Even without Bagunas and Espejo, plenty of firepower for PH men's volleyball team

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2021 06:06 PM

Philippines head coach Dante Alinsunurin gathers the team during their match against Indonesia in SEA Games men’s indoor volleyball held at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig on December 10, 2019. File photo. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Philippines head coach Dante Alinsunurin gathers the team during their match against Indonesia in SEA Games men’s indoor volleyball held at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig on December 10, 2019. File photo. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines -- The coach of the Philippine men's national volleyball team is confident that his players are ready for bigger roles in their Asian Men's Club Volleyball Championship campaign. 

Coach Dante Alinsunurin will not have Marck Espejo and Bryan Bagunas in his line-up for the competition, as both players are currently in Japan where they will play for FC Tokyo and Oita Miyoshi, respectively.

Yet even without them, Alinsunurin believes he put together a strong squad.

"Siyempre solid pa naman 'yung team namin, although wala si Bryan at Marck," Alinsunurin said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday morning.

"'Yung mga naiwan pa naman dito, nakita naman ninyo 'yung laro nila. And kailangan lang naming magtrabaho talaga for this tournament, and mapakita nila na mas maging malalim 'yung bench namin pagdating sa international competition," he added.

Espejo and Bagunas were the stars of the national team that placed second in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. But a bulk of that team will still compete in Thailand, including middle blockers Kim Malabunga, Rex Intal, and Francis Saura, as well as setter Josh Retamar who was one of the team's breakout players in the SEA Games. John Vic De Guzman is also back to captain the team.

Having this kind of continuity is crucial for the men's volleyball team as they look to build on their breakthrough performance in the SEA Games.

"Kahit naman wala si Bryan and Marck, tuloy-tuloy pa rin naman ang ginagawa namin, pag-angat ng team namin," Alinsunurin said. "Sa sitwasyon namin ngayon, kailangan talaga naming magsama-sama, mag-usap sa bawat galaw namin."

"And 'yun nga, mas nagfo-focus kami ngayon kung ano man 'yung naiwan dito, and especially sa mga bagong pasok naming mga players," he added.

With Espejo and Bagunas unavailable, Alinsunurin expects veteran Mark Alfafara and young guns Joshua Umandal and Nico Almendras to step up in the scoring department. 

"'Yun siguro 'yung mga magpupuno ng posisyon nila Marck and Bryan," he said.

Alfafara is one of the most well-rounded players to come out of the famed University of Santo Tomas men's volleyball program, while Umandal had emerged as the Tiger Spikers' top option before the UAAP Season 82 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almendras, meanwhile, won Rookie of the Year honors in UAAP Season 81 while helping the National University Bulldogs win the championship.

The men's team is currently holding twice-a-day training sessions before leaving for Thailand on October 4. The Asian Men's Club Volleyball Championship is set for October 8-15 in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.