Jaja Santiago is by far one of the best volleybelles the country has produced in recent years.
As proof to her greatness, Jaja was invited to play for several club teams abroad including a stint with Bangkok Glass in Thailand in 2018.
Five years before this offer from Thailand, prior to Jaja’s collegiate career, she, a then lanky and raw talent from the high school ranks, received a similar offer: to try out for a spot with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) women’s volleyball team. No less than UCLA assistant coach Joy McKenzie-Fuerbringer, a Filipino-American, made the offer.
Then naïve of what could happen to her had she accepted the UCLA offer, Jaja declined; the same thing she did with the Bangkok Glass offer.
Reason? She wanted to play for the National University in the college ranks.
— ABS-CBN Sports (@abscbnsports) April 22, 2018
With all these opportunities that came pass her, Jaja regrets nothing about her choices.
After their semi-finals straight-set loss against De La Salle University Lady Spikers today, Jaja said in a post-game interview that her previous decisions in fact did work wonders for her.
“Wala kasi sabi nga nila eh kung ano ‘yung pinagdesisyunan mo, no regrets kasi ginusto mo ‘yun. At hindi naman nakasama sa akin,” Jaja said.
“Actually nakapabuti pa nga kasi napiprepare ako doon sa mga susunod na opportunities sa akin,” she added.
More than this, what is important to her is that her teammates showed her that her decision to stay was right.
“And pinakita naman sa akin ng teammates ko na deserve talaga ‘yung pag-stay ko dito sa NU,” she said.
In her five years stay with the Lady Bulldogs, Jaja did not win any championship. Her best finish was a bronze medal in Season 77, the same time her older sister Dindin last donned the blue and white jersey.
But despite this painful ordeal, Jaja remained positive, saying her five years stay had been fruitful sans the championship title.
“Siyempre masakit na hindi ko nabigay ‘yung championship title dito sa NU ngayon na aalis na ako pero somehow happy kasi all throughout ng roller coaster ng team na ito ay nandito ako nakasuporta sa kanila,” Jaja said. “And marami akong natutunan sa sila.”
“Siyempre ako naging emotional ako at naiyak talaga ako kasi last playing year ko na with these ladies, teammates ko,” she said.
Jaja added: “Sobrang dami rin kasi ng pinagdaanan namin sa NU. High school pa lang kasama ko na ‘yung iba diyan eh. Sobrang hirap na iwanan sila at sobrang sakit din sa akin na hindi ko nabigay ‘yung gusto naming mangyari this season.”
Jaja finished the season second in scoring (280 points) with a 41.67% efficiency in spiking, enough to make her number one in that department. She is also number two in blocking with 0.68 kill blocks per set.
Up next for Jaja, according to her, is a stint with her club team Foton.
And who knows, she might just accept a playing stint with a Korean club team: “Opo siguro. Kasi ‘yun ‘yung nakaplano naman after ng UAAP at PSL sa akin eh.”
Jaja might have declined the offer to play in the American collegiate league, yet just as positive as her demeanor is, she has nothing but gratitude for the team she chose — National University.
While she fell short this year, Jaja knows NU will come back stronger next season. In her words: “Alam ko na next year makukuha nila ‘yun.”