AROUND this time last year, Jessie Lopez and Dante Alinsunurin fulfilled their dream together when the Philippine men’s volleyball team captured the silver medal in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
It has always been the dream of Lopez and Alinsunurin to win a medal for Philippine men’s volleyball ever since they played together for the national team in 2007.
Alinsunurin was the captain of the Philippine team when he teamed up with Lopez, who was in his senior year at Far Eastern University during that time.
They played together in the 2007 Sting Cup in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and 2009 Asian Senior Men’s Volleyball Championship but they failed to bring home their dream medal.
“Pinangarap talaga namin na magkamedal. Noong time na naglaro ako hindi talaga kami manalo noon,” Alinsunurin shared to Spin.ph.
Their partnership has come a long way from playing together in the Air Force and Philippine team to coaching as Lopez also serves as assistant coach to Alinsunurin in National University men’s volleyball team.
They earned a shot to fulfill that dream when Alinsunurin took charge as head coach of the national team, while Lopez made it to the final line up.
“Noong nagkachance ulit kami na magrepresent sinabi ko lang sa kanya kahit bronze lang pwede na sa atin, pero silver pa yung binigay sa amin,” the national team coach recalled.
They exceeded their modest goal as the Filipino Spikers dethroned Thailand with a miraculous five-set comeback to reach the SEA Games Finals, where they yielded to Indonesia and settled for a silver medal that ended the four-decade medal drought.
Lopez played as back-up setter to rookie Joshua Retamar but he showed his brilliance in crunch time when Alinsunurin called his number.
The Nationals proved that teamwork makes the dream work in its amazing comeback win over the Thais with Bryan Bagunas nailing the iconic game-winning spike in the fifth set of the semis.
But the 34-year-old playmaker Lopez spelled the difference in that game as he entered late in the fourth set and sparked the comeback with his brilliant sets to Bagunas and Kim Malabunga to force a decider.
“Noong time na yon excited ako every time na sasabihan ako ni coach Dante na mag ready. Excited ako kasi after natin maka recover sa fourth set na down three points tayo, naramdaman ko mananalo tayo sa Thailand,” Lopez recalled. “Kaya hindi ako natakot na pumasok, Mas na-excite ako kasi crucial game and yun naman talaga yung nakikita kong plano ni coach Dante kaya nakasama pa ako sa lineup.”
Behind Bagunas’s winning spike, Lopez was the unsung hero of the team as he was able to recover a broken play and bump set the ball to his spiker to seal the silver medal.
It was a play that Lopez will remember for the rest of his life after finally achieving his dream with his teammate-turned-coach.
“Madami na nangyari na ganoong moment sa volley career ko pero that moment was different kasi SEA Games semifinal match tapos powerhouse Thailand ang kalaban,” he said. “Yun ang hinding hindi ko makakalimutan sa buong playing career ko. Madaming setter ang kayang gawin yun pero bihira lang yung player na mapunta sa ganong sitwasyon.”
Alinsunurin knew that his longtime buddy wouldn't let him down. That’s why he kept Lopez in their SEA Games campaign.
“Ang laki ng tiwala ko kay Jessie, kasi matagal ko din siyang nakasama as a teammate sa Airforce at sa National Team,” Alinsunurin said. “Siya kasi ang tipo ng tao na kapag binigyan mo ng role gagawin at gagampanan niya ito ng maayos at kadalasan nag-exceed pa siya kung ano ang expected sa kanya.”
“Bilang isa sa mga pinaka senior sa loob ng court nagpakita siya ng leadership at ang ganda ng decision-making sa set distribution,” he added.
A year has passed but the momentum of the rise of Philippine men’s volleyball was stopped by the Coronavirus Pandemic, which cancelled their Spikers’ Turf league and Asian Volleyball Confederation tournaments rescheduled for next year.
Alinsunurin and Lopez hope that they will get the go-signal to train and play again next year as they eye to win the gold in the 2021 SEA Games.
But even in these trying times, they are regaining hope and enough encouragement by simply watching the replays of their precious stint and looking at their SEA Games silver medal and bronze from Thailand Open Sealect Tuna championship last year.
“Naiiyak pa din ako honestly kasi matagal ko na pangarap magka-medal sa international tournament, pangarap namin nila coach Dante yun noong player pa siya,” Lopez said. “Pag tinitinitignan ko yung silver medal namin sa SEA Games at yung Bronze namin sa Sealect Tuna nagiging emotional ako.”