Sisi Rondina was not supposed to play indoor volleyball for the University of Santo Tomas.
The school recruited the 5-foot-6 spiker out of Cebu as a beach volleyball player.
Still, Rondina doubted she’d suit up as a Golden Tigress.
“Akala ko kasi dati talaga hindi kumukuha si coach Odjie (Mamon) ng maliit na player,” Rondina recalled of then-Tigresses head coach Odjie Mamon.
“Nagulat na lang ako na sinasama na rin ako sa team.”
She had to prove herself, spending most of that season on the bench. But having to prove herself had become routine for Rondina.
All her life, Rondina has battled through poverty and family problems. Having to show that her pint-sized frame was not a hindrance to her playing volleyball almost seemed easy compared to her other circumstances.
Rondina earned a spot on the starting rotation under head coach Kungfu Reyes the following year. In Season 79, she and Ej Laure formed a high-scoring core that steered the Tigresses to a Final Four appearance. Left as the lone scoring threat in Season 80, Rondina struggled to lift UST out of the bottom of the UAAP standings.
Season 81 brought a change to UST.
They not only brought in several key recruits – the Tigresses also benefited from a Sisi Rondina determined to change their culture.
While the tournament brought unforeseen challenges, Rondina battled through everything. She maintained a high level of play while keeping her teammates in line.
When the Tigresses reached the Finals, and the throngs of UST fans and alumni filled the Mall of Asia Arena and Araneta Coliseum, it felt like Rondina wasn’t just captain to the Tigresses – she was captain to the entire UST community.
Ultimately, Rondina’s heroics and MVP performance were not enough to hurdle a taller, more experienced Ateneo team and an injury to Rookie of the Year Eya Laure.
As Rondina saw Game Three’s final point converted, a sense of sadness washed over her almost immediately.
“Kanina kasi that time na ball was checked out… Alam ko pagkahit pa lang ng bola, alam ko tapos na ako bilang Golden Tigress,” she recalled. “Nasaktan ako. Ayoko eh.
“Gusto ko maging Golden Tigress na champion.”
She felt like she was not only playing against Ateneo, but that they were also going against destiny.
“Ano ‘yung naging difference ng laro kanina? Kinokontra namin yung destiny na para sa Ateneo talaga. Ako, sa sarili ko, destiny talaga this year ng Ateneo, kinontra lang namin,” she shared.
“It was a good run naman for us. Sino bang maniniwala kasi mga bata kasama ko? Partida mga bata ‘to, pero ‘pag naglaro iba. Parang hindi mga bata. Napakasaya ko kasi sila yung nagpatikim sa akin kung paano mag-Finals.”
Rondina now has to deal with the reality that she can not go back to playing in the UAAP. She only wishes the community does not forget her.
“Kahit anong sasabihin ko hindi na talaga ako makakabalik. Sabi nga sa kanta, may dulo pala ang langit. For me, I’m blessed to have them kahit second place kami kasi sobrang unforgettable moment lahat. Gusto ko talaga sana pagka-graduate ko, may maiiwan ako sa UST na hindi makakalimutan ng lahat. Sana hindi nila ako makalimutan,” she reflected.
“Hindi man namin naibalik yung korona, nadala naman namin sa Finals.”
Rondina is thankful she chose to play for UST since the community and the university have given her the opportunities she thought she would never have, like getting a college education, and earning enough of living to put her siblings through school and put a roof over their head.
She pleads for one thing from the remaining Tigresses.
“Sabi ko nga sa kanila: sa susunod na maglalaro kayo, ‘wag na wag niyong ipapahiya ang UST kasi mahal ko yan. Make sure you fight for UST lahat-lahat. Kailangan niyo mahalin ang UST the way I love UST. Ibang feeling maging Thomasian.”