After last year’s ‘nightmare’, the South Korean women’s스포츠토토 volleyball team is back in front of a big rock.
The team, led by head coach Cesar Hernandez, left Incheon International Airport for Turkiye Istanbul on Wednesday to compete in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) 2023.
Coach Cesar will be joining the team in the country. Cesar was unable to fly in due to a scheduled match with Turkkiye Bakıpbank, where he also coaches, and the team has been training under coach Han Yumi. Han communicated with the coach by checking in on the players’ physical condition on a daily basis, and also sent videos of practice games to get detailed instructions and incorporate them into training.
After arriving in Istanbul, Cesar’s team will travel to Antalya for the first week of the VNL. This year’s VNL will take place from June 30 to July 2 in Turkuye, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Last year, the national team suffered a disgraceful 0-0 record for the first time in the history of the tournament.
The team, which was led by Park Jung-ah (Pepper Savings Bank) after the retirement of veterans such as Kim Yeon-kyung (Heungkuk Life), Kim Soo-ji (Heungkuk Life) and Yang Hyo-jin (Hyundai E&C) after their fourth-place finish at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, lost all 12 matches. They also suffered a humiliating 1-5 loss at the World Championships.
“There is a very big rock in front of us. At first it won’t move, but if you keep pushing it, it will. Once it’s rolling, it’s going to keep rolling, so I’m going to keep challenging for the national team, even if it’s hard right now,” said Cesar, whose thoughts and direction are not unknown, but it’s true that the team’s worst results have made volleyball officials and fans uncomfortable.
The composition of the team hasn’t changed much since then. This is a team that has been weakened and is once again facing a big rock. Objectively, they”re still classified as an underdog. Their current FIVB ranking is 23rd. In Asia, they are fourth behind China (5th), Japan (6th), and Thailand (15th). The immediate schedule is not easy. The team will play their first game against Turkiye in Antalya on January 1, followed by Canada (2), the United States (3), and Thailand (4).
Coach Han Yumi and advisor Kim Yeon-kyung. ⓒ Korea Volleyball Association
But this time, they have a psychological boost. ‘Volleyball legend’ Han Yoo-mi has joined the team as a coach, while ‘volleyball queen’ Kim Yeon-kyung will serve as an advisor. Their addition is a big plus for the national team, as they will be able to guide the juniors and act as a bridge between Cesar and the players.
Captain Park Jung-ah (Pepper Savings Bank) said, “We didn’t perform well last year. On the first day we met, I said to the players, ‘Let’s work hard. Everyone has a strong will.”
“I know that the players have to perform well and show improvement,” said Kim Yeon-kyung, who is accompanying the team as an advisor. Unfortunately, Kim won’t be able to make the full VNL schedule. She will return to Korea in early June to train with her team, Heungkuk Life.
The team needs to win as many games and sets as possible in the VNL to move up the rankings and finish in the top two at the World Qualifier Group C in Poland in September to qualify for the Paris Olympics. It will be interesting to see if the national team, which is determined to restore its honor, can wake up from last year’s nightmare and show new possibilities and hope.