INDONESIA may have reasserted its mastery of the Philippines to win the 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s volleyball gold medal.
But Pascal Laurens, one of the Indonesian assistant coaches, noticed two Filipino hitters who stood tall to help the country in winning the silver for the first time since 1977.
“No. 1 and 15. They are very good,” said Laurens, referring to Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo. Now the cornerstones of the once-moribund men’s volleyball program, Bagunas and Espejo, erstwhile collegiate rivals who gained experience in playing Japan club league, were flattered on the remarks by Laurens.
“Siguro kami ang napapansin kasi kami ang pumupuntos. Pero team sport ang volleyball. Sa proper guidance ng mga teammates ko at coaches, siguro napapansin kami,” said Espejo.
“Hindi namin magagawa ito kung hindi sa mga teammates namin na sumusuporta sa aming dalawa,” said Bagunas.
Behind the dynamic duo, the Philippines ended to a 28-year podium drought since capturing bronze in the 1991 Manila SEA Games.
More importantly, the Filipinos made it a campaign to remember for the crowd of 6,500 fans - a rarity for men’s volleyball who is struggling to get equal attention from their more popular women’s counterparts - that packed the Philsports Arena Tuesday night.
“Siyempre sobrang saya para sa akin kasi ayun nga, naka-silver ‘yung men’s volleyball team. Siguro habang buhay na ‘to sa akin,” said Bagunas, who had 11 kills and five digs in the 21-25, 25-27, 17-25 loss to Indonesia.
“Talagang nakatatak na ‘to sa puso’t isipan ko,” the former National University standout added. Bagunas returned to Japan yesterday to resume his club duties in Japan for Oita Miyoshi, inspired by winning the silver that glittered like gold,
“Siyempre aalis ako na proud sa sarili kasi ayun, nakapagbigay kami ng medal dito sa Pilipinas dahil sa volleyball,” said Bagunas.
After helping steer the Philippines to, Espejo is set to embark on a new journey abroad, this time in Thailand for club team Visakha Volleyball Club. “Siguro aalis ako dito sa Philippines na may medal, tapos siyempre proud ako sa sarili ako. Proud ako sa bawat isa na nakapag-podium finish,” said Espejo, who led the Filipinos with 15 points and 16 receptions.
Espejo and the rest of the Philippine team are proud of what the achieved throughout the seven-team tournament, highlighted by dethroning regional power Thailand in the semifinals.
Moreover, the former Ateneo star is more than happy to help inspire young players to pursue the sport that has always been deemed as feminine. “Pero ‘yun nga, ‘di naman para sa amin ‘tong nangyari. May part, pero para sa mga kabataan din ‘to na gusto rin i-try ‘yung volleyball na may future din sa men’s volleyball,” said Espejo, who played for Oita Miyoshi last year and won back-to-back titles with Cignal HD in the 2019 Spikers’ Turf tournament.