UST lost to Ateneo.
“I really made sure I found a way to tell Eya that she was getting predictable, trying to score through her power,” EJ said. “I told her to try different ways to score, like maybe off the block. I told her to not rely on power alone.”
The Laures are excited to take the court for Foton when they are finally elevated to the regular roster. That would mark the first time they play together since high school.
For now, the Santiago sisters will shoulder a lot of the leadership and scoring for the Tornadoes.
“We’re ready. Just a few more adjustments left to fix,” Jaja said.
“Every team wants to be a champion. That’s really everyone’s goal. But right now, we just want to take it a game at a time,” Dindin added.
No guarantees for Foton. But as Jaja put it, they will have a mantra in mind as they bid for the crown.
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