It took four years before Pinoy fans finally got to see the lethal combination of Marck Espejo and Bryan Bagunas in the Southeast Asian Games.
Still, it was more than worth the wait.
The past two editions of the regional meet have been a tumultuous roller-coaster for the Philippine Men’s National Volleyball team. Back in 2015, a young Espejo led the Philippines’ campaign in Singapore. But he could only do much as the Nationals crashed out with a 1-2 win-loss slate, missing the semifinals.
Then when Bagunas finally got his chance to make the team in 2017, Espejo went missing. The product of Ateneo instead had to focus on his ongoing UAAP campaign.
But the stars finally aligned when the Philippines hosted the biennial meet in 2019. The tides were changing for the men’s team, since Espejo and Bagunas finally got to team up this 30th SEA Games.
And as expected, the two wreaked havoc all over the competition.
Behind the high-flying duo, the Filipinos posted a 2-1 record to barge into the semifinals. There, they conspired to pull off a massive five-set upset of erstwhile-defending champion Thailand, dethroning the king of Southeast Asian volleyball while also ending a 42-year drought in the biennial meet.
Though the Philippines’ dream run came to an end at the hands of Indonesia, the duo of Espejo and Bagunas — which took four years to materialize — earned the praise of the visiting team’s players and coaching staff.
“I think they are good… Number one and fifteen are very good I think. I forgot [their] name but they’re very good,” said assistant coach Pascal Laurens.
But on their part, the duo admitted that they are both simply doing their part, and even deflected the credit to their whole team.
“Siguro napansin nila lang ‘yun kasi sa amin tumatakbo ‘yung bola, pero lahat naman kami dito magaling,” said the soft-spoken Espejo.
Bagunas added, “Sabi nga ni Marck, siguro kaya kaming napapansin kasi kami palagi ‘yung masiyadong pumupuntos sa team.
“Siyempre, ‘di naman namin magagawa ‘yun kung hindi dahil sa teammates namin na palaging sumusuporta sa amin dalawa.”
Now, after ending the Philippines’ 28-year medal drought with a silver finish, the two will go back on their separate ways.
Bagunas will fly back to Japan to join the Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler, while Espejo has been called up to reinforce Visakha Volleyball club in Thailand to work on their respective games.
Rest assured, though, that once they come back for another tour of duty for flag, Espejo and Bagunas — with more international experience under their belts — will go all-out in the chase for that elusive gold medal for Philippine men’s volleyball.