Alas Pilipinas men's team

This Alas Pilipinas Men’s Team Is A Powerhouse Collection

There’s plenty of youth and firepower on this newly-formed men’s team that will compete in the AVC Challenge Cup in Bahrain.

With the dust just settling on the Alas Pilipinas women’s team’s historic bronze medal run during the recently concluded Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Challenge Cup in Manila, its male counterparts now journey to Bahrain to compete in the same tourney from June 2 to 9.

On paper, this mixture of youth and experience could be among the best men’s contingents formed since the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games squad that copped an unprecedented silver medal during that biennial meet.

From that iconic squad, four have been named part of this new team.

Charge of the Youth Brigade

Five-time UAAP MVP and three-time Spikers Turf Finals MVP Marck Espejo will be carrying the initial firepower for Alas Pilipinas. Espejo, who had international sorties in Bahrain, Japan and Korea before suiting up for Criss Cross, will also have Crunchers teammate and veteran middle blocker Kim Malabunga in tow while recently crowned UAAP MVP Owa Retamar—who was only 19 years old during the Manila SEA Games—now becomes the de facto orchestrator for the team.

Jau Umandal is the final remnant of that intrepid 2019 line-up and his presence creates stability in a roster bursting with dynamic gunners.

One of the vital cogs in Cignal HD’s conquest of the last Spikers Turf championship brings control with his well-timed poaches and is an underrated defensive stalwart. He suffered a nasty head injury during the recent finals series against Criss Cross but was medically cleared and has been among the early birds in the team’s training.

The rest are either fresh out of college or are still student-athletes looking to make their mark and elevate the men’s game to new heights.

The youngsters are bannered by De La Salle University’s gung-ho attacker Noel Kampton who led the Green Spikers to a respectable fourth-place finish in the last UAAP men’s volleyball competition. Kampton is known for his relentless bombardment of opposing net defenses and will be trading cannons with former UAAP MVP Nico Almendras of the eventual titlists of the National University (NU).

DLSU’s Noel Kampton is one of several rookies on this youthful Alas Pilipinas men’s team. (UAAP Media Bureau)

Another Bulldog winger is 20-year-old Jade Disquitado (who could be this squad’s version of Angel Canino). Disquitado brings heavy artillery and is also more than capable of taking on the backrow defense chores that are not always innate in many offensive players. Teammate Leo Ordiales is the lone listed opposite hitter so aficionados are leaning towards him or Umandal to be the named as the team’s second utility spiker.

Rounding out NU’s contributions to Alas Pilipinas is Peng Taguibolos, who many say is the version 2.0 of Malabunga as he also possesses impeccable timing at the net, while Joseph Bello will be Retamar’s backup.

The high-flying Josh Ybañez of the UAAP runners-up at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) is listed as the team’s libero (for now).

Far Eastern University (FEU) has two alumni in former Tamaraw floor defense specialist Vince Patrick Lorenzo and two-time Spikers Turf Best Middle Blocker JP Bugaoan of the HD Spikers.

Cignal’s electrifying net defender Lloyd Josafat completes the team.

The returning members from last year’s edition in Taipei are Espejo, Malabunga, Umandal, Kampton, Lorenzo, and Josafat. The Philippines is looking to improve on its tenth-place finish.

Noticeably not in the line-up are multi-awarded Bryan Bagunas (who still has contract obligations for Win Streak in the Top Volleyball League in Taiwan) and Spikers Turf MVP Jude Garcia (who is nursing an injury).

The team will be handled by Ateneo de Manila University’s head coach Sérgio Veloso and has a staff that includes NU mentor Dante Alinsunurin, Odjie Mamon of UST, and Dexter Clamor of Spikers Turf champions Cignal HD Spikers.

Veloso is rumored to be the heir apparent of fellow Brazilian Jorge Souza de Brito for the distaff side when the latter ends his tenure at the end of June to move to Taiwan.

What Lies Ahead in the Challenge Cup

The Philippines is grouped with the host nation and China in the 12-nation tilt. The top two countries will be seeing action in the FIVB Challenger Cup where outright berths to the Volleyball Nations League are at stake. The Philippines is one of the four ASEAN countries invited to the tourney.

The top team in each pool will advance to the semifinals.

The FIVB currently has the Philippines ranked 57th in the world, while China is 31st. Bahrain is 67th.

China will be Alas Pilipinas’ first assignment on June 3rd then takes on the host nation the following day.

Bahrain defeated the Philippines in Taipei in straight sets: 25-20, 25-17, 25-23, while China will be a first-time opponent.

Projected Starting Line-Up:

S – Retamar (6’1”)

MB – Malabunga (6’6”)

MB – Josafat (6’4”)

OH – Espejo (6’3”)

OH – Kampton (6’2”)

OP – Umandal (6’2”)

L – Lorenzo (5’8”)

While it could be a tall order for the team to topple China in the first tiff of the group stages (owing to the Chinese length and experience), the Alas women’s team might have offered a blueprint on what it could take to defeat taller and quicker opponents like it did against Australia (twice) and India. Against the Bahrainis, the Alas Pilipinas men’s team will have to buck the home-court advantage. But they have shown that they can keep in step with two close sets in their loss last year.

Disquitado could be the Arah Panique “magic bunot,” while the additional floor defense of Ybañes may be winning factors in the group stages. Espejo will definitely be a marked man and it will be up to Retamar to activate Malabunga and Josafat early to keep the opposing defenses on their toes.

A healthy Umandal could give the opposition problems as well if he is to fit into the role of opposite spiker or the team could have Almendras — with his heavy serves — tally a few points to have kickstarted the offense.

It will be at the net where Alas Pilipinas will be tested as Malabunga is already the tallest asset at 6’6”.

With the Alas programs getting off the ground and the women’s side already yielding a positive outcome, it won’t be long before the men’s team follows suit.

One thing’s for sure: the Philippine participation in international volleyball competitions is now at full throttle. The Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) is now pouring all its efforts into establishing a sustainable national team program, and it could bear fruit soon.

Banner Image from the PNVF.

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