There’s more finesse and maturity in inspired Espejo’s game now
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 07, 2016 04:39 PM
“Someday ‘pag nagkapamilya na ako, gusto kong ipagmalaki sa mga magiging anak ko hindi lang ang mga UAAP championship trophies ko, kundi pati ang diploma ko bilang graduate ng Ateneo.” - Marck Espejo.
The usually very high-scoring, six-foot-three Marck Espejo of the Ateneo Blue Eagles had a ready explanation for his unusually ‘low’ output in five games in the eliminations of the ongoing Spikers’ Turf Season 2-Collegiate Conference. He averaged only 11.4 points per game, way off his previous averages hovering in the mid-20s or higher.
“We don’t limit ourselves to power game anymore; we go a lot more for intelligent quick plays,” he said after scoring eight points in the defending champions Blue Eagles’ 25-21, 25-18, 25-12 drubbing of University of the Philippines to finish at the top of Group B unbeaten with five wins. “Coach Oliver (Almadro) has been telling us that quick plays are now the trend in international volleyball. Under this, every spiker on the team is given his fair share of sets. Everyone is able to contribute to the production.”
To the more observant fans, the 19-year-old AB Interdisciplinary Studies major has of late been playing with an extra bounce in his movement and a very noticeable sparkle in his eyes. Our Mark, they chorus, is in love, getting inspiration from someone in the gallery who’s from another school and who’s equally popular in their common sport.
Espejo wants to keep his love life private. “Pwedeng sa akin na lang po yon,” he begged when asked for details about it. And that’s that, thank you.
The volleyball phenom from Concepcion, Marikina continues to hone his craft even before he prepares to sleep. “I always watch world volleyball on YouTube before I hit the bed. I learn this way from the powerful European and American spikers. I study how they approach the ball, the swing of their arms, and how they react to a given tight situation.”
Pressed for further info, he let us in on his one big dream after graduating from the UAAP, where currently the Blue Eagles are the reigning back-to-back champions. “If it is possible at all, I’d like to play in commercial leagues abroad. I want a new challenge.”
Volleyball aficionados are one in saying that Espejo is a cut above the rest of the nation’s spikers. “The way he plays qualifies him for stints in commercial volleyball outside the country,” one said.
In the just-concluded semifinal playoffs of the second season of the Spikers’ Turf Collegiate Conference, an annual undertaking of Sports Vision in cooperation with official outfitter Accel and official ball Mikasa, the Blue Eagles for the first time in the tournament got the scare of their lives when De La Salle University-Taft, now under new coach Nes Pamilar, extended them to five sets in Game 1 of their best-of-three showdown before pulling through, 25-16, 17-25, 25-23, 26-28, 15-7.
Though they swept the series to advance to the finals against the National University Bulldogs again, the Green Spikers made them them sweat for every point in the second game. Ateneo won, 25-24, 25-19, 25-17.
Forced into an unfamiliar situation of being seriously threatened, setter Ish Polvorosa turned to Espejo most of the time as the Katipunan squad reverted back to power game. Espejo piled up 25 points in the first semifinal playoff and 24 in the second, 10 of them on booming, missile-accurate aces.
The first time he was named Player of the Game in the UAAP, Espejo, 16 at the time of his first ever appearance in the glamorous university league, he said he felt ecstatic. It meant, he explained, that he did something really, really good for his team.
The feel-good excitement still washes over him each time he gets chosen best player of the game more, he said, from knowing he’s singled out because his team has won the match.
When the Marikina boy from the town of Concepcion debuted for Ateneo in the UAAP, he at once showed what power he was capable of. He was already whacking the ball then like he was sending lightning bolts upon the opposition’s side of the court while seemingly suspended high in the air. Best of all, he kept relatively quiet after delivering a crisp, deep spike after crisp, deep spike. There was no swagger in his movement or airs about him at a time when volleyball aficionados and fans were ready to embrace him even if he celebrated every point he made in a loud, brash way. He would be readily forgiven if he did; after all, he was new, so young, so exciting.
Thank heavens he is woven from a different cloth. Then and now, on and off the court, he remains a quiet, humble person. He gains everyone’s respects as a result; even his archrivals on the other side of the net like him. A few even love him, say. If he sometimes loses his cool, it’s always because the opposing player has gone overboard with his derision and taunting.
Marie Espejo, a regular fixture in Marck’s every game, described her only son as really “tahimik. ‘Pag nasa bahay, kain, tulog lang.” The proud mother of two, her eyes lighting up, said her firstborn has never ever caused her or his dad, who’s been an OFW in Saipan for several years now, any major headache. Except, she quickly added, for that one time when Marck was brought home by friends with a seriously fractured elbow.
A dream come true
Marck recalled fracturing his left elbow in four places after a bad fall while playing basketball, not volleyball, in a barangay tournament when he was about to graduate from Sta. Elena High School. His left arm was still in plaster cast when he, accompanied by his high school coaches, showed up for the Ateneo varsity tryout on Katipunan. Without second thoughts, coach Oliver Almadro took him in right there and then, arm in plaster cast and all.
It turned out that the highly emotional coach, who was with the NU camp at the time, had already seen Marck play in a National Capital Region meet two years ago when he was still a sophomore high school student. The coach had been suitably impressed by his play and told him to seek him out after his graduation from Sta. Elena High School.
Imagine Marck’s joy when he found out coach Almadro had moved back to Ateneo. His top-of-the-mountain dream was not to play for Ateneo, but rather to be a student of that exclusive school. The dream to become an Atenean was triggered by, Marck explained, his encounters with the school’s student volunteers teaching math and English to public school students under a program called Tulong Dunong. “Mga ismarte ang mga Atenistang bumibisita sa aming school, mga henyo sa math at napakahusay magsalita ng Ingles. Sabi ko sa sarili doon din ako magkokolehiyo sa Ateneo pagdating ng araw. Gagawa ako ng paraan para makapag-aral din doon.”
That was what greatly motivated him, he said, to train harder and become a very good volleyball player so that he could get an athletic scholarship from Ateneo.
Under coach Almadro, Marck has developed into an extraordinary wing spiker and server. “Coach always pushes me hard during training, challenging me to raise my game higher and higher.”
The Blue Eagles’ daily practices may be long and rigorous, but Marck said he devotes as much time to his studies as to his training. “Someday ‘pag nagkapamilya na ako, gusto kong ipagmalaki sa mga magiging anak ko hindi lang ang mga UAAP championship trophies ko, kundi pati ang diploma ko bilang graduate ng Ateneo.”