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‘We’re bringing the camaraderie and the connection instilled by Coach Dante to this new national team.’

MARCK Espejo and the rest of the Philippine men’s volleyball team begin their AVC Challenge Cup for Men campaign. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Marck Espejo/IG

Marck Espejo formally makes his national team comeback when the Philippines battles Macau in the Asian Volleyball Confederation Challenge Cup for Men on Sunday at the Taipei Gymnasium in Taiwan.

The Pool D clash is scheduled at 10 a.m. with the Filipinos looking to start their campaign on a winning note.

Espejo along with two other seasoned players in middle blocker Rex Intal and winger Kim Malabunga will be playing key roles for the Nationals coached by Brazilian mentor Sergio Veloso.

The trio, who were instrumental in the Dante Alinsunurin-mentored Nationals’ silver medal finish in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, will not only add firepower to the 14-man Filipino crew but their veteran presence will also boost the team’s confidence in the tournament.

Espejo, Intal and Malabunga skipped the Pinoy spikers’ SEA Games stint in Cambodia last May but heeded the call of the Philippine National Volleyball Federation for another tour of duty in the tilt where a lone berth for the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup in Qatar scheduled 26 to 30 July is at stake.

“We’re bringing the camaraderie and the connection instilled by Coach Dante to this new national team,” Intal said.

The power-hitting Espejo, who is set to see action as an import for the Incheon Korean Air Jumbos in the Korean Volleyball League later this year, will be the focal point of the Nationals’ offense.

The five-time University Athletic Association of the Philippines Most Valuable Player will be backed by a good mix of seasoned and young players.

Espejo reunites with wing partner Jau Umandal, also a member of the Dante Alinsunurin-coached 2019 squad, and will take advantage of his connection with former Cignal teammate setter Vince Mangulabnan.

The Nationals will also bank on holdovers from the Phnom Penh SEA Games team playmaker Kim Dayandante, Filipino-American opposite spiker Steve Rotter, Lloyd Josafat, and liberos Manuel Sumanguid and Vince Lorenzo.

Raring to make their presence felt are Cignal’s Chumason Njigha, veteran hitter Madz Gampong, Filipino-American wing spiker Ryan Ka and De La Salle University standout Noel Kampton.

The Filipinos face Mongolia on Monday.

Teams will contest the pool round-robin preliminaries, with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the knockout Final 12 for seats in the quarterfinals.

The quarters, semifinal and final are all knockout affairs.

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