The Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles are by no means a one-man team.
The defending champs’ starting lineup has virtually no weak rotations. Their offense flows through every member, with all of their attackers able to put away points in a plethora of ways.
But there’s no doubt Ateneo’s best player is third-year open hitter, Marck Espejo. The Marikina native has won the MVP award in virtually every league he’s played in college. It’s also no coincidence that Ateneo have made the UAAP Finals in all the seasons he’s played, winning the school’s first title last year.
To start Season 78, the Eagles have consciously tried to maximize the strength of all their attackers. Through Ateneo’s first two matches, their scoring was balanced, with multiple players scoring in double-digits.
The past two matches, however, have been tough sledding for the Blue Eagles. Last Wednesday, a determined Adamson University Falcons side squeaked past the Eagles in five sets. Earlier today, the De La Salle University Green Spikers had Ateneo on the ropes, leading the match 2-1.
Like they did in last season’s UAAP Finals, the Blue Eagles leaned on Espejo to dig then out of the ditch. Espejo scored 11 points in the fourth set and followed with five in the deciding fifth frame, delivering Ateneo to the win.
“Alam na talaga ni Marck kung kailan siya kailangan ng team,” said Ateneo head coach Oliver Almadro. “Ang maganda din kay Marck, hinihingi niya ‘yung bola sa mga ganoong situation. He and Ish (Polvorosa, setter) have a good understanding of what the teams need in certain situations. They really saved me today.”
Espejo finished with a season-high 35 points.
“Sabi rin ni coach kapag close ‘yung game, let’s go to our main man. Tiwala silang lahat sa akinso hinihingi ko na ‘rin ‘yung bola kasi alam ko rin na mahihirapan sila maabot ‘yung palo ko,” said the former Rookie of the Year and MVP.
Now in his third year in Loyola, Espejo says he has gotten used to the pressure of being the go-to guy.
“Noong una kong naramdaman ‘yun siyempre may pressure. Pero matagal na rin ‘yun – first year pa ako noon. Nasanay na rin ako – every year natututo akong ihandle ‘yung pressure. Para sakin, every time na nakaka-score ako, team pa rin dapat ‘yung may credit kasi it takes a lot for us to score.”
Coming off a tremendous Season 77, Espejo also definitely feels that they have a target on their backs every match.
“Sabi ni coach, mahirap maging number one – mahirap mag-repeat as champion. Lahat talaga ng teams gusto kaming talunin. Tipong kapag makakuha sila ng set sa amin, sobrang tatataas na ‘yung kumpiyansa nila. Last year we were just like everyone; wanting to take it one game at a time. Ngayon parang isa talaga sa goals nila is to have a great game against us,” Espejo explained.
For now, Espejo hopes his team can triumph over all the obstacles their opponents present like last season.
“Hindi po namin talaga iniisip masyado ‘yung mga matagal pa mangyayari. We just prepare for every game katulad ng paghahanda namin sa kahit sinong kalaban. Mas balensado na po talaga ‘yung liga ngayon. Hopefully we can keep improving,” Espejo closed.
The Blue Eagles will next face the University of the Philippines Maroons (2-1) on Sunday, 10 a.m. at the MoA Arena.