For local volleyball fans and VNL superstars, love is a two-way street
Ran Takahashi is very much aware that his Japan team has found a second home in the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) here in the country.
“Philippine fans are amazing. I’m appreciative of all of them also. They give me all the energy, “ said the Japanese standout, easily one of the most popular names in fan-favorite Japan’s roster.
“It’s special to play for the Filipinos,” he added.
He’s not the only one feeling the love.
“[We play in a] beautiful arena, and it was nice to play here especially with the fans from [the] Philippines,” said Poland’s outside hitter Aleksander Sliwka.
“They [Filipinos] are really crazy about volleyball.”
“It’s really similar to Poland where people are really crazy [and] be happy to be in the volleyball game. We’re really glad to play here and we really [like] that the people recognize us, like us, so it’s really nice to play here in the Philippines,” he added.
By the time Takahashi and Sliwka clash on Sunday in a 7 p.m. match that will close the crucial third leg of the country-hopping event, the VNL will again validate its niche in the country’s sports entertainment scene, having drawn crowds who unapologetically cheered for their favorite players in the past week.
“It’s very festive,” said a local fan who introduced himself as Jan Rafael and whose favorite squads are Italy, Brazil, and Japan. “It’s great to watch and international game. The level of play is different compared to local volleyball.”
“It’s long overdue for volleyball to raise its level of play here in the country,” said fan Daniel Santos.
“I feel like the importance of VNL is to maybe inspire other people out there, also to give entertainment to other people,” said Stephanie Marie Fowler, an Italy supporter.
Poland will go into its showdown with Japan at Mall of Asia Arena on the heels of a 25-21, 25-23, 27-25 victory over Canada on Saturday.
“We knew before the game that we were the favorites. We knew that we had the better players but they played very good volleyball without any pressure,” opposite hitter Lukasz Kaczmarek said after the game. “They were pushing a lot.”
Kamil Semeniuk and Norbert Huber had 11 points each as Poland won for the ninth time in 11 matches.
In Saturday’s other game, Brazil, the No. 4-ranked team in the world, whipped China, 25-19, 25-17, 25-17, behind the 17 points of Felipe Roque.
“I [felt] different starting and entering the game. I was a little bit nervous and anxious in the beginning of the game but I’m glad I got loose and helped the team,” said Roque. “I’m happy with my performance.”
In other matches on Sunday, China battles Canada at 11 a.m. while Slovenia takes on the Netherlands at 3 p.m.
And before the curtains go down on the VNL, Dutch outside hitter Maarten Van Garderen hopes more fans will troop to the arena, especially those who want to have a future in the sport.
“So if you’re a young Filipino guy, watch the matches, maybe try and find a way to see [and train in] the gym or maybe online. [Playing volleyball], it’s such a high level and I hope we can inspire those people,” he said.