In the heat of a furious rally, Wilavan Apinyapong — a grizzled hitter who has been at the forefront of Thailand’s dominance for over a decade — reached back and salvaged a shoddy set, guiding the ball towards a crease at the middle of the Philippines’ defense.
The Nationals tried to keep the ball alive but to no avail. With that, the frenetic third set ended, 34-32, in favor of Thailand to gut out a tight three-set affair over the host country, which just had its gold medal hopes in the 30th Southeast Asian Games shattered to smithereens.
Though their frustrations were palpable, a sense of happiness washed over the Filipinas almost immediately, with the home crowd showering them with a huge round of applause.
Make no mistake, the Philippines lost. But there’s little to no reason not to be proud.
After all, the Philippine contingent pushed the long-reigning queens of Southeast Asia to the brink.
“Masasabi ko na natuwa ako kasi at least nag-dilang anghel ako sa sinabi ko kahapon na bigyan namin sila ng magandang laban,” confessed Philippine skipper Aby Maraño, who’d vowed to give the Thais a lasting impression.
“Para sa amin, napakalaking karangalan na ‘yun na mapahirapan namin ‘yung Thailand kasi more than 10 years na silang naging champion dito sa SEA Games. Tapos napapahirapan namin sila, nabigyan namin sila ng laban na maganda.”
With this, the Filipinas have truly come a long way since returning to the international scene last 2015.
From a team considered fodder to championship contenders in the region, the Nationals have now proven that they can stand toe-to-toe with the best of the best.
“Since 2015, talagang halos parang hindi kami maka-block, hindi kami makahawak ng bola nila. Minsan mapapa-‘Ay, andun na yung bola!’ Parang pinaglalaruan kami, para kaming ginagawang tanga talaga, parang ‘di kami marunong mag-volleyball — ganun ‘yung feeling. Parang ginagawa kaming hindi volleyball player nung nagsisimula kami,” recounted Maraño, who then added in jest: “Siguro nasa pro na sila, kami elementary.”
She then continued, “Pero ngayon, napakalaki na ng naitakbo ng volleyball sa Pilipinas. Simula nung four years ago up to now, nakita niyo naman ang konti ng preparasyon na talagang naibigay sa amin. Kung baga sa Thailand na magkakasama sila… Dekada na siguro sila magkakasama, nakita mo ‘yung improvement in four years.”
And the Filipinas know that they wouldn’t have been able to reach such heights without the unwavering support of the local volleyball community.
“‘Di kami nawawalan ng pag-asa kasi sila nga naniniwala sa amin, bakit ‘di kami maniniwala sa sarili namin?” Maraño said. “Kahit natalo tayo ngayon, ‘wag lang kayong susuko na maniwala sa amin dito. Kasi binabalakang na kami pero go pa rin kami kahit gaano kahirap. Kahit gaano kasakit, tuloy lang.
“Ganyan ang mga Pilipino eh, mga atletang Pilipino — kahit masakit na, banat pa rin.”
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