Philippine men's volleyball team. PNVF PHOTO

Philippine men’s volleyball team. PNVF PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines —For veteran setter Jessie Lopez, the Philippine men’s volleyball team players need to play regularly in local leagues like the Spikers’ Turf again to ensure optimal performance heading into international competitions.

The 36-year-old playmaker, who recently announced his retirement from the national team, admitted the absence of a men’s league in the country affected the Philippine team’s goal to retain or surpass its historic silver medal in 2019 as it placed fifth in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“Kahit matagal na magkakasama mga players, eh kung ang tagal naman natigil, mahirap din mag-expect ng magandang connection sa bawat isa,” Lopez told Inquirer Sports.

(Even though we’ve been playing together for a long time, it’s still hard to expect a good connection from us after a long layoff in this pandemic.)

The Filipino Spikers missed the semifinal, losing to the vastly-improved Cambodia, which won bronze, and Thailand in Group B before beating Malaysia and  Myanmar to finish fifth in the classification round.

The veteran setter’s retirement wish is to have a local league again for the men’s volleyball players.

Only three players from the national team namely Bryan Bagunas, Marck Espejo and Jau Umandal played in leagues before the SEA Games as the two former UAAP MVPs played in Japan V.League and Umandal had a short stint in Bahrain early this year.

“The men’s volleyball players really need to play in the regular leagues like the Spikers’ Turf. For us to regain our condition coming from a long layoff,” Lopez said in Filipino. “It’s also a training ground for the men’s national team players for us to improve our chemistry.”

Most of the members of the national team only played a week-long league in the 2021 AVC Asian Men’s Club Championship in Thailand and in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation Champions League last December.

The Spikers’ Turf, which helped the national team in its silver medal finish in 2019 as its guest team, has yet to return this pandemic, even though its organizer Sports Vision has already staged two Open Conferences in the Premier Volleyball League last year and from March to April.

The UAAP also finished the first round of the women’s volleyball tournament in a closed circuit environment. The league will only stage a beach volleyball tournament for the male players starting this Friday. The NCAA will also reopen its women’s volleyball on June 11 but the men’s tournament wasn’t part of its Season 97 events.

In a previous interview of Inquirer Sports with Bryan Bagunas and national team coach Dante Alinsunurin before the SEA Games, the two insisted on the importance of regular leagues for the Philippine men’s volleyball program.

“Sobrang nakakalungkot kasi last SEA Games namin nasimulan na namin i-angat yung men’s volleyball pero dahil dito sa pandemic natigil ulit yung mga liga,” said Oita Miyoshi import Bagunas.

(It’s sad to see that the pandemic stopped the men’s league because we already started to raise the level of our sport in the (2019) SEA Games.)

Alinsunurin agreed: “Kailangan lang talaga tuloy tuloy para maging mas solid yung men’s volleyball (men’s volleyball really needs a continuous league to have a solid program).”

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