A rollercoaster of emotions burst at the seams inside the PhilSports Arena on a fateful Sunday evening.
The semifinals series of the 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s volleyball tournament between the Philippines and Thailand was one for the ages. And more than 6,000 individuals bore witness to that.
But the thousands of fans weren’t just mere spectators for the Nationals — they were their biggest source of strength.
“Sobra, grabe. Ako personally, pagpasok ko pa lang sa arena, sa court, napa-wow ako sa crowd kasi sobrang dami,” recalled Marck Espejo.
“’Di namin ini-expect na ganoon karami ang manonood, na susuporta at magchee-cheer para sa amin, tapos nilabas namin ang laro namin.”
The fans screamed on the top of their lungs, giving the Philippine delegates a push when their backs were against the wall in the cardiac fourth and fifth sets. Their reverberating cheers also imposed pressure on the Thais, who committed a few fatal attack errors down the stretch.
As the dust of an epic battle settled, the Philippines emerged victorious, making history in the process.
The Filipinos — who are ranked 131st in the world — had ended the four-year reign of the world number 39 Thailand in the biennial regional meet. They also quenched a long 42-year SEA Games Finals drought after settling as runners-up last 1977.
The historical win is one of the momentous triumphs for the Philippines in recent memory. It is also a huge victory for the men’s volleyball program of the country, which continues its pursuit of acquiring the same limelight as the more popular women’s side.
“Siyempre, sobrang tuwa kasi eto naman talaga ‘yung hinihingi namin dati pa. Simula pa lang, sabi namin sana kami naman ‘yung mapanood ng maraming tao. Para makilala naman kami,” said Nationals head coach Dante Alinsunurin.
From a crowd of 2,500 in their opening game, then 4,000 in the next, the crowd support for the Nationals breached the 6,000-mark in the past two matches. The consistent hike of spectators in the tournament is proof of the growth in patronage.
“Sabi nga namin nung first game, meron na tayong dumagdag na twelve people. Second game, nanalo tayo, meron tayong thirteen people,” Alinsunurin said.
“Sabi ko tuluy-tuloy lang tayo, malay niyo sa third game natin, magiging twenty na ‘yan. ‘Yun lang lagi ginagawa namin.”
And Alinsinurin hopes that the rise continues, especially since his side will need every ounce of support they can get in the gold medal match against Indonesia on Tuesday.
“Sana magtuluy-tuloy na ‘yung gusto ng men’s team sa Pilipinas na makilala naman kami at sabihin nating tumaas ‘yung level ng laro ng mga lalaki sa Pilipinas.”