Kat Tolentino had to overcome three ACL injuries before she won a championship with the Ateneo Lady Eagles.
Four years ago, Tolentino was not even sure if she would get the opportunity to play again. She was a highly touted recruit for the Lady Eagles, but months before her supposed UAAP debut in Season 78, she tore her ACL for the third time.
"I've had three torn ACL's within three years. That's not something that is normal for an athlete or usually you don't really come back from that," said Tolentino. "It went to a point when I couldn't even watch the Ateneo games because I was scared to watch athletes jump and land or fall."
It's easy for anybody else to just give up the sport after repeatedly suffering career-threatening injuries. But Tolentino, with the help of her physical therapists, persevered not only to heal her knee but also to regain her deadly form. It took a lot of patience, hard work, and sacrifice, but she eventually found her groove and confidence back.
Hailed as this year's Best Opposite Hitter, Tolentino played a key role in the Lady Eagles' title run. Aside from being the team's main offensive weapon, she also formed a triple threat at the net with fellow veterans Maddie Madayag and Bea De Leon.
The Fil-Canadian spiker impressively delivered throughout the season. When the going got tough for Ateneo, Tolentino was there to provide the firepower necessary to win and stay on top. In the finals, she averaged 12.67 points, capping it off with a 15-point performance in the winner-take-all Game 3.
"It's such a blessing to have won not just the championship but the whole season," Tolentino said. "It wasn't an easy job. It took a lot of ups and downs, and I think the team only became stronger with that."
In hindsight, Tolentino realized that her injuries made her journey to the championship even more memorable and fulfilling.
"Without those three ACL injuries, I wouldn't have had as much passion, and I think I wouldn't be here today," she said. "This championship, this season, and these girls have made those three ACL injuries absolutely worth it and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Unsure of returning next season, Tolentino delivered a speech alongside graduating players De Leon, Madayag, and Kim Gequillana in Ateneo's thanksgiving mass Saturday night. As expected, chants of "one more year" were heard inside the Church of the Gesu when her name was called.
After everything that she went through, it's understandable why Tolentino is not rushing her next steps. Coach Oliver Almadro and the rest of the Ateneo community are hoping that she will decide to play one last time for the blue and white. But for now, she just wants to relish the sweet feeling of winning the crown.
"I'm not sure yet. As what Coach O said, we just have to pray for it," said Tolentino. "I don't want to say anything now. Let's just focus on the championship [celebration] first."