MANILA, Philippines – Kat Tolentino had long made a decision regarding her final year of eligibility in the UAAP. Even before Season 81 started, she already had an inkling of what she was going to do.
"Starting the season, I told myself that if we won the championship this year, that would be enough for me, and I would be satisfied and be able to move on to the next chapter of my life," the Fil-Canadian spiker told ABS-CBN News.
That was exactly what happened for Tolentino and the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles in UAAP Season 81. With Tolentino serving as their No. 1 option on offense, and behind their tremendous net defense, Ateneo bucked the odds to win the women's championship.
They defeated University of Santo Tomas in a thrilling finals series, recovering from a 0-1 deficit in the best-of-3 series to claim the title. Tolentino scored 15 points in Game 3, a 25-17, 25-22, 25-22 triumph for the Lady Eagles.
Afterward, she was repeatedly asked about her plans for Season 82. Tolentino still has one year left to play, and if she returns, it will be a major boost to Ateneo's title defense. At the time, the towering opposite hitter played it cool.
"I'm not sure yet," she said after their championship celebration at the Mall of Asia Arena. "I don't wanna say anything now. I'll just celebrate now. Let's just focus on the championship first, the celebration."
A few hours later, however, Tolentino bid goodbye to Ateneo volleyball, "signing off" in front of their community at the Church of the Gesu.
"In the arena, I actually already decided," she revealed.
"But… I don't want to kind of announce it there. Everyone was so happy, and it's like, good vibes, and we just won the championship," she added. "For me, I was like, it's not the time to say it."
It was not that she had changed her mind, however. At that point, Tolentino had already made her decision. Winning the championship was the final factor for her.
"I think this season has already exceeded my expectations. I was healthy the whole season, I love being on the team, I love Coach O (Oliver Almadro) and everything," she said. "Just the way it all planned out, it's already perfect for me."
Season 81 was "the perfect ending" for Tolentino, a player who endured three ACL injuries before finally getting to play for the Lady Eagles in Season 79. This year, she was healthy all throughout the season, emerged as the league's fourth-best scorer and third-best blocker, and won Best Opposite Hitter honors.
As someone who contemplated quitting the sport because of injuries, Season 81 was a dream come true for Tolentino.
"I don't think anything for me can top a championship, bringing home the crown," she said.
"I don't wanna prolong it and have to worry about next season or think about that," Tolentino also said.
She is now ready to take the next step in her career, and that is to play professionally.
"I know how long my career for volleyball will go until, so I have to make the most out of it," Tolentino explained.
"I want to play pro now," she added. "And since I feel like I'm improving a lot, and I'm ready for that league, that's also why I chose not to play in the season next year. I want to be able to play pro and focus on that."
Tolentino has received "quite a few" offers from teams in the Philippine Superliga and the Premier Volleyball League, but has yet to make a choice.
She is not completely closing the doors on a UAAP return, however. "It's all in God's plan," she said, echoing a sentiment from their head coach.
"We can't really decide for ourselves because He could bring other opportunities for me, so I don't really know. But as of right now, I've decided that," Tolentino said.
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