In the 2022-2023 season, Korean Air has been soloing without giving up first place even once since the opening.
They are flying high towards the destination of winning the ‘Wire to Wire’. Throughout the first half, they marked 5 wins and 1 loss in each round. In the 4th round, when he struggled due to lack of stamina, he had 4 wins and 2 losses. The winning streak is not very long like Hyundai Engineering & Construction in the women’s division, but there is no losing streak either. Woori Card and OK Financial Group won twice each, and KB Insurance also won in the last game of the 4th round ahead of the All-Star Game on January 24th. KB Insurance recorded a 3-0 win over Korean Air for the first time in five years. By the end of the 4th round, Korean Air had 19 wins, 5 losses and 55 points. It is 9 points away from second place Hyundai Capital. The pursuit is not easy.
Korean Air has been a regular in the championship match for the past six years, except for the 2019-2020 season, when spring volleyball was not held due to Corona 19. This season, which is aiming for three consecutive championships, is highly likely to do the same. At Media Day before the season, the opposing team’s manager and players unanimously said, “Korean Air’s power is the strongest.” Above all, Korean Air’s strength is its unwavering sense of stability in any situation. Outside heater Jeong Ji-seok and Kwak Seung-seok’s solid receiving line are the main engine, and the best setter in the league, Han player Yoo Kwang-woo, runs the team smoothly. In fact, Korean Air boasts a team composition of almost national team level, as the three main setters of the national team are the share of Korean Air.
The balance of attacks, such as left and right and center, was also well balanced. The trust and experience created by working together for a long time are gradually accumulating. So there are crises, but they are not easily shaken. There are also enough backup resources to handle the tight schedule of 36 games in the season. Lim Dong-hyuk, Jeong Han-yong, and Kim Min-jae symbolize the future of Korean Air. This is thanks to the front desk setting the right direction and wisely pursuing the rebuilding work in recent years. The upbringing was also good. The rapid growth of second-year middle blocker Kim Min-jae is the best harvest in the V-League this season. Even if it’s not them, there are many players who will play as a starting point for other teams. It is easy to draw a picture of who will lead the team in a few years. Thanks to that, the rest of the homework has been simplified. We need to find someone to follow in the footsteps of the libero and veteran setter.
The strength of Korean Air, which all volleyball fans know, is well revealed in the record.
Based on the results up to the 4th round, Korean Air ranked first in the total attack, serve, blocking, back attack, and time difference categories. The fast attack and quick open are second. It shakes the opponent’s receive with a powerful and strategic serve, which is a keyword in volleyball these days, and blocks it well with blocking. In addition to this, quick attacks score easily. As can be seen from the record in the quick-open category, Korean Air’s strength lies in its speed. This is thanks to having the best setter Han Seon-su and Yoo Kwang-woo. It fits exquisitely with the image of the parent company airline.
On the other hand, the open attack part is the lowest. That height has its weaknesses. In order for the opponent to beat Korean Air, this part must be dug into. We need to take the speed from Korean Air’s attack as much as possible to make an open attack. Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds. Receive and defense are also top-notch for Korean Air. Due to the team’s weakness, the libero, the receiving efficiency is second behind Hyundai Capital, but it makes up for it in connection. In the set category, Korean Air ranks first. So it is difficult for the opponent to win easily.
Korean Air’s notably good connection is due to their exquisite ability to outwit opposing strikers. A good setter lifts the ball well for hitting. Along with this, it often creates a no-blocking, 1-1 blocking situation for the striker. In men’s volleyball, which has high decision power, this part is important. In a 1-1 situation, the initiative lies with the striker. Korean Air’s setters are overwhelming in this ability. Out of 23 games since the season opener against KB Insurance, Korean Air had more 1-1 blocking situations than its opponents in 22 games. Only in the Hyundai Capital game on December 28, this figure was trailing 38-39. The opponent is struggling with Korean Air’s attack, which had more 1-1 blocking situations than the opponent. Of course, it took time to become a fast team that is difficult to find gaps in various attacks, stable defense, and connections.
The person who gave Korean Air its current color is director Park Ki-won. After serving for four years from the 2016-2017 season, many things have changed. Among the many decisions he made as head coach, the most notable was fixing outside heaters Jung Ji-seok and Kwak Seung-seok in the rotation. Korean Air’s rotation has not changed for several years.
Coach Park Ki-won also refined the framework of the defensive formation. After he took over his baton, he emphasized forward pressure and defense. Rather than covering the entire 9m court, both horizontally and vertically, I chose and focused. To do this, players moved inward from the end and sidelines and made the defensive net tighter. There was a reason the director made that choice. In men’s volleyball, where the rally is short, the position to receive the ball during the dig was important 메이저놀이터. “I looked at the data and when I got the ball under his knee, his counterattack rate went down. Digging didn’t work either. A successful counterattack required a defender to catch the ball from above the waist. To solve this, forward pressure defense is the trend of world volleyball.”
In order to realize the coach’s idea, the players need to practice. No matter how much the coach directs, it is not easy for the players to block the opponent’s fearsome spikes over the net while moving forward. First of all, fear is the biggest barrier. Coach Park changed his defense training method. From the man-to-man training where two players hit the ball and receive it, the distance gradually narrowed. Through this, players tried to reduce their instinctive fear of fast balls and naturally increase their defensive reaction speed.
Along with this, blocking technology was also supplemented. The efficiency of the suppression pressure defense increased only when the shield was properly erected to block the opponent’s attack in the first place. Players made their hands more precise when blocking so that the ball that touched the block did not deviate too much from the Korean Air court. Thanks to this, Korean Air got to play the ball in the court more often compared to the opposing team.
The secret to Korean Air’s ability to spend more time on blocking, receiving, and defense was a good setter.
Thanks to Han and Kwang-Woo Yoo, we spent less time practicing offense than other teams. Although the training time was limited, I was able to shorten the attack training because they raised it more accurately, and the remaining time was spent more on blocking and defense. In addition, thanks to the setter’s excellent connection skills, Korean Air players believed that if they put the ball on a certain point on the court, the setter would take care of the rest.
The serve, which was told not to be afraid even if he made a mistake and to be aggressive, also became a great weapon. Although they made more mistakes than the opposing team, Korean Air turned the game around with dramatic serves whenever necessary. Last year, the third round of the championship match against KB Insurance was like that. In a situation where they were trailing 10-12, Jeong Ji-seok’s serve turned the flow back and eventually won the championship after a bloody deuce battle. The same goes for this season. It was Jeong Ji-seok’s aggressive serve that ended the game on January 20th against KEPCO in the 4th round 5th set 17-16.
Korean Air’s volleyball has evolved a little more in the second year of coach Tommy Tilikhainen’s appointment. The most noticeable thing this season is the speed of the counterattack. Director Tilikhainen added a new option to the foundation laid by coach Park Ki-won. Now, not only Han and Kwang-Woo Yoo, but also other players try a quick pass when counterattacking after defense. As everyone moves like a setter, and the speed of the connection increases, a situation similar to a set is often created. Thanks to this, Korean Air’s strikers use speed rather than height to fully use their own attacking skills. This is why Korean Air is at the bottom of the open offensive category, but foreign player Lincoln Williams is running first in the overall offensive category. Coach Tillikainen tried this volleyball when he directed the Japanese V-League Nagoya Wolf Dogs. His cartoonish volleyball became a reality when he met talented Korean Air players. Korean Air’s volleyball now resembles the flow of international volleyball the most. I am curious about the remaining 5-6 rounds of Korean Air, which is aiming to achieve two consecutive trebles for the first time in men’s volleyball.