TOKYO — Rex Intal found new home in teaming up with his former rivals from National University and playing under former opposing coach Dante Alinsunurin in the Philippine men’s volleyball team.
“It’s a new environment pero I take it very seriously kasi it’s a learning opportunity pa rin kasi as an athlete hindi dapat magsettle so keep on learning,” said Intal, who will be making his second Southeast Asian Games appearance, when the 30th edition opens next week.
“Ang dami ko ng natutunan na bago kay coach Dante kung paano yung sistema niya, kung paano yung gameplan namin coming into SEA Games.”
Intal and fellow Ateneo products Marck Espejo and Ish Polvorosa used to exchange ferocious attacks and talk trash with National University’s Kim Malabunga, Francis Saura, Bryan Bagunas, Joshua Retamar and Ricky Marcos in the UAAP, where both schools clashed in sixth straight Finals.
But now they are united as one, seeking to end the 28-year medal drought of the Philippines in the men’s volleyball tournament of the SEA Games.
Intal, who last represented the country in the 2015 SEA Games, is coming off the bench under Alinsunurin.
But there are no hard feelings playing as substitute to starters Malabunga and Saura as he respects his coach’s system.
“No big deal yun sa akin kasi alam ko naman na yung sistema ni coach Dante kabisadong-kabisado na nung dalawang quickers so coming off the bench sinusuportahan ko sila Kim at Francis,” said the younger brother of PBA star JC.
The former Blue Eagle stressed that both the Bulldogs’ middle blockers really deserve the starting spot and he is still thankful because the national team was the bridge for them to be bestfriends.
“Silang dalawa yung una kong naging close sa team, simula day one. Coming from buong UAAP na walang pansinan and trash talkan, sila pa yung naging ka-close kong dalawa,” said Intal. “Ang laki ng hanga ko sa dalawang bata na yan kasi unang una malaki sila and may floor defense sila so nagtutulungan lang kami.”
“Lamang na lamang sila sa youth, they must make the most out of it kasi magandang experience to for them na naexperience ko na before,” he added.
Saura and Malabunga are also grateful for this opportunity as it built a strong bond between them and Intal.
“Siyempre pagdating sa UAAP magkakantsawan talaga pero pagdating sa labas magkakatropa talaga. Dito sa (national team) training naging mas buo pa kami, mas tumibay pa yung bonding namin,” Saura said.
Malabunga added: “Halos magkakapatid na yung samahan namin dito as in super close talaga. Hindi na UAAP yung pinaglalaruan namin; para na rin sa Pilipinas yung pinaglalaruan namin.”
Intal is just so happy to represent the country again and to build unlikely brotherhood with his former rivals, that’s why he is willing to guide his fellow middle blockers just to serve the country.
“Walang club team, club team dito. Walang school, school. Iisang team lang kami para sa bayan,” he said. “Tulungan lang talaga kami, kung sino yung nasa loob, tinitignan namin ang isa’t isa kung paano mas mapapaganda yung laro ng isa’t isa.”
And whenever he receives a go signal from Alinsunurin to check in come SEA Games, Intal is always ready to give everything for the Filipino Spikers.
“Kung huguitin man ako ni coach Dante, kailangan maging prepared lang ako and support lang ako sa team kasi ang ganda ng nilalaro nila,” Intal said.