Brave men spikers soldier on

Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The script was altered at the last minute. The lead stars and the supporting cast are now out of the picture.

But expect the Pinoy fans to troop to the PhilSports Arena just the same.

It’s the national volleyball team in the finals of the 30th SEA Games, vying for the precious gold.

But it’s not the much-hyped women’s team but a brave bunch of men who defied the odds to earn a stab at glory, at history.

“What happened (Sunday) is history. (Today) is another thing,” said Marck Espejo amidst the din of celebration after the Nationals did the unthinkable – unseating four-time defending champion Thailand in an epic five-setter in the semifinals.

Down by a set, 1-2, and down at 21-24 in the fourth, men of lesser stuff would’ve gone down and surrendered the fight and the cause.

But not this bunch of warriors, who know nothing about quitting and who are just as determined as any other team in the field, armed with a big fighting heart and resolve firmed up in a league that committed itself to give the sport, particularly in the men’s side, the spike its sorely needs.

It was more than four decades ago, 42 years to be exact, when the Philippines got a crack at a men’s volley crown in a losing stand against Thailand in the 1997 Games in Kuala Lumpur. But Espejo and company aren’t just relishing this rare moment but have vowed to go all the way no matter what.

“We’re sure of silver but we’re not stopping here. But we have to work hard to achieve our goal,” said coach Dante Alinsunurin, blessed with such a talented crew that includes Bryan Bagunas,Kim Malabunga, Alnakran Abdilla, Rex Intal, Joshua Retamar, John Vic de Guzman, Francis Saura, Ish Polvorosa, Ricky Marcos, Jack Kalingking, Joshua Umandal, Mark Alfafara and Jessie Lopez.

Bagunas, who blasted in the winning kill that capped the Phl’s stirring, come-from-behind 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15 victory over Thailand, said it was pure hard work and cohesion.

“It’s a product of hard work in training. Anybody in the team can deliver,” said Bagunas, who actually missed some camp due to his commitment with a Japanese team.

The gold medal match against Indonesia, which beat them in three in the prelims, is set at 6 p.m.

Playing in a full-house audience used to be just a dream for this group but with the expected throng to come over, the Pinoy spikers might have just drawn one vital factor in their gold-medal quest against the Indonesians – the proverbial “sixth man.”

“When we played our first game, there were just about 12 people who watched. When we won in the second, they became 13. I told my boys that we just have to keep on winning and who knows in our third game, it could reach 20,” said Alinsunurin in jest.

“But we’re really thankful to those who have been supporting us, those who came over here, those at home and those who watch on their mobiles,” he added.

So move over Valdez, Maraño, Morado and the likes…Bagunas, Espejo and company are about to take center stage. With a clear shot at the gold, these fired-up Pinoy spikers are in no mood to change the script the second time around.

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