MANILA, Philippines—She may have failed to lead University of Santo Tomas to the crown, but Sisi Rondina was still universally praised following the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball finals.
Despite Rondina's best efforts, the Golden Tigresses bowed to Ateneo de Manila University in the emotional 3-game series, with the Lady Eagles sweeping them in Game 3, 25-17, 25-22, 25-22.
Rondina recovered from a slow start in the game to finish with 18 points, but the Golden Tigresses were unable to overcome Ateneo's impressive net defense. It did not help that rookie of the year Eya Laure was clearly hampered by an ankle injury, and committed several attack errors even as she bravely played on.
At the end of her UAAP career, Rondina was showered with praise from both sides, with the Ateneo gallery at Mall of Asia Arena also showing its appreciation for the gutsy spiker. Ateneo middle-blocker Bea de Leon gave her fellow captain a hug under the net, and later said that she told Rondina how much she respected her.
"(I told her) that she was good, that she made everything so much harder," said de Leon, who like Rondina also played her last game on Saturday.
"Kung alam lang niya kung gaano ako sinigawan ni coach (Oliver Almadro) dahil hindi ko makuha yung spikes niya na sobrang deep cross," she added. "I just wanted to let her know that this shouldn't define her career and what she has accomplished."
De Leon and Rondina entered the league at the same time, in Season 77, but had wildly divergent paths. Whereas De Leon was an immediate starter for an Ateneo team that won the title that year, Rondina had to work her way from the bench and into the starting six.
Moreover, De Leon played in the UAAP finals in four of her five seasons, while this was Rondina's one and only appearance in a championship series.
But their mutual respect was clear, with de Leon marveling at how much Rondina had accomplished in her years in UST.
"That talent, that heart, and she led her team here," said de Leon of Rondina. "Of course she had Eya, but imagine, tinarbaho niya 'yan for 5 years."
"Grabe siya," she said. "I just wanted to let her know how much I respected her as an opponent."
In the end, however, it was de Leon — and fellow Ateneo seniors Maddie Madayag and Kim Gequillana — who got the golden send-off.
"It's the best," said de Leon of her exit. "I'd choose this over anything."
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