Posted Mar 15th 2014
Marck Espejo: The Supreme Spiker
By Anton Roxas Posted Jan 30th 2014
Ateneo de Manila University has never been known as a powerhouse in the Men’s Volleyball tournament of the UAAP. In fact, it is the only team in the league that has never won a championship.
Thus, when Oliver Almadro, who previously led the team to its only Final Four appearances in 2009 and 2010, returned to the Loyola Heights based campus to reassume his head coaching position, the first thing he did was identify the type of players he needed in order to produce a competitive squad.
The Blue Spikers already had a tall tandem of middle hitters in sophomores Rex Intal and Josh Villanueva but lacked a setter with height. Eventually, Almadro recruited the 5 foot 10 Ish Polvorosa from Cavite to run his offense.
Veterans Neil Flores, Ysay Marasigan and libero JP Pareja were ready to contribute as well, but Almadro felt that there was still one more missing piece to the puzzle.
“Kailangan ko ng matibay na Open Spiker.”
The first time that Almadro saw Marck Jesus Espejo was back in 2010 at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium. Espejo was a high school sophomore playing in the National Capital Region (NCR) meet, which is a tournament that features the best players representing different cities in the Metro. Even back then, Almadro already knew that the kid was something special.
“Yung form niya, tama at mataas tumalon. He was tall and slim, the perfect body for a volleyball player.”
Espejo was born in Manila on March 1, 1997, to parents Joseph and Maria. He also has a younger sister, named Angel, who is 12-years old today. The Espejo family resides in Marikina, where the young prodigy was first introduced to the sport by his cousin, Kenneth.
“Nahilig ako sa volleyball dahil sa pinsan ko na Grade 4, naglalaro. Grade 6 ako at 5’6” na yung height ko. Pinagpatuloy ko nalang kasi naisip ko, nang dahil sa volleyball, baka makapasok ako sa magandang school,” recalled Espejo, who was only 11 years old when he made his first varsity team at Concepcion Elementary school in Marikina.
Almadro’s eye for talent did not fail him as Espejo soon developed into a fine player at Sta. Elena High School playing under coaches Efren Amorato, who is currently coaching the UE Girls Volleyball team and Ramil Bataller, who is also a Math professor for college students at the Ateneo.
One of Espejo’s best achievements as a player was winning a championship and being hailed as the Best Attacker in the 2012 Palarong Pambansa held in Pangasinan. Because of these accolades, several college coaches began recruiting him, including Sammy Acaylar, who was then the head coach of La Salle.
Ultimately, Espejo followed Almadro, the first coach who took notice of him, to the Blue Eagles' nest in Katipunan Avenue. He also saw Almadro’s return to Ateneo after coaching in NU for two UAAP seasons as a very timely blessing.
“Ever since, dream school ko talaga Ateneo, but walang bridge or tutulong para makapasok ako,” said Espejo, who is now taking up Interdisciplinary Studies.
With Espejo in the mix, Ateneo has suddenly emerged as a force to reckon with the UAAP Season 76 Men’s Volleyball tournament.
As of this writing, the Blue Spikers have won five in a row for a 7-3 record and are tied for second place in the team standings with perennial title contender FEU. Ateneo is still the only team to have successfully beaten defending champion NU (9-1 record, 1st), and they did it in straight sets back in January 18.
In ten matches, Espejo, who has grown to 6 foot 2, is averaging 21.1 points per match and is ranked No. 2 (211 points) behind UST’s Mark Alfafara (236 points) in the list of the league’s Best Scorers. He is also ranked in the Top 10 in spiking (4th), blocking (9th), serving (2nd), dgging (9th) and receiving (6th).
Although he may be in the running for several individual awards this season, Espejo chooses not to get caught up with the hype.
“Para sa akin, bonus nalang siguro kasi di ko rin in-expect na ganito yung mangyayari sa amin. So, wag namin intindihin yon. Laro lang.”
At the tender age of 16, it’s pretty awesome to see the things he can do on the court – Soaring through the air like Superboy, reaching for the sky with the left hand before directing the path of ball with his right. The way he varies his attacks speaks volumes of the kid’s intelligence. And, his calm demeanor on the court shows that he is mature beyond his years.
His teammate, Ricci Gonzales, described him best: “Espejo is supreme.”
And, together, Espejo and the Ateneo Blue Spikers are on the cusp of volleyball supremacy.
The ‘Game of the Week’ in the UAAP Season 76 Men’s Volleyball tournament airs every Friday, 2:00 P.M. on ABS-CBN Sports + Action. Tomorrow, January 31, 2014 will feature the Ateneo Blue Spikers and the FEU Tamaraws.