Jaja Santiago still with Chery Tiggo but availability remains uncertain
MANILA, Philippines — Jaja Santiago remains part of Chery Tiggo’s lineup for the 2023 Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference but her availability depends on Saitama Ageo Medics’ fate in Japan V.League.
Chery Tiggo coach Aaron Velez bared that the 6-foot-5 middle blocker is still listed for the first conference and could play once she completes the 2022-23 V.League.
“She’s still in our lineup. We talked about that if her schedule fits and if her stint in the V.League finishes early then she can play for us,” Velez said in Filipino.
The V-League regular season will end on March 26 with the Final Four set in April. The Ageo Medics are currently in fifth place with an 11-5 record.
The PVL All-Filipino, on the other hand, will have its elimination round robin from February 4 to March 16 with the semifinals starting on March 18, while the best-of-three Finals series is scheduled on March 25, 29, and if necessary, March 30.
The National University standout could play in the Invitationals, the league’s second conference that is set in June during V.League’s offseason. The Reinforced Conference is tentatively scheduled in October but if Santiago returns to Japan, she won’t be available for Chery Tiggo as the 2023-24 season in Japan will open on the same month.
“If Jaja comes in, she will be a super plus to our team. We will have a formidable foundation and anchor,” Velez said.
Velez is tempering the team’s expectations on Santiago’s possible return as he aims to just utilize the team composition they have right now—something that they weren’t able to do in last year’s Open Conference, where the HD Spikers’ finished in eighth place.
“Coming off from the 2022 [Open Conference], we expected that she will play for us. So I think that’s one thing that we have to [temper] our expectations,” he said.
Velez will continue to rely on his vastly-improved middle blockers Cza Carandang and Roselle Baliton as well as new recruit Seth Rodriguez from Petro Gazz, while Mylene Paat will embrace the leadership role as a captain and go-to scorer.
Santiago didn’t play for the Crossovers last season, following a dominant 2021 PVL bubble campaign in Ilocos Norte where she won the conference and Finals MVP and led her team to its first professional championship.
Her only stint in the Philippines was during the women’s national volleyball team’s fourth-place finish in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Jaja’s sister, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, has already parted ways with Chery Tiggo after six years, seeking a fresh start with Akari this season.