That’s the number of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries Ateneo opposite hitter Kat Tolentino suffered in her young volleyball career.
One injury like this can alter an athlete’s entire career — or worse, end it. But the 25-year-old Tolentino made sure that it was the former, and for the better.
During an episode of Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ So She Did, presented by SMART last June 20, Tolentino took a trip down memory lane, recalling how she ended up playing for Ateneo — the school that helped her restart her volleyball career.
During the summer, Tolentino, who was just Grade 11 at the time, visited her brother Vince, who was then playing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Upon a closer look on the younger Tolentino, the management of Ateneo asked her to train with them for a while.
Tolentino admitted that she wasn’t fond of it at first, as the idea of settling in the Philippines was nowhere near her mind.
“For me, I was Grade 11 at that time and I didn’t really think like, ‘Oh I want to go to the Philippines’. In fact, I was kind of confused why my brother moved there. And so basically they invited me to play just for fun, and at first, ‘Oh why would I do that? I’m gonna stay in Canada’. And my mom just kept telling me it’s just for fun. Just to see how it is,” recalled Tolentino.
“I actually don’t even have the shoes at that time or any like, knee pads but… So I have to borrow from my cousin, and then I borrowed knee pads from the men’s team. And I think, it’s just crazy because at that time, I was getting mad at my mom because I was like, ‘Why are you making me move to the Philippines?’ I was only like Grade 11. I wanna go there in a university to get a course I’m comfortable in Canada. But I ended up having to play with them for just an hour or so.”
She eventually went to University of Canada to pursue her academics and volleyball career. There, Tolentino faced one of the toughest challenges she had to endure. She suffered her first ACL tear during his first year, followed by another in 2014.
Besides the physical effect that the tear brought, the injury took a mental and emotional toll on Tolentino, who was just a teenager at the time. And she knew that in order for her to restart her career, she first needed a change of scenery.
That’s where Ateneo came in.
“So they knew who I was at the time, and they have my contact because of my brother. And after like, two years or so, I went to University in Canada for one year. And I don’t know if you know that I had three ACL injuries,” narrated Tolentino.
“So the second ACL injury, I was in a University in Canada, but I just decided after I got the second one in Canada, I needed change and I wanted to experience something different.”
Aware of the six-foot-three opposite spiker’s massive potential, Ateneo placed its chips on the injury-stricken Tolentino and offered to help with her rehabilitation. The school was able to lure Tolentino out of Canada and set her up for a debut in the UAAP Season 78.
The expectations were so high for the Fil-Canadian hitter, as she was going to forge a formidable duo with league superstar Alyssa Valdez.
However, another unfortunate injury pinched Tolentino, making her miss the entire season. Instead, she sat helplessly in the stands and watched her Lady Eagles bow down to La Salle.
But it was up and up from there, as Tolentino’s name will remain forever etched in Ateneo’s history as one of the core figures that brought the Lady Eagles back to prominence.
Tolentino spearheaded Ateneo’s title run in Season 81, leading the school to its first championship in three years since the iconic duo of Valdez and Jia Morado did it way back in the UAAP Season 77.
And just when everyone thought that Tolentino had ended her ties with Ateneo after their triumph, the six-foot-three hitter had a change of heart. She then exhausted her final year of eligibility to suit up for her beloved Ateneo for one last time.
As fate would have it, though, Tolentino’s swansong ended prematurely, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forcing the UAAP to suspend Season 82. Tolentino may not have the ending she wanted for her collegiate career, but all in all, the 25-year-old spiker has enjoyed five wonderful years playing for the blue and white.
Most importantly, Tolentino proved that nothing, not even three career-ending injuries, can keep her from playing the sport that she loves the most.