MANILA, Philippines -- National team star Marck Espejo was disappointed at how the novel coronavirus pandemic halted the momentum of the Philippine men's volleyball team following their historic showing in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
The men's squad, bannered by Espejo and Bryan Bagunas, smashed all expectations in winning the silver medal. They took down regional powerhouse Thailand in the semifinals, winning in a classic five-set thriller, before falling to Indonesia in the gold-medal game.
The team had hoped to keep their momentum going, with players competing not just locally in the Spikers' Turf, but also as imports abroad. However, the COVID-19 outbreak put all sports -- including men's volleyball -- on hold.
"Siyempre, nakaka-down din po," Espejo said of the development, during a recent appearance on "2OT."
"After ng SEA Games, ayun na 'yung umabot kami ng finals, nagkaroon kami ng silver. Parang ayun na 'yung boom ng men's volleyball sa Pilipinas eh. Eto na talaga 'yung time eh, 2020 na," he added.
After the SEA Games, Espejo went to Thailand to play as an import,
while Bagunas headed to Japan. Both players are back in the Philippines now, however, where they are doing their best to stay in shape while there are no games.
"Biglang nagka-lockdown, so siguro pahinga muna ulit," said Espejo, a five-time UAAP Most Valuable Player with Ateneo de Manila University. "Refresh."
"Pagbalik na lang siguro ng tournament, tingnan natin kung may mga tao pa rin na susuporta, or mga hindi nakalimot," he added.
The journey of the men's volleyball team was one of the biggest stories of the SEA Games, as support for them grew with every victory. Usually overlooked in favor of the more popular women's volleyball team, the men's team saw their games watched by loud, partisan crowds at ULTRA.
For Espejo, it was an honor to have played in front of their countrymen -- and he hopes to see them again when they return to the court, either in the Spikers' Turf or in other competitions.
"Pagbalik sana ng mga tournament, marami pa rin ang sumuporta," he said. "Siyempre, lahat ng players pagbalik, talagang sobrang eager ng mga 'yan. Lahat gusto talaga pumalo, lahat gusto magpakitang gilas."
"Pero ayun, sa ngayon muna, sumunod muna sa mga protocols para safe po tayong lahat," he added.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).