UST’s Kris Roy Guzman and Anthony Arbasto played the game of their lives against NU’s Bryan Bagunas and and Madzlan Gampong at the sand courts by Manila Bay at the MoA grounds.
It was 10:30 Saturday evening and Typhoon Lando had just begun blowing worrisome winds and rain unto the court. The crowds that flocked the Ateneo-La Salle match-up had all done the rational thing and fled home. Gampong floated a serve onto Guzman’s waiting arms, Arbasto set the ball high for his uncle to deliver a smash. Point UST. Guzman pounded his chest hard and screamed into a high-five with his nephew, as if they had just won the title – it was the first point of the match.
UST’s pair have a penchant for over-the-top celebrations. They had a lot to cheer about when the UAAP Beach Volleyball tournament started, knocking down their first five foes before succumbing in consecutive matches to two fellow contenders, Ateneo and NU; the loss to the latter wound up costing them a twice-to-beat advantage and relegated them to the bottom of the stepladder Final Four after the Eagles swept the tournament.
On the same Saturday they faced NU in the evening, but first had to go through FEU’s Greg Dolor abd Jude Garcia, who held a substantial size advantage over them.
Nearly everyone in the tournament were either taller or larger than the Tomasinos. Standing at around 5’7”, Guzman was UST’s team captain, taking the mantle from former teammate, the burly Mark Alfafara. What Guzman lacked in height, he made up for in quickness and sheer will to keep points alive. Anthony, brother of UST volleyball great, Kring Arbasto and Guzman’s nephew, was just about an inch or two taller than his uncle but had the hops to guard the net and attack ferociously when targeted by the opposition. Arbasto admitted that he hadn’t played a minute of beach volleyball before coming to Manila; it was only until Guzman urged him to try the sport that he gave it a shot.
“Malaking pasalamat ko po talaga kay Kris kasi siya talaga ‘yung nag-aya sa aking maglaro ng beach volley saka nagtiyaga na rin na turuan ako,” Arbasto told Tiebreaker Times.
Guzman and Arbasto determinedly fought past FEU in a tense, three-set match and set up a date with the defending champs, NU in the evening.
The Tigers had made the Finals the past two seasons only to be thwarted by their rivals from Sampaloc. Last year, Guzman had a well-documented spat with NU libero and eventual tournament MVP, Henry Tipay. With a net separating both teams, physical altercations are a rarity in volleyball. But Tipay and Guzman nearly broke the barrier.
Even if NU fielded a different pair this season, Guzman was just as fired up to face the Bulldogs. Touting a twice-to-beat advantage and the endless wingspan of Bryan Bagunas and Madz Gampong, NU was favored to move on.
But the Tigers fed off Lando’s terrifying wins and outlasted the Bulldogs in two classic three-set matches. As Bagunas and Gampong were going down to cramps and dehydration, Guzman and Arbasto were screaming their lungs out after every point, eventually crashing after the match when cramps finally set in.
“Iba talaga pag NU ‘yung kalaban masakit kasi talaga ‘yung pagkatalo namin last year sa kanila, ‘yun pa ‘yung huling laro ni kuya Mark (Alfafara) kaya ginusto ko lang talaga makabawi sa kanila, kahit ngayon lang,” Guzman said after ending NU’s three-year reign an beach volleyball champs. That Saturday, UST had played 12 sets across four matches in a 15-hour period.
Typhoon Lando probably came as a blessing to UST, delaying the competition for three days and saving them from playing a well-rested Ateneo team with barely any sleep.
Wednesday came and the Tigers were clear underdogs against Ateneo’s Ysay Marasigan and Marck Espejo, who had a thrice-to-beat advantage and were on a mission to deliver their university’s first beach volleyball trophy.
Coming out with tons of unrequited energy, UST bombed the Eagles in their first match and erased their thrice-to-beat advantage. As if they had just ingested copious amounts of energy drinks, Guzman and Arbasto sustained their effort throughout the day, nearly taking Game Two then taking the Eagles to the limit with a convincing Game Three win.
By the time Game Four rolled around, Ateneo’s powerful pair came to their senses and pulled energy and emotion to give Ateneo their first indoor volleyball championship. Espejo and Marasigan blocked and smashed their way to a convincing first win and held a 16-11 lead in the second set. The Tigers managed one more run, knotting the match at 18 before Ateneo caught a few breaks that quelled UST’s advance.
Settling for another bridesmaid finish, Guzman and Arbasto found respite in the fact that they’ll be gunning for a UAAP championship for the next twoyears.
“Ginawa na namin ‘yung lahat namin. Kung anuman ‘yung kalabasan, kahit talo, tatanggapin na lang namin. Kahit hindi pumabor sa amin ‘yung mga tawag noong dulo, masaya na ako na nanalo kami nang dalwang laro noong akala ng karamihan na dudurugin lang kami ng Ateneo,” the Cebuano, Guzman lamented.
“Siguro po babawi na lang kami sa mga susunod na taon. Masakit po kasi ‘yung pagkatalo namin. Aalalahanin namin ‘yung pakiramdam na ‘to next year kapag naglaro na ulet kami,” the sophomore Arbasto said.
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