The aspirations were even stronger. Heungkuk Life, the reigning four-time champions of the V-League Women’s Division, topped the 2022-2023 regular season and booked a direct ticket to the championship finals, but had to settle for a fifth game against Korea Expressway Corporation to even the series at 2-2. They fell just one set short. Heungkuk Life coach Marcello Abondanza, 53, said: “The disappointment became another motivation. The players and I became even more determined (to win). I hope everyone feels the same way.”
All of the key players who led the team to the title in the regular season, including star Kim Yeon-kyung and foreign player Yelena, remained. Even though Kim became a free agent for the first time in Korea, she was very determined to win the title with Heungkuk Life. Her determination to win is evident from the length of her contract (one year). According to the Korean Volleyball Organization (KOVO) rules, a player must play three seasons to become a free agent again. “I really want to win the championship that I missed,” Kim said.
To avoid repeating last season’s disappointment, Heungkuk Life spent the offseason working on its weaknesses and refining its strengths. Free agent Kim Soo-ji returns after a six-year absence from the 2016-2017 season and is expected to fill in for middle blocker Jin, who ranked sixth in blocks (2.058 per set) last season. Heungkuk Life focused on improving their existing middle blockers, including Lee Ju-ah and Byun Ji-soo, and while they boasted the highest attack success rate (40.99%) and serve percentage (1.058 per set) among the seven clubs, they plan to improve their quality by diversifying their attack patterns and serves.
The 2023-2024 season will be another challenge for Abondanza. Whereas last season, he took over in February and needed a little time to plan and figure out the team’s strengths, this time around, he will be able to show his colors from the off-season. The 2023 Gumi Dodram Cup Professional Volleyball Tournament (KOVO Cup) in August showed the potential of the setters, including Kim Da-sol and Lee Won-jung, to create a more diverse offense, and the team worked on their chemistry with the attackers during the September training camp in Japan. “We’ve been working hard to get the players to play with one mind,” Abondanza said.
-How did your off-season preparation go?
“We played several matches before the season, and we emphasized connectivity in many aspects, such as technique, so that the players can play with a unified mindset in any match.”
-How he felt about his first KOVO Cup as head coach.
“We were disappointed with the result, but we were able to play a lot of players who didn’t get a chance in the regular season. I think it was a good experience for them. We didn’t have our best players, so the result was somewhat expected, but we didn’t try to play them too much.”
-On the benefits of the KOVO Cup and other off-season practices.
“I think the way the setters executed the game, I felt like they had a better understanding of every play, every situation, so that’s the biggest thing, and the middle blockers were playing ‘thinking volleyball’. We didn’t block very well, but it was a very positive thing because it gave us another ‘insight’.”
-Height on how the team’s height left something to be desired last season.
“My blocking left something to be desired. It’s a sensory area, so you can’t make dramatic changes in a short period of time, but we’ve been focusing on that and trying to improve, so I think we’ll be better. Blocking is as much about attitude as it is about technique. I’ve been working on being aggressive and trying to block aggressively. I think this will be complemented by the addition of Kim Soo-ji this season.”
-On what the team did to fill in the gaps.
“Blocking was probably the one thing that didn’t go well last season, but we also wanted to improve the quality of our serve, so we planned a lot of practice matches to help the players refine it. We realized that the areas of our team that need to grow are the ones that need more practice. Communication and coordination are important in practice, so we split our training into two parts. On one side, we repeated technical drills, and on the other side, we practiced connection and breathing.”토토사이트
-Heungkook Life The results from last season are a strong motivator for the team.
“It was a great motivation for me. I hope my players feel the same way. Starting with the upcoming opening match, I think that feeling will grow more and more as we play game after game.”
-With so many veterans on the roster, it seems like you have to think about the future as much as the present.
“It is. It’s the most important part of our team right now. Thankfully, the younger players are learning from Kim Hae-ran, Kim Yeon-kyung, and Kim Soo-ji and passing on their experience. As a coach, I’m trying to utilize the roster more than I did last season to build a team that can fill in when key players have fitness issues. I think those two things will be important for the younger players to develop.”