One does not have to be a Thomasian to know who Cherry Ann “Sisi” Rondina is.
When Rondina leaps and spikes, the sound of a cheering crowd automatically follows—as she always manages to force the ball through, breaking the foes’ net and floor defense. It is of no surprise that she currently is the leading scorer of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Senior Women’s Volleyball Tournament Season 80, consistently displaying her scoring prowess that always deserves a spot in the highlight reel of every game.
Born in Compostela, Cebu, Rondina’s nickname “Sisi” is a local term that refers to her favorite seafood: small oysters. The same adjective can be used to describe Rondina’s stature: a small and petite volleyball athlete. In comparison to the giants of the league, Rondina is not as tall, but what she lacks in height, she makes up for skills. With her impressive leaping ability, standing at 5-foot-6 is never an issue.
Also, Rondina effortlessly stands out in the court with her perky attitude and usually animated facial expression. However, Rondina’s lighthearted persona is as deceiving as it can get, for she easily wreaks havoc as soon as she smashes powerful attacks off opposing blockers. No wonder she always makes it to the trending topics online, with some even demanding that the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award be given to her already.
But perhaps it is unknown to many that Rondina’s first sport is not volleyball, but athletics. Her family lives near the beach, and Rondina used to run around the shore when she was a kid, along with her three other sisters. She eventually got into track and field. However, by the third grade her mother would finally introduce volleyball to her.
Even then, Rondina’s natural talent to play well in the sport was undeniable. Later on, she joined her school’s tryouts. Years after, she was playing well enough to represent Central Visayas in Palarong Pambansa, where the University of Santo Tomas (UST) discovered her.
It was during one of the Golden Tigresses’ training sessions in the Quadricentennial Pavilion when I first saw her play outside the UAAP arenas. Midway through the practice, we sat down for an interview. Still sweating and gasping for air, she managed to deliver with conviction her thoughts about representing her school, which made me a fan ever since:
“Kung ako man siguro, makikita niyo, hindi ko pinapahiya [ang UST]. Kahit pumangit man ako, basta UST, ipaglalaban ko,” Rondina said.
And she remained true to her promise. Despite losing in their first match against the De La Salle University (DLSU) last February 3, which ended after five thrilling sets, the Lady Spikers’ coach Ramil de Jesus heaped praise on Rondina, even likened her to the calibre of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Lady Eagle superstar, Alyssa Valdez.
“Before, mayro’ng Alyssa Valdez. Ngayon, siya naman[…] Ibang klase,” Coach de Jesus said.
Without a doubt, Rondina is the main gunner and most lethal weapon of the España based squad, but UST head coach Kungfu Reyes only has one word to describe her, “Isang word lang naman si Sisi eh: consistent[…] Tanggalin mo si Sisi, saan kami kukuha ng points?”
With veterans EJ Laure and Ria Meneses sitting out the year, and with key players Milena Alessandrini and Rica Rivera also coming down with injuries at the start of their Season 80 campaign, Rondina carries the bulk load of responsibility. But never did she ever flinch under the weight, as she consistently leads the team in their first four games, top scoring with 28, 20, 22, and another 22 against DLSU, University of the East, ADMU, and Adamson University, respectively.
In their recent straight-set victory against Lady Falcons last February 18, Adamson head coach Airess Padda described Rondina best with her “beast mode” and “killer instinct” on.
“She’s a fireball. I love her energy. She’s so athletic,” Padda said of Rondina in an interview prior to their duel.
Rondina is already a multi-awarded athlete, having won three UAAP Beach Volleyball championships in seasons 77, 79, and 80, in which she also clinched the MVP awards. In the more famous indoor volleyball, though, the awards have been a bit more elusive. It was only in last season when UST was able to make it back to the Final Four after four years of missing it. In Season 79, Rondina placed fourth in the overall rank of scorers, tallying 191 points off of spikes, blocks, and serves.
This ongoing season, she has been dominating the stats sheet and is averaging 23 points per match. On February 25, UST Golden Tigresses aim to improve their 2-2 win-loss slate at the expense of the leading 4-wins-0-loss National University Lady Bulldogs, and Rondina is claws out again to keep her momentum.
“Pressure is always there naman talaga. But we work on our weaknesses, and trabaho rin sa kung saan kami malakas. We’re always ready kasi we’re committed,” Rondina said.
Coach Reyes is as optimistic, “Kung mayro’n silang Bulldog connection, mayro’n kaming Tiger connection[…] Kung mayro’n silang Jaja (Santiago), mayro’n kaming Sisi. Sa tangkad, lamang sila sa amin, pero sa puso, hindi naman kami papahuli. Ilalaban namin hanggang sa dulo.”
In recognition of many commendations about her, Rondina attributes her good performance to the team, “Hindi ko kino-consider ‘yong sarili ko na key player kasi hindi ka tatawaging gano’n kung wala sila. We work as a team[…] Akin nga eh, ayaw kong gano’n ang tingin sa akin. Ano lang, normal na Sisi lang.”
What makes Rondina an easy favorite is her sincere humility—no matter how high she leaps, her feet stay on the ground.