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Heungkuk Life Insurance, will it enter the lead competition again

Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders of the V-League Women’s Division emerged as the most popular club regardless of gender as the “Volleyball Empress” Kim Yeon-kyung returned for the second time in 2022. Heungkuk Life went straight to the championship as the No. 1 player in the regular league last season to match its popularity, but it fell victim to the “reverse sweep” as it lost three consecutive games after two wins in the championship against High Pass of the Korea Expressway Corporation. It was a very disappointing result for Heungkuk Life, which even recruited Italian coach Marcelo Avondan to win the championship.

Heungkuk Life’s goal this season is, of course, to win the championship in the championship game. Heungkuk Life Insurance was leading the league with 11 wins and one loss in 12 games until the second round. However, Heungkuk Life Insurance slowed down to three wins and three losses in six games in the third round and ended the first half by giving up the lead to Hyundai Engineering & Construction Hillstate, which has won nine consecutive games. Heungkuk Life Insurance’s pursuit of the lead has become even more remote as it suffered a complete defeat with a set score of 0-3 in its fourth round showdown with Hyundai E&C on Dec. 31, 2023.

However, Heungkuk Life Insurance, which had slowed down from eight games to four wins and four losses since the third round, recovered a good trend by winning both games held in the new year of Gapjin. On the 4th, it won a full set victory over IBK Industrial Bank Altos, which was on the rise, and on the 7th, it produced a two-set eight-point reversal against Pepper Savings Bank AI Peppers, bringing three points. Heungkuk Life, which succeeded in turning the mood in the new year and narrowed the point gap with the leader Hyundai Engineering & Construction to three points, will be able to enter the lead competition again.

Heungkuk Life solved its biggest pre-season homework in April 2023. It was Kim Yeon-koung, who first became an FA in the V League, who stayed there. Kim Yeon-koung rejected offers from several clubs and signed a one-year contract worth 750 million won with Heungkuk Life Insurance, where she first started her professional career. In addition, “best friend” Kim Soo-ji, who attended elementary, middle and high schools with Kim Yeon-koung and played for the national team for a long time, also strengthened her central position by signing a three-year contract and a total annual salary of 310 million won.

However, Heungkuk Life Insurance had a lot of negative factors while preparing for this season. In the first Asian quarter draft held in April 2023, the team selected the lowest seventh-ranked team among the seven teams. Avondanja said, “I have had an eye on this player since I was a member of the Finnish league,” adding, “I named Raina Tokoku, a mixed player from Ghana and Japan. However, Heungkuk Life was also disappointed that it missed out on Ponfun Gedfard (Industrial Bank) and Wipawi Shitong (Hyundai Construction), both of which were members of the Thai national team.

A number of players have also been injured. Kim Soo-ji, who made a comeback as Heungkuk Life Insurance in six years, suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery. Kim Hae-ran, the eldest sister of Heungkuk Life Insurance, was also injured just before the opening of the season and could not join the team. On top of that, Kim Dae-eun, who played as the main striker in international competitions such as VNL and was selected as the main outside hitter by Avon Danja, also failed to score a single goal in only two games this season due to her shoulder injury.

Heungkuk Life led the team with 11 wins and 1 loss until the second round even in such a difficult situation. The twin guns that led to Kim Yeon-kyung and Yelena Mrazenovic were responsible for the attack, and as middle blockers Kim Soo-ji and Kim Chae-yeon were injured one after another, 177-cm-tall Raina also played as middle blockers. The inability of other clubs to display 100 percent of their power to play with new players in the early part of the season was also the key to Heungkuk Life to lead the team.

However, things changed rapidly in the third round. While Heungkuk Life Insurance had only three wins and three losses in six games in the third round, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, which had four wins and four losses in eight games since the opening of the season, took the lead by running a nine-game winning streak. Heungkuk Life lost to Korea Expressway Corporation, which won shutouts side by side in the first round, on December 17, 2023, after a full-set battle, and three days later, it collapsed to Hyundai Engineering & Construction 1-3, finishing the first half in second place.

Heungkuk Life, which lost 0-3 to Hyundai Engineering & Construction on the last day of 2023, succeeded in changing the atmosphere by winning two consecutive games after the new year. Heungkuk Life won 3-2 after a full set match against IBK on the 4th. The performance of Yelena and Kim Yeon-kyung, who scored 47 points, was also brilliant, but Kim Hae-ran Rivero, who played his second game after returning from injury, showed off his “steel defense” with 52.94% receiving efficiency with 25 digs.

After losing in the first set, Heungkuk Life Insurance was lagging far behind 14-22 in the second set after losing in the first set. However, Heungkuk Life Insurance Co., Ltd. chased after Kim Yeon-koung who urged its teammates to make efforts by shouting “Let’s do it,” won the second set after a neck-and-neck race in deuce, and also won in the third and fourth sets to earn three points. In particular, Raina scored 15 points and posted 43.75 percent of receiving efficiency on the day, which was notable.

Raina, who used to fill the empty spots of the team by moving between outside heaters, middle blockers and apogit spikers throughout the first half, has been fixed on the outside heater position since the fourth round. For Heungkuk Life Insurance, which was concerned about attacks focused on the twin guns leading to Kim Yeon-kyung and Yelena, if Raina plays as a “three option,” the attacks could become more diverse. Raina will be even more valuable than now if he increases his receiving efficiency a little more, which is only 26.54 percent for the season.

It is also very encouraging that experienced middle blocker Kim Soo-ji is back to protect the center with Lee Ju-ah. Of course, it is difficult to expect a powerful mobile attack from Kim Soo-ji as before as the heyday has passed, but Heungkuk Life’s mobile attack can now be left to “Lee Dong-ju” Lee Ju-ah. Although the power of the attack has decreased somewhat, Kim Soo-ji’s skill in reading the game and her sense of blocking from her 188cm height can still pose a big threat to the opponent.

Heungkuk Life Insurance, which recorded 2 wins and 2 losses with Hyundai Engineering & Construction until the 4th round, has two showdowns with Hyundai Engineering & Construction on February 12 and March 12. The results of these two showdowns are likely to determine the direction of this season’s regular league winners.

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