Rusty men’s squad aware of rough road that lies ahead
Despite giving it all they had, there wasn’t any member of the Philippine squad who was surprised by the drubbing they received from an Iranian club on Friday at the start of the Asian Clubs Championships in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.
Skipper John Vic de Guzman said it was clear to the team that they would be taking on the best in the continent.
“We came here for exposure and experience. Of course we want to win, but our opponents are no pushovers,” said De Guzman, after Iran’s Sirjan Foulad hammered out a 25-15, 25-22, 25-5 rout of the Philippines, which is carrying the Rebisco colors in the tournament. “We need to compete against them to get better.”
The men’s team actually had a peek of what was to come through the performance of the women’s pool that competed before it. Split into two ball clubs, the women’s pool only managed one win in the distaff side of the event, and only because the squads eventually had to play against each other.
But getting on the court against their superior rivals showed the men just exactly what they’re going to be faced with.
“It’s a tremendous experience for us, as well, that we got to face a high-level Asian team like Iran,” said men’s coach Dante Alinsunurin.
The game marked the team’s first outing since salvaging a surprise silver medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, where it shocked perennial champ Thailand in the semifinals.
But this squad now misses key front-liners Marck Espejo and Bryan Bagunas, who are playing as imports in the Japanese V-League.
“We’re happy to be playing again, but we can’t say if we can go 100 percent because the pandemic stopped sports back home,” added De Guzman.
The men’s and women’s squads, both in the process of rebuilding, had been quartered in Lipa, Batangas, before coming to Thailand in a bid to get in shape after health lockdowns barred them from training.
Playing against the defending Iranian Super League champion showed the men just how much lost ground they have to make up for.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us to finally get back to competing internationally after almost two years,” said Alinsunurin.
“We really struggled, but I am still glad of how we fought and tried to bring the best out of each other,” said Joshua Umandal, the University of Santo Tomas product who led the squad with seven points. “The Iranian team’s on a different level, but I am confident with my team and all the preparations we did to get here.”
“We didn’t take the win, but we are still grateful for the chance to compete against them,” he added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM BONG LOZADA
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