PREMIER Volleyball League debutants Chery Tiggo was tipped to win the Open Conference, thanks to the towering sisters Jaja Santiago and Dindin Santiago-Manabat.
Using their tremendous height advantage to the hilt, the Santiagos lifted the Crossovers to the championship in the league’s most challenging and exhausting tournament ever.
Producing a throwback performance that made her as the country’s best spikers, Santiago-Manabat was happy to reach top together with her younger sister after five long years.
Santiago-Manabat tallied a 32 points and 15 digs, while Santiago added 26 points in Chery Tiggo’s 23-25, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-8, conquest of Creamline on Friday at the PCV Socio-Civic & Cultural Center in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
“Sobrang saya kasi ito nga ‘yung hinihintay namin. Kasi ‘yung last time 2016 pa. Ito na, binigay na ni Lord,” said Santiago-Manabat, overcoming tears of joy, in the post-match interview.
The Santiagos last tasted a championship together in the Grand Prix of the now-dormant Philippine SuperLiga Grand Prix in 2016 for Foton.
The first Filipina to win a championship overseas, Santiago is also elated to give the Crossovers their first PVL title.
“Ang tagal na naming hindi nakatuntong sa championship and every time naglalaban kami sa championship, lagi kami magkalaban. Ngayon, magkasama na kami sa isang team at nakuha namin ‘yung pangarap namin para sa team namin,” Santiago said.
“Alam mo ‘yung ang dami naming pinagdaanan as a team, coaches, players. Ang dami naming naging problema pero ‘di kami sumuko sa isa’t isa — na umabot kami hanggang dito sa finals na hindi namin inaakala,” the Ageo Medics standout from the Japan V.League added.
It was a smashing conference for Santiago, who was named as the MVP of the conference and Finals to go with a 1st Best Middle Blocker trophy.
“Si God lang talaga ang bubuo sa team namin. I’m so thankful talaga na dinala Niya kami rito at binigyan Niya kami ng puso para sa finals,” said Jaja Santiago.
Creamline, which ruled the 2019 edition, nipped Chery Tiggo in the decider, 25-15, 25-21, 18-25, 19-25, 15-7, in a Finals opener.
But the Crossovers regrouped and scored a 25-18, 17-25, 25-16, 25-21, dragging the Cool Smashers to a deciding Game 3.
Chery Tiggo was down two sets and trailing 7-13 early in the fourth before storming back and dethroning Creamline in the process.
“I was kind of at a loss in the first and second sets but she (Dindin) stepped up for the team,” said Santiago. “Pagdating sa dulo, kinakapitan ko na siya at yung teammates ko. I told them: ‘Guys, sa atin na ‘to.’”
Inspired by her never-say-die attitude, the Santiagos led the fightback in the fourth that broke the backs of the Cool Smashers.
“Sabi nya (Dindin), ‘Ja, ituloy mo lang.’ “It’s really a proud moment playing alongside your sister who would push you to play hard and won’t ever let you down,” said Santiago.
Meanwhile, Santiago-Manabat offered the championship to her husband Chico and daughter Chloe who consistently watched her games right in the comforts of their home.
“Sobrang saya kasi laging positibo lang ‘yung binibigay nila sa akin. Lahat ng mga pinagdadaanan kong hirap nawawala ‘yun basta nakikita ko sila,” said Santiago-Manabat.