Sisi Rondina is only 5-foot-5 and barely 120 pounds, so it was fairly easy for UST assistant coach Yani Fernandez to parade her around the SM Mall of Asia Arena court on his shoulders.
After the celebration of their return to the Finals for the first time since 2011, the UST faithful turned their attention to Rondina.
It was an apt way to end a whole day of adoration for their captain. For much of their Finals-clinching match against three-time defending champions DLSU Lady Spikers, the UST crowd was teetering from every conceivable high and low for a volleyball fan.
Each time Rondina rose for a hit, the UST fans called her name in chorus. “Sisi!” all the UST fans would scream – egging her to get a point, pleading for her to get them back to the Finals.
However, unlike most games in UAAP Season 81, Rondina was far from invincible.
So when the UST crowd showered her with cheers as she sat on Fernandez’s shoulders like a toddler, the 22-year-old felt awkward.
“‘Di ba, nakakainis? Nahihiya ako.”
After all, Rondina never thought any of this would ever happen to her.
When she first came into UST in Season 77, she was immediately written off because of her height. And for a while, Rondina bought into that narrative, until she realized giving up was futile.
“Pangarap lang talaga ako noon. Who would’ve thought na aabot ako dito, ‘di ba?” said the Cebuana.
“Kaunti lang naman ang sumu-support sa akin dati. Hindi naman nag-matter ‘yun. Ang gusto ko lang talaga is ma-maximize ‘yung career ko. Ewan, nangarap lang talaga ako.”
Now, Rondina is one of the most universally-liked players in the UAAP – a representation of the Filipino’s underdog status, especially in sports where height is king.
“Kasi sobrang sarap sa feeling na those people na nagchi-cheer sa’yo, nandiyan sila lagi,” said Rondina, who still shrugs off the MVP chants she regularly receives.
“Alam mo ‘yung feeling na ang laki ng tiwala na binigay nila sa akin. Nafi-feel ko talaga yung love, and I love them all, sobra.“
Asked why she thinks the UST crowd has come to love her so much, Rondina had a ready and easy reply.
“Because I love UST. And wala nang makakapagpabago doon. Lahat ng commitments ko, lahat ng nangyari sa buhay ko, lahat ng pagiging-successful ko sa mga nakukuha ko, dahil sa UST,” the four-time UAAP gold medalist professed.
“I’m so thankful na ganoon yung pagtingin nila sa akin, sa pagtanggap nila sa akin. Feel ko din na nilalaban ko din talaga sila.”
Rondina knows the only way to truly pay UST back is with a championship.
“Okay ‘yung MVP, pero masasabi ko lang naman talaga na sobrang saya ko na kapag nakuha na namin ‘yung big trophy. Doon ko lang masasabi na masusuklian ko ‘yung love nila sa akin.”
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