After 2019 SEA Games silver lining, PH men’s volleyball dives immediately into new era
MANILA, Philippines — The men’s national volleyball team went from making history in 2019 to being reduced to a program in disarray less than four years later.
From a silver that shone like gold in the Southeast Asian Games the country hosted, the men’s squad was hit by inactivity as COVID-19 wiped out training sessions and local leagues, the unavailability of key cogs and revelations of absent support during the last edition on the biennial meet.
And the program is building redemption on the backs of young newcomers.
But under the new system of Brazilian coach Sergio Veloso, these first-timers are eager to prove themselves and lift the program from its recent adversities and into glory in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia.
“Totoo ‘yun mabigat para sa amin ngayon. Tinetake namin siya as a challenge talaga kasi nga dahil bago yung team tsaka yung pinalitan ng bawat isa big names yun sa Pilipinas,” said setter Vince Mangulabnan, who is among the 12 first-time SEA Games campaigners out of the 14-man roster.
Mangulabnan will skipper the rebuilding squad and already, he talks like a leader.
“Hindi kami magpapromise, hindi kami magsasalita ng tapos pero ang gagawin namin. It’s like what coach Sergio says sa amin lagi: Give your 110 percent. Ilalaban namin hanggang sa limit namin. Kung kaya namin magstep over the line sa limit namin gagawin namin best namin para sa bansa.”
It has been a rough journey for the men’s national volleyball program after it changed the landscape of the sport in the country with its historic silver medal in the 2019 SEA Games. The momentum created by that victory, however, was stalled as the team led by Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo under coach Dante Alinsunurin was thrust in the freezer by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the lack of training and local leagues.
The result? The team failed to make the podium in 2022 in Vietnam.
The program’ remained shaky as it went through a massive rebuilding process. The Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) removed Alinsunurin from his five-year coaching post due to his commitments to his longtime UAAP team, the NU Bulldogs, and his new gig as Choco Mucho coach in the Premier Volleyball League.
Odjie Mamon temporarily took charge before Veloso arrived last March.
And then there were changes the federation was forced into instead of making a decision on.
Bagunas, who recently emerged as MVP and champion in Taiwan, begged off from playing due to his upcoming wedding in June. Korea V-League-bound Espejo likewise left the program. Starting setter Joshua Retamar also yielded his slot in the national team to focus on the UAAP. Retamar later exposed the lack of the PNVF’s support to last year’s SEA Games squad.
POC’S CLERICAL ERROR
And then like a cosmic joke, as if fate itself was against the men’s national team, the Philippines wasn’t part of the initial draw. It turns out the development was less kismet that it was a simple clerical error by the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Luckily, the host and other participating countries were magnanimous enough to agree to a redraw.
Jau Umandal, the lone member of the historic 2019 team, and last year’s libero Manuel Sumanguid, were the last holdovers for the rebuilding squad also composed of Kim Dayandante, Vince Lorenzo, Jayvee Sumagaysay, Jade Disquitado, Lloyd Josafat, Jay Rack De la Noche, Rwenzmel Taguibolos, and Leo Ordiales as well as Filipino-American recruits Steve Rotter, Cyrus De Guzman, and Michael Vicente.
Sumagaysay, who didn’t make the final cut in 2019 and wasn’t part of the pool last year, stressed they can’t look at who is not on the team and just take the big challenge in stride.
“Kung sino nandyan, magimprove tayo kasi lahat tayo meron tayong career, meron tayong gustong patunayan hindi lang sa bansa kundi sa sarili natin,” said the veteran middle blocker. “Ito na yung pagkakataon na iangat yung men’s volleyball ulit. Ipakita na kahit nawala yung mga teammates namin noon sila Marck Espejo, Bryan, sila Kim (Malabunga) ang laki ng kailangan namin punan kasi alam namin kung gaano kalaking kalibreng players yung nawala. Pero doon namin mapapakita na meron pa rin palang players na kaya magcompete sa ganung level.”
“Kahit na ang iniisip ng tao na sila lang kaya, para sa amin kaya din namin kasi pare-parehas lang naman kami nagttraining, nagsasakripisyo so walang reason para sabihin namin na hindi namin kaya,” he added.
TAIWAN, JAPAN CAMPS
Despite the limited preparation, Veloso was pleased with the improvement of the nationals, who trained in Taiwan last February and held a two-week camp in Japan where they faced the Panasonic Panthers in a series of friendlies.
“The players have improved a lot since I introduced a new system and little different technical skills. I’m so confident the players can use this in the SEA Games in Cambodia,” Veloso said. “I think we can do a good job I have a good feeling about that.”
“Everybody is part of the system and this is my rule, if you play without the system I put you out and I put the other player. I prepare not only six to seven players, but I also prepare all 14 players to play/ I don’t have only one or two strong players,” the new national coach added. “In my career, I won a lot of championships because I have a strong team. I like the idea of everybody playing together.”
The Philippine men’s volleyball team is slotted in Group A, and will take on defending champion Indonesia on May 3 at 3:30 p.m. to start their campaign at Indoor Olympic Stadium.
The nationals will also face the host and reigning bronze medalist Cambodia on May 4 at 8:30 p.m. before wrapping up the elimination round against Singapore on the next day at 6 p.m. with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semifinals.
PRIDE AND PROMISE
Veloso promises this rebuilding team will fight hard for the country’s pride.
“I think you have strong players out of this team, too. You have all the good players. But when you put the Philippines (jersey), it’s a big responsibility. (For) the fans and the volleyball community, we will fight hard to defend the Philippines,” he said.
True enough, the 18-year-old Jade Disquitado, who made waves in the previous Spikers’ Turf Open Conference as the best scorer and top outside hitter, shows no fear in his first SEA Games stint.
“Maipapangako ko lang is gagawin ko yung best ko sa lahat ng laro namin and kukuha kami ng medal sa SEA Games,” said the youngest member of the team.
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Inquirer’s special coverage of the Cambodia SEA Games 2023.
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