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Umandal off to Bahrain



Joshua Umandal becomes the latest Filipino to play overseas as he left for Bahrain on Friday morning to compete in the Isa bin Rashid Volleyball League.

His management agency, Virtual Playground, made the confirmation to Daily Tribune, saying that the 22-year-old spiker will see action for Bani Jamra in one of the toughest volleyball leagues in the Middle East.

He becomes the fifth Filipino volleyball player to compete abroad next to currently active club imports Jaja Santiago, Marck Espejo, Bryan Bagunas and Mylene Paat.

Santiago is already in her third year with the Saitama Ageo Medics while Espejo is with FC Tokyo and Bagunas with Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in the Japan V.League.

Paat, for her part, is campaigning for Nakhon Ratchasima in the Thailand Volleyball League.

“I am honored to be an import because I dreamed of playing overseas for a long time. My kuyas in Marck and Bryan started the trend and I am happy to follow their trail,” said Umandal shortly before boarding his 10 a.m. flight.

“I hope this will be the way for men’s volleyball to be given support in the Philippines. If it can be done in other Asian countries, I believe and pray that it will happen to us very soon.”

Virtual Playground general manager for operations Mark Salamat said Umandal will stay in Bahrain for two months before going home to join the Nationals in their preparation for the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi this May.

“Joshua Umandal will play for Bani Jamra Volleyball Club. The season will run for two months. After that, he is set to return home to join the national squad in its training for the SEA Games in Hanoi,” Salamat said, adding that there is no information as to when the Bahraini tournament will kick off.

“No details yet on the opening of the league.”

Sideliners believe that Umandal wasn’t heavily recruited, especially after playing behind Espejo and Bagunas during the 30th SEA Games in 2019 in which the Nationals came up with a historic silver-medal finish.

But the former University of Santo Tomas star proved doubters wrong when he stepped up big time in the AVC Asian Men’s Club Championships in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand last year.

With Espejo and Bagunas busy with their respective Japanese teams, the 6-foot-2 Umandal carried the scoring load enough to draw the attention of international coaches and talent evaluators.

In fact, during their final game against Sri Lankan powerhouse CEU Sports Club, Umandal erupted for 28 points, leading the Philippines to a 25-14, 22-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-11 victory.

Umandal said despite having limited training due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, he will still play his heart out and make the Filipinos proud.

“It’s hard to expect a lot from me since I wasn’t able to train properly due to the pandemic. But rest assured that I will do my best to perform well in Bahrain and repay the trust they gave to us, Filipinos,” he said.

“I will be carrying the Philippine flag when I’m on the court.”

Espejo and Bagunas celebrated the inclusion of Umandal in the elite circle of Filipino imports.

“Good luck, buddy,” Espejo posted on his social media account.