FROM UAAP champion La Salle to US NCAA Division 1 team University of Louisiana-Lafayette and hopefully, the Philippine team.
Tennis sensation Angel Santiago is taking the road less travelled which she hopes would lead to a dream destination.
A slot in the Philippine team perhaps.
“The Philippines will always be my home even if I’m in the United States. And nothing feels like home so I will always be representing the Philippines wherever I am, whatever I do,” said Santiago during the “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom.
“So yes. If given the chance, I would like to represent the country in international competitions, like the Southeast Asian Games,” added Santiago during the weekly forum sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB).
The 20-year-old campaigner from Quezon City is no stranger to competitive tennis.
Her older sister, Regina, was a former UAAP Rookie of the Year and MVP during her playing days in the UAAP.
“My sister Regina was my inspiration,” said Santiago, a former Junior Fed Cup standout who is coming off a memorable debut with the University of Louisiana -Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the US NCAA Division 1 tennis tournament.
“She (Regina) was undefeated for five years in tennis in the UAAP. Kaya mataas din agad ang expectations nila sa akin,” explained Santiago, who also shifted to BS Psychology at University of Louisiana from BSE Mathematics at La Salle.
“I hope I did not disappoint. Actually, I had more wins than losses, so I think nakatulong naman ako dahil umabot kami ng finals. We fell short but settled for first runner-up,” explained the 5-3 Santiago.
Although the worldwide pandemic forced her to change her program, Santiago returned to training and later competed in several Sun Belt Conference tennis tournaments in the US during the 2020 Fall and 2021 Spring seasons.
“It’s different in Louisiana, but I was able to make the necessary adjustments. Basically, we train hard everyday. Thrn we have to maintain our grades, which they regularly check,” Santiago told editors and reporters.
“Mas maraming silang expectations. They always want you to go the extra mile. Mas madami akong dinaanan na mga challenges, lalo na noong una akong lumayo sa family at friends during my sophomore. But at the same time, sobrang daming kong na-experience at natutunan when I was there in Louisiana for more than a year,” recalled Santiago.
Santiago, claimed her experience playing at La Salle helped her prepare for this important challenge in life.
“Madami akong natutunan while I was at La Salle. Yung mga natutunan ko from my coach on and off the court, pati yung attitude ng team inside and outside of thebcourt, nadala ko lahat pagpunta ko ng US,” explained Santiago, who remembered playing against the famed Patrimonio sisters, Clarice and Christine.
“Pati yun pagiging responsible at being independent. Sa States malayo kasi sa family, kaya I have to take care of myself,” added Santiago, who counts well-known coaches Marty Ilagan and Roland Kraf as her biggest mentors.
Santiago was thankful for the golden opportunity.
“Sobrang laki talaga ng difference. They always remind us everyday that this is a really big opportunity and that we have to work really hard for this every single day, “admitted Santiago, adding there are about 18 tennis courts wbere they can practice.:
“Mostly, hard courts. Kaya pag nag-practice talaga, you have to give your 100 percent. Otherwise, talagang maiiwan ka kahit ng mga teammates mo. It’s a really competitive environment. Nabigla nga talaga ako nung first year ko po doon nun January 2020. Sobrang pagod na pagod ako pero nakaraos naman,””recalled Santiago, who still have one and a half years at Louisiana.
Santiago had one good advise to her fellow student-athletes.
“Don’ t give up and always keep your head high, especially in these difficult times. Everything happens for a reason, and you just have to believe in yourself and in those who unconditionally support you on and off the court.”
Asked about the possibility of turning pro, Santiago claimed studies remains her priority.
“May mga nag-alok na dati sa akin if gusto ko rin mag-pro. At first I’m excited and really thought about it. But between turning pro and studying, I know what I wanted. Gusto ko tapusin muna ang college.”
But after college, Santiago also hopes to get the chance to play at the Grand Slams: Wimbledon, Australian Open, French Open and US Open.
But for now, tennis can wait.