MANILA, Philippines – For three straight years, Bryan Bagunas saw his seniors in National University exit on a losing note.
Players like Peter Torres and Ruben Baysac could not end their collegiate careers as winners as the Bulldogs ran into the Marck Espejo-led Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Finals. Ateneo won three straight men's titles from Seasons 77 to 79.
They ended Ateneo's dynasty in Season 80. And in Season 81, Bagunas made sure that he and his batchmates would not experience the same heartbreak that their previous teammates did.
In the Finals, the Bulldogs were matched against the only team to beat them in the elimination round – Far Eastern University. Bagunas saved his best for last as the high-leaping spiker scored a career-best 35 points in Game 2 to close out the Tamaraws.
"'Yung tatlong taon ko na first runner-up lang kami, sobrang pait talaga ng mga panahon na 'yun na binigay namin sa mga seniors namin na ga-graduate," said Bagunas after their 24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 25-19 triumph on Wednesday.
"Inisip ko na lang na hindi namin ipaparamdam sa sarili namin 'yung naramdaman nila. And ibabawi namin sila," he added.
The title was their second straight, and fourth in seven years. For Bagunas, it was his way of repaying the school that had embraced him, and the coaches who put their trust in him and developed him as a player.
Bagunas had not been an immediate starter for NU, instead working his way from the bench to the first six. After playing in the shadows of Ateneo's Marck Espejo in the past couple of years, Bagunas embraced his role as the face of the men's division this year, and was the runaway winner of the MVP award.
"Hindi nawala 'yung tiwala ko sa mga coaches sa kung ano 'yung nakikita nila sa akin," said Bagunas. "Malaking bagay 'yung tiwala nila sa akin."
"Ito na lang 'yung way na maibabalik ko 'yung lahat ng support na binigay sa amin ng NU; mula sa pagapapaaral hanggang sa pagpapagaling sa akin sa paglalaro," he said of their championship.
"Siguro, itong history na lang 'yung kaya naming ibigay sa NU," he added.
Bagunas' exceptional performance in the UAAP Finals was greatly appreciated by NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin, who heaped praise on his player for his work ethic and dedication.
"Alam mo, wala na talaga akong masabi sa bata na 'to eh," the coach said. "'Yung sipag niya talaga sa ensayo, sa ginagawa, 'yung dedication niya sa paglalaro ng volleyball, grabe talaga."
"And siyempre sa tulong din naman ng mga teammate niya, kasi kami kanya-kanya kami ng mga trabaho. Alam na ng mga teammate nila kung saan si Bryan ngayon, kaya tulong-tulong lang ang ginagawa namin, kung nasaan man si Bryan ngayon," he added.
After ending his career as a champion, Bagunas now intends to try his luck in Japan. He is also expected to be one of the most important players for the Philippines when it competes in the Southeast Asian Games later this year.
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