On a fateful Sunday night, Thailand’s Amorntep Konhan rose from the backrow and nailed a thunderous kill over the outstretched arms of Kim Malabunga and John Vic De Guzman.
Just like that, the Thais were on the cusp of barging back into the Southeast Asian Games finals for the fifth straight time, sitting at a 24-21 match point in the fourth set.
Every single Filipino inside the jam-packed PhilSports Arena felt stunned, leaving them on the edge of their seats, hoping against hope for their beleaguered team. But they had no idea what was about to hit them.
A miracle was on its way. Marck Espejo declared:
“Wala talagang imposible. Kung gusto mo, lahat pwedeng mangyari.”
It began to unfold with Bryan Bagunas. The Oita Miyoshi import resuscitated the Philippines’ comeback bid with a clutch kill that brought possession back to the Nationals.
The Filipinos then put their trust in Espejo, who would incite their offense from the service area. It was a pressure-stricken situation for anyone, but the former Ateneo superstar embraced responsibility.
Known as a jump server, Espejo knew that it was better to be safe than sorry, deciding to go for float serves instead. He believed that, even though his attempts from the service line might not produce a point right away, his brothers-in-arms were more than capable of delivering.
“Kahit noong fourth set, hindi ko alam kung idya-jump serve ko ba o ipo-float,” Espejo recounted.
“Sabi ko, ‘Hindi i-float ko na lang. Tiwala lang sa isa’t isa.’”
Espejo’s trust was a testament to the brotherhood the team has built and strengthened throughout months and years of having each other’s backs. And the improbable 6-1 surge that forged a decisive fifth set was simply a culmination of their camaraderie.
“Nu’ng natapos ang fourth set, nagti-thank you kami kay Lord. May breaks talaga, siguro sa amin pumanig ang breaks talaga,” he said.
The decider was another test of character for the Nationals. But with a crowd of 6,700 roaring their hearts out and a band of brothers laying it all on the line, the Philippines made history.
On one end, the Thais fell to their knees for the first time in the biennial meet since conquering the throne eight years ago. On the other end, the Filipinos exulted after ending a 42-year Finals drought.
Still, the battle is far from over. And despite being on the heels of a historic feat, the Filipinos are well aware of the daunting task ahead.
“Yung pagkapanalo namin ngayon against Thailand, ito ang gagamitin namin as motivation. Tsaka siyempre last game na ito, finals na. Ibinuhos na namin sa semifinals so ito, finals, dito na kami, so ‘di na namin papabayaan ito,” Espejo bared.
“All-out na talaga. Pahinga muna ngayon. Recovery muna bago isipin ang game versus Indonesia. Ang nangyari ngayon [Sunday] history na, ‘yung [Tuesday] iba na.”