New national team recruits embrace pressure, big expectations ahead of SEA Games
MANILA, Philippines—Steven Rotter, Cyrus De Guzman, and Mike Vicente, the three new members of the Philippine men’s volleyball team, admitted that they feel pressure in bringing back the glory of the country in the Southeast Asian Games, nearly four years after it earned a historic silver medal.
The three Filipino-American players will be ushering in a new era for the men’s national team under new coach Sergio Veloso of Brazil when it campaigns in the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May.
But for the newcomers, trying to lift the Philippines back to the podium after a fifth-place finish in Hanoi, Vietnam last year entails a lot of pressure.
“I think there’s a little pressure, knowing in 2019, you guys won the silver medal and you guys are always aiming to go bigger, go big or go home. So, the pressure of having that gold medal in the back of our minds, puts a little anxiety for me,” said the 6-foot-6 Rotter.
Despite the tall order, Rotter, who is currently playing for AMC-Cotabato in the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference, believes the rebuilding squad, which won’t have the duo of Marck Espejo and Bryan Bagunas, still has what it takes to compete at a high level.
“But knowing the players we have, the new coach we just added, I think we have a good chance of competing in the SEA Games and hopefully achieving what everyone wants which is a gold medal,” he said.
De Guzman and Vicente felt the same way as Rotter, believing that they can still deliver for the country.
“There’s definitely some pressure. They have big expectations for us but I think we’re ready to live up and deliver. You know, our goal here is to win SEA Games but also just put Philippines volleyball on an international stage. You know, just raise the level, make it more popular here,” said the 6-foot-6 middle blocker De Guzman. “Just show what the Philippines is all about on the volleyball side, get to these big tournaments. It’s a big challenge but we’re ready.”
For Vicente, a 6-foot-3 wing spiker, it won’t stop them from eyeing the gold medal.
“It’s always in the back of our heads, the goals to get gold but I mean, for me, I’m trying to focus on training each day, getting better each day so that we’re prepped and ready,” he said.
The three Filipino-Americans, who made it through the tryouts organized by Fil-Am Nation in California and already acquired their Philippine passports, are living under one roof.
They have been enjoying life in the country so far and relishing how passionate Filipino volleybal fans are, especially Rotter, who will help Cotabato in the semifinal round of Spikers’ Turf.
“After my debut game, I gained over like 400 followers. Gotten so many texts just saying congratulations, we’re excited to have you. It’s like oh my God, I didn’t think that would be, I would be getting all of these on my phone. I thought I would just be laying low. But I guess the cat’s out of the bag now and everyone’s just been so welcoming and I’m just happy to be here,” Rotter said.
“This is like a dream come true. So now, I’m very, like surreal that I’m actually in the Philippines right now and I’m just excited this ball rolling,” he added.
The 20-year-old Vicente, who is currently weighing offers from colleges in the country, had no regrets in joining the tryouts to bet on himself as he fights for a spot on the national team.
“I actually signed up for the tryouts like two days before it happened so it was really last minute and like, that week, I happened to like plan out my whole year like traveling, school, finishing up, and then this came up and I was like, I would regret it if I didn’t get this so, yeah. Dream come true,” he said.
De Guzman, who played for Hunter College in NCAA Division III, also didn’t want to miss the opportunity of playing for the country.
“I’ve been following Philippines volleyball since I was a freshman in college. So I’ve been relatively privy to it like watching a bunch of tournaments so when I got to find out about this tryout. I booked a flight that week, it was very last minute for me to go out of New York and fly to Southern California,” the middle blocker said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m like that’s something that you can’t pass up. Now that I’m here it’s like a dream come true honestly.”
De Guzman, who played for the Volleyball League of America for the past two years, is looking forward to going up against SEA Games powerhouse teams Indonesia and Thailand.
But first, they want to learn first from one of the best volleyball countries, Japan, as they fly to the land of the Rising Sun next month for their SEA Games buildup.
“Well obviously in Southeast Asia, it’s Indonesia and Thailand are the big ones, “ De Guzman said. “Just all of Asia. I can attest to all of us, [when I say] Japan. Obviously the biggest, probably one of the most popular teams in the world. We’re going there next month. We’re gonna be playing a lot of probably pro teams I think. That’s like, you know, playing for the national team in basketball against a bunch of NBA guys. That’s kind of the impact it is, so we’re very excited.”