Over the weekend, we saw a rather sad ending to the supposed Cinderella run career of the high-flyer Sisi Rondina, as the University of Sto. Tomas succumbed to Ateneo de Manila University in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 81 women’s volleyball finals.
At the start of the season, Rondina vowed to do everything within her power to put back UST to volleyball relevance as the program experienced a nine-year crown drought. They last won the championship in Season 72.
True to her words, the Cebuana worked hard and led her team to the number two spot in the standings with 10-4 at the end of the second round.
Amid her size and frame, the 5-foot-6 open hitter topped the best scorer race and became second best spiker and ninth best digger.
With a twice-to-beat edge heading to the semifinal rounds, UST did not waste any time as they dethroned four-peat seeking De La Salle University to advance to the finals after a seven-season futility.
Looking determined to win back the crown for the black-gold-white squad, UST drew first blood in the best-of-three finals match against Ateneo as they made quick work of the latter in straight sets.
Ateneo, however, extended the series to Game 3 as they regrouped in Game 2 to win it in four sets.
Rondina and her team had one final shot at the title in Game 3. But fate had other plans as UST could not find the right rhythm as they looked rattled at the onset of the match, to which Ateneo took advantage of.
Add to this are the many errors they gave away despite scoring more points on attacks.
— #GOT7_ECLIPSE (@dnvrDINOSAURio) May 18, 2019
It was Rondina’s last hurrah yet she faltered.
She was named most valuable player (MVP) of the season, but short of the goal of winning back the crown.
Needless to say that UST couldn't have gone this far if it wasn't for this dynamic duo. From a 4-10 finish last season to a finals appearance this year? What a comeback.
— #GOT7_ECLIPSE (@dnvrDINOSAURio) May 18, 2019
Rondina is not alone, though.
Legends from her school experienced the same destiny in their swan year with the team.
The likes of Mary Jean Balse, Venus Bernal, and Aiza Maizo all finished their collegiate careers weeping as they failed to defend their crown.
Let us take a look back at these painful finals losses from one of the winningest volleyball program in the country.
UAAP SEASON 70, Venus Bernal and Mary Jean Balse
Season 70 is rather one of the most dramatic UAAP volleyball years to date as 11 of La Salle’s games were forfeited for fielding in an ineligible (unenrolled) player during the season.
This year saw a new team in the final four where Adamson, FEU, and UST topped the standings, all having an identical 12-2 win-loss slate at the end of the eliminations. Ateneo completed the roster at fourth with 8-6.
Defending champions UST is poised to win back-to-back crowns as they paraded an intact line-up from the previous champion team.
Then dubbed as the ‘Doube B’, the duo of Balse and Bernal with the help of Angeli Tabaquero and setter Denise Tan tried to keep the crown in España, but failed to do so after Far Eastern University eliminated them in the Final Four.
Down two sets to nothing, UST fought back to life and took the subsequent sets only to lose steam in the fifth, where a rejuvenated FEU squad led by Rachel Daquis completing the revenge.
It was a heartbreaking season for both Balse and Bernal as they failed to find cure to the FEU’s spell to duplicate their win in Season 69. FEU is UST’s kryptonite in this season as they failed to win any game since the elimination rounds.
UAAP SEASON 73, Aiza Maizo
Three seasons later, it was Aiza Maizo’s time to dwindle in defeat as she was unsuccessful in their title retention wherein they got dethroned by De La Salle University – the same team they ousted in Season 72.
With the departure of veteran Tabaquero due to graduation and the void left by middle spiker Dindin Santiago who transferred to another UAAP school, the España crew lacked the right mix of players for battle.
Sophomore player Maruja Banaticla and veterans Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, and Judy Caballejo tried to fill in the void, but DLSU was just too hard to handle.
Early in the season, UST likewise fell to different injuries as they played longer matches and lost some, in fact finishing the elimination with 10-4 slate.
The Maizo-led squad did not back down without a good fight as they tussled with the Lady Spikers in a close Game 1 even stretching the match in five sets. Game 2 was rather a blowout as DLSU made quick work of UST in straight-sets for the title.
Maizo won two awards – best receiver and best scorer – but fell short of the crown.
Bernal, Balse, Maizo all bowed down in agony in their final year with UST, but they did not let this setback determine what the future holds.
All three of them eventually played in the professional leagues for different teams and became successful in their own rights.
Bernal won the first ever MVP plum in the Philippine Superliga (PSL) where she steered her team, Cignal, to a finals appearance.
Balse, on the other hand, is a recipient of several individual awards such as best spiker, best attacker, and best blocker as she played for different club teams and the national team.
Finally, Maizo remains to be one of the household name in the Philippine volleyball scene as she currently plays for Petron, the winningest club team in the PSL, as its opposite hitter.
It may be a painful loss for Rondina now, but it is not the end of her career. The professional league now awaits you, Sisi. Take a bow, heal, and growl fiercer the next time.