She could already be the country’s best player, but Jaja Santiago doesn’t care about individual accolades
Jaja Santiago believes it was an act of God that brought the country’s top volleyball teams under one tournament roof.
But while the prospect of playing in the professional Premier Volleyball League (PVL) excites her, there are a few worries she wants to shed off.
“I hope everyone will be safe,” Santiago said via a web interview recently. And the 6-foot-5 star isn’t talking about just the health protocols that need to be in place to protect players from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everyone is coming from a long layoff, with no training or games. I hope everyone will be safe [in their return to action],” she added.
Unlike most of the stars, though, Santiago has benefited from actual competition. She is a newly-minted champion with Ageo Medics in Japan and flew back to the country to prepare to hand Chery Tiggo the inaugural professional volleyball title.
Import in Japan
Currently in isolation to serve out a required quarantine period for travelers, Santiago will enter the PVL with a lot of eyes on her. Her stint as an import in Japan allowed her to further hone her skills and provides a strong case for her being the best player in the country right now.
It’s a title, however, that Santiago doesn’t care about.
“What will I do with that tag? What use is the MVP (Most Valuable Player) or any individual accomplishment if your team doesn’t win the title?” Santiago said.
The former National University star cares only about bringing Chery to the top of the PVL.
“For me, I always expect my team to win the championship,” Santiago said. “I want to perform my best so I can help my team win the championship. Individual accolades are just small tokens.”
“It’s really that championship that means the most, and it’s what everyone wants.”
‘Help each other’
Santiago expects—and hopes—that all the stars will come out to play with the goal of winning the country’s first professional volleyball championship. “Even if preparations are not ideal, I hope the games will be good. For sure, the willingness to win is there and everyone will really be pushing themselves,” she said.
“As far as my team is concerned, I’m not really expecting everyone to perform at a high level [right away]. We just have to help each other so we can give a good fight against every opponent.”
The PVL has yet to schedule an opening date for its season-opener, something that is becoming increasingly difficult due to the rising cases of COVID-19 that has forced a restrictive lockdown in Metro Manila and other provinces.
But at least, there is a tournament, featuring volleyball’s finest athletes, to look forward to. And Santiago always knew this time would come.
“I had really been expecting that there would be a time when all the teams would merge and play in one tournament,” she said. “That was the aim of the [new national volleyball] federation, to have one league [for all club teams].”
“But maybe it’s not just the new federation. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic and the problems the two leagues had. Maybe this was really God’s plan.”
Santiago has plans to fly back to Japan after the PVL tournament. She is currently in talks for another contract there.
“Other teams in Japan are already trying to sign me, but Ageo already has that edge so I feel that I’ll renew with them,” said Santiago.
In the meantime, Santiago and her home squad, the Crossovers, are coming for the PVL crown. If that leads to an individual award, that would just be, well, the cherry on top.