Bagunas gives men’s volleyball a boost in the Philippines

Lausanne, Switzerland, April 25, 2020 – Bryan Bagunas is a 22-year-old player from the Philippines. He led his country’s national team to a silver medal finish which ended a 42-year medal drought at the Southeast Asian Games.

Lausanne, Switzerland, April 25, 2020 – Bryan Bagunas is a 22-year-old player from the Philippines. He led his country’s national team to a silver medal finish which ended a 42-year medal drought at the Southeast Asian Games. He is also a member of the Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in the Japan V.League. As part of a series of articles looking at volleyball in the Southeast Asian region, he tells us how he got into the sport and how he helped put men’s volleyball in the spotlight.

Bryan Bagunas
Born: October 10, 1997 in Batangas, Philippines
Plays for: Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler and the Philippines

“Basketball was the first sport I played, then I got curious in playing volleyball in one of our high school intramurals. It was during my sophomore year when I started to focus on playing volleyball. There was even a time that I had to participate in both basketball and volleyball events in the intramurals. But I fell in love with volleyball more, and since then I enjoyed playing it and did my best to improve myself.

“In 2014 I became part of our regional team that competed at the national championship. There were a lot of scouts from different universities there – mostly from Manila – who were looking for prospects for the next season. Back then I really had no idea what the UAAP and NCAA (top two collegiate leagues in the Philippines) were and at that time I just played whenever my team needed me to play.

“I was not really aware of volleyball players and leagues when I was in high school. I only started to take interest in knowing some players when I was already in college. I saw Wilfredo Leon play and he really caught my attention because he played so well. I can say that he is my volleyball idol.

“It was quite a struggle for me and my family when I was younger especially when I played in municipal and national tournaments. Whenever I needed to have a new pair of playing shoes, it was difficult to find my size because I already had big feet back then and there were very limited pairs being sold in my hometown. So I had to wear a pair of shoes that was a size smaller just to be able to participate in these tournaments, which opened the opportunity for me to be discovered.

“After being scouted and recruited at the national championship, my collegiate volleyball career began. I chose National University because I believed in their programme and how well they have handled their student-athletes. It was really the right choice even though I had offers from other universities.

“My first three years of playing for my university were quite frustrating but also challenging because we always finished as runners-up. It was in 2018 when I got the chance to taste a championship title, then I followed it up with another title win, which opened more opportunities for me as an athlete. I became a club player in my third year in university and then a national team player that participated at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games. At this point, I was not only doing it for myself, I was able to help my family as well.

“As a national team player, I had a chance to showcase my skills on the international stage. I had combined emotions of pressure and excitement. We did not have that much preparation before the 2017 SEA Games so we came home empty handed.

“That did not stop me from honing my craft and when I had an opportunity to represent the country again at the ASEAN University Games in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, we made history as we won gold after defeating long-time reigning champions Thailand. It was such an honour for us to bring pride and glory to our country. At that moment I told myself that I would continue to be a better athlete and give more pride to the Philippines.

“Playing for Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in the Japan V.League was another exciting experience in my career. It was incomparable to the local leagues I have been in and even to international competitions I have participated in. It offered a similar but different experience, in a sense that I am familiar with the place because our university trained a lot there and got accustomed to the programmes, but different because I got the chance to play with Japanese and other foreign players.

“There are differences in training techniques because there is more focus on the physical aspect from strong to slow hits in the Philippines, while there is more focus on playing techniques like in serving, receiving, spiking, digging and blocking in Japan.

“I learned a lot from my Japanese coaches and trainers. I have to be mindful and patient with every point, down to not compromising the basics skills like being in proper receiving position and having good service fundamentals. I also developed a good mindset and focus in the match. I learned that I should always be alert and have the presence of mind on each and every move of the opponent.

“Playing against international volleyball stars Michal Kubiak, Matey Kaziyskiy and Yuji Nishida was exciting and challenging. I still can not imagine that I have played against such strong players. I observed how they played and tried to learn from them – their service, reception, spike and block. By watching them, I was able to learn more techniques that I was able to apply in improving my own skills.

“I could say that my most unforgettable moment was when I got my first point in my first international club match. It was a solid block on an attack of JT Thunder’s Thomas Edgar. That really boosted my morale.

“I was thrilled to play at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games because I believe we gave much more in front of our home crowd, since we were not able to do that in 2017 because we did not have much preparations for that. It was also the first time that I was teaming up with Marck Espejo. I am also glad that my university coach also led the national team this time.

“Our supporters had a lot of expectations since they believed that it was the best team to be fielded in for the tournament, which gave us some pressure. However, since the team put a lot of effort and hard work in each match – we made history. It may not be a gold medal but to bring the country back to a final after 42 years felt like we won the championship. It felt good to bring honour and pride for the country, seeing the faces of our countrymen and how proud they were of our achievement was priceless.

“It was a heart-warming and satisfying experience to play for the first time with Marck. We were college and local club rivals but being teammates in the national team offered a different story as we really teamed-up to achieve something for the country.

“For me and Marck to be called the new pillars of Philippine men’s volleyball is such a strong recognition, but I believe that the entire team left a mark in our volleyball history and helped get the men’s volleyball get noticed again. It was all about teamwork to achieve such glory. We helped each other in different aspects of the game and that was our edge to get a medal.

“Likewise, being recognised as Mr Volleyball by the Philippine Sportswriters Association is such a huge honour for me and my family. It is a great platform to promote men’s volleyball and to influence the younger generation to get into sports and aim for pride and honour for the country.

“As a professional athlete and national team player, my goal at the moment is to continue playing in foreign club leagues like the V.League and to win more medals. It is every athlete’s objective to have a successful career and to bring honour not just for themselves but also for their country. In the future, when it is time to retire from volleyball, I would like to have my own business – a franchise maybe.”