by: Maragarette Nuñez || Photo Credit: Tiebreaker Times
With the start of the annual sports leagues in Japan, Filipino sports sensations go the distance as imports in separate athletic clubs. This year marks a breakthrough for Philippine sports as local athletes in the east enter three sports: Volleyball, Basketball, and Football — contrary to 2018, when the only imports were for volleyball.
For volleyball, former National University captains Jaja Santiago and Bryan Bagunas have once again joined the Japan V.League. Shortly after Chery Tiggo bagged gold in the PVL, Santiago renewed her contract with Saitama Ageo Medics, earning another championship title for the club as a middle blocker. Bagunas — in his third year in Japan — sticks with Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler despite offers from two other Japanese teams.
Hailed as the Philippines’ King Eagle, Marck Espejo also returns to Japan, meeting new colleagues in FC Tokyo after exiting Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in 2019. He recently clashed with Bagunas — now Oita Miyoshi — in order to seize another triumph for FC Tokyo from a four-set match, 26-24, 22-25, 31-29, 25-20, last February 6.
In basketball, the Ravena Brothers separate the potent duo by playing for different teams. Kiefer Ravena greatly contributes to the Shiga Lakestars as part of the top 10 in assists and top 5 in steals in the entirety of the B.League. Thirdy Ravena — the duo’s other half — stays loyal to the San-en NeoPhoenix after holding the record as the first import in the Japan B.League in 2020.
Similarly, sensational brothers Javier and Juan Gomez de Liaños, have joined different squads. Javier marks his debut overseas as a professional player in the Ibaraki Robots while his brother, upon mutual agreement, has terminated his contract with former team Earthfriends Tokyo Z for undisclosed reasons.
Filipino-Americans Kobe Paras and Bobby Ray Parks Jr., who have chosen to raise the Philippine flag, continue to be the country’s pride in Japan. Parks opens the door for the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins to enter the league’s top 10, and Paras continues to wow basketball enthusiasts with his maintained prowess. Other Filipino sensations such as Kemark Cariño of the Aomori Wat’s, Dwight Ramos of the Toyama Grouses, and Matthew Aquino of the Shinshu Brave Warriors keep the ball rolling as they all average in double figures immediately after their debut.
In football, women’s division imports Sarina Bolden and Quinley Quezada make history as pioneer imports of the sport in Japan, with both nominated by the Philippine Football Federation to represent the nation in the first-ever Women Empowerment League. Bolden and Quezada are of the teams Elfen Saitama and JEF United Chiba, respectively.
In the men’s division, Jefferson Tabinas continues to be an asset to Mito HollyHock. The 23-year-old kicked his first goal in the league in a 2-2 draw against Renofa Yamaguchi on October 17, 2021.
The opportunity to showcase their prowess and gain expertise overseas is a primary goal for local professional athletes from all fields of sports. It is of no doubt that the number of Filipino athletes abroad will increase in double measures as the country unhurriedly establishes its name in the global sports field.
“If you go to a high-level league, you can only grow, develop, and be more competitive. And I expect more players to follow that path,” stated Charlie Dy, co-owner of basketball team Alab Pilipinas and sports agency Virtual Playground.