Savage-on-court Jaja Santiago looked adorable in these #throwback photos
Barry Viloria on Feb 10, 2017 11:47 AM
Was she naughty or nice? The towering volleybelle takes a trip down memory lane! (Photos courtesy of Jaja Santiago)
Looking at Jaja Santiago of the NU Lady Bulldogs already incites timidity. And we are not just talking about how the rest of you girls—and us guys—standing below her height of 6’5 ½” would act around her. (Although, there’s a persisting debate that she has gone an inch higher.) Her credentials and current performance in the UAAP are enough to make anyone think she just might be the next Alyssa Valdez. After all, Santiago already looked up to the former Junior Tigress and three-time Girls champ way back in high school—as she attended UST as well before moving to NU later on. Santiago is a former UAAP Rookie of the Year, winning two Best Spiker awards in the next years that came. She is also a title- and award-bagging formidable force in outside leagues like the PSL and Shakey’s V-League. She has represented the country in the AVC Asian U23 Women’s Championship in Pasig City, SEA Games, the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship, and the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship in Pasay City. She is presently leading the Bulldogs with two wins this UAAP season, with the last one against the Lady Eagles, a feat they last pulled off in Season 76.
But that’s just Santiago being savage on the court as Coach Roger Gorayeb almost always requires the opposite hitter to be. Anyone who knows her off it is familiar of how friendly and sometimes silly she can get.
It’s a trait Santiago’s had as the bunso in the fam. Growing up with four older siblings Axel, Diane, and Dindin, she was naturally the most troublesome among the brood. But at the same time, she admits, she played it nice.
“When I was in elementary, I would either be at school and or at our sari-sari store helping my mom and dad out. I should say sobrang kulit ko noon pero as my siblings would say, I am the nicest among them!” the 21-year-old recalls with a laugh.
In the mood for a throwback, Santiago then goes to show us some of her earlier family photos. The photos reveal the bunso along with her family in various special occasions and of them just bonding at home. The now-towering Santiago was once the shortest of the bunch.
“I forgot when was this taken actually!” she gushes, pointing t a photo of her and her siblings decked out in white at a photo studio. “As far as I can remember, my mom was a fan of taking a family picture of us!”
It’s been a long time since anyone literally bowed to her to talk to her. Blame the Santiago genes—with her departed father at 6’6” and mother at 5’10”. Her older sister and former NU teammate Dindin stands at 6’3”. Jaja was around 5’7” early in grade school until she spurted in height in sixth grade at 5’11”. It has always been “nakakalula” ever since, adversely affecting her self-esteem.
But Santiago has since used her height as a brilliant advantage in volleyball, and now it’s all of us who literally bow down to her.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sporty back then. As you can see in my photos, I was so skinny!” she says.
Santiago started playing volleyball in high school, following in the footsteps of Dindin (now-Manabat). She started out in UST but eventually moved to NU, again following her sister. Things finally looked up for the formerly insecure young lady—she has since obtained a varsity scholarship, and volleyball, a sport she loved, was witnessing a tremendous rise locally. And we all know the position she now holds in the local volleyball scene.
Santiago recalls some of her best years growing up in the sport, one she has had mostly with her talented middle blocker of a sister. “Sobrang happy ko when I am playing with Ate Dindin. In the first place, she's the one who encouraged and inspired me in every game I’ve ever played.”
Santiago mentions more about how her Ate has moved on in life, too, marrying and then becoming a mother of a baby girl.
“She's so mataray! No kidding, she really is!” Santiago says of her sister. “But now she's nice na and she's one best Ate!”
“She's kind of busy now. Before, I can easily ask her to go with me to the mall or in any event, but now she needs to take good care of Chloe.”
Aside from the UAAP, Santiago keeps busy aiming anew for a spot on the national team along with Manabat. The Francis Vicente-coached team will play at the AVC Asian Women’s Seniors Championship in August before flying to Kuala Lumpur for the SEA Games.
Given her being the new face of Philippine women’s volleyball plus her collegiate status and social media following (she remains to be one of the most heavily followed student-athletes with 112k on Instagram and around 5k on Twitter!), Santiago is obviously no longer that pesky kid from those throwback photos off shaking the Santiago household.
You’re now a superstar, we tease her.
“Honestly, I get shy when I hear those things. I am not a superstar,” she answers. “I am just a simple player who wants to play for my school, my club and my country with all my heart.”