The IBK Altos, who have been in the league since the 2010 rookie draft but only joined the league in the 2011-2012 season due to ties, have played a total of 12 seasons since their inception until last season. However, the first seven seasons and the last five seasons have been completely different in terms of performance and team atmosphere. After winning its first overall title in the 2012-2013 season, the team quickly established itself as one of the V-League’s rising stars, reaching the championship game for six consecutive seasons and winning three titles by the 2017-2018 season.

However, in the last five seasons, from the 2018-2019 season to the 2022-2023 season, the team has only made it to spring volleyball once (in the 2020-2021 season), let alone winning a title or reaching the championship. The 2020-2021 season’s third-place finish in the regular season and a trip to Spring Volleyball was largely due to the “hard carry” of foreign player Anna Lazareva (Beijing BAIC Motor), who scored 867 points (2nd) on 43.41% success rate (3rd) in 29 regular season games.

After finishing sixth out of seven teams with 15 wins in 36 games last season, the bank lost veteran middle blocker Kim Soo-ji (Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders) in free agency, but added league-leading killers Hwang Min-kyung “Minky” and Hwang Min-kyung, and got the player they wanted with the No. 1 pick in both the Foreign Player Draft and the Asian Quarterly Draft. This is why the team is hoping for a rebound this season.

Disappointing season due to Kim Hee-jin’s injury

When Seo Nam-won took over as head coach ahead of the 2021-2022 season, the team had one of its worst seasons ever. Starting setter Cho Song-hwa and coach Kim Sani-sani left the team one after another, and head coach Seo Nam-won and general manager Yoon Jae-seop were fired just a month into the season. The only consolation was that Kim Ho-cheol was hired in December 2021, and newly acquired foreign player Dali Santana adapted to the league as the season progressed, improving his performance in the second half of the season to finish fifth.

After focusing on grabbing “house rabbit” Pyo Seung-ju and libero Shin Yeon-kyung in last year’s free agency, IBK selected 190-centimeter outside hitter Anastasia Gurvanova with the fourth pick in the foreign player draft. However, after arriving in July of last year and training with the team, Gurvanova was released before the season even began due to poor performance. Eventually, the bank brought back Dali Santana, who played in the 2021-2022 season, with 10 days left in the season.

The bank’s bigger woes came after the start of the season. Kim Hee-jin, the bank’s signature player and one of the most popular stars in the V-League, had his season cut short after struggling with a knee injury and deciding to undergo surgery in February. It was a setback for coach Kim Ho-cheol, who had planned to use Santana and Pyo Seung-ju as outside hitters and Hee-jin as an outside hitter to maximize his offense. Hee-jin underwent surgery and is rehabilitating with the goal of returning early in the season.

Amidst Hee-jin’s struggles and injuries, the lone bright spot for KEB was the play of outside hitter Pyo Seung-ju, who signed a second free agent contract with the bank. Pyo played in all 36 regular-season games for IBK last season, scoring 529 points on a 34.77% offensive success rate. This ranked seventh overall and second among Korean players, behind only Kim Yeon-kyung (Heungkuk Life) with 669 points.

Shin Yeon-ok (Korea Expressway Corporation High Pass), along with Kim Yeon-yeon (Hyundai E&C Hillstate) and Handa Hye (GS Caltex KIXX), are the other two liberos vying for the title of “league’s No. 2 libero,” and the efforts of Shin Yeon-kyung, the “captain” of KEB Hana Bank, have also been remarkable. Last season, Shin ranked fourth in receptions with a 50% efficiency rate and third in digs with 5.50 digs per set. Shin and Lee were the only players in the league last season to post a 50%+ receiving efficiency and 5+ digs per set at the same time.

Signing a No. 1 foreigner and a Thai national setter

IBK signed Kim Hee-jin, who was rehabilitating after the end of last season, for an annual salary of 150 million won and an option of 200 million won, and acquired Hwang Min-kyung, an outside hitter from Hyundai E&C, in the free agency market. Hwang Min-kyung was a solid left-side hitter at Hyundai E&C alongside Ko Yerim and Jeong Ji-yoon, so he’s no slouch as a partner for Pyo Seung-ju. However, the departure of Kim Soo-ji has left IBK with a weakened central defense.

In the foreign player draft in May, IBK won the first pick, beating out last season’s last-place finisher Pepper Savings Bank. Pepper Savings Bank selected Brittany Abercrombie, a 6-foot-5 1995-born apogee spiker who has played in Poland, Germany, Puerto Rico, and the Turkkiye League. With Ackromby firmly entrenched on the right side, the bank can utilize Kim Hee-jin, who has returned from injury, as a middle blocker.메이저사이트

The bank also earned the No. 1 overall pick in the V-League’s inaugural Asia Quarterly Draft in April. Without hesitation, the bank selected Ponpun Gedpard, the star setter of the Thai national team, who was considered the biggest name in the Asian Quarterfinals. Ponpun was the starting setter for Thailand in both the Volleyball Nations League and the Paris Olympics final qualifiers, leading the team to victory over South Korea. Kim Ho-cheol, the head coach of South Korea, said immediately after the selection that he plans to use Ponpun as the starting setter.

The biggest weakness of the team, which has bolstered many of its weaknesses through foreign players, Asian quota, and free agency, is the middle blocker position without Kim Soo-ji. If Kim Hee-jin’s return is delayed, the bank will have to rely on Choi Jeong-min and Kim Hyun-jung in the middle this season, as well as prospect Im Hye-rim, who was acquired from Heungkuk Life as compensation for Kim Soo-ji. For IBK, the development of Choi Jung-min, who is entering her fourth season as a professional, will be crucial.

Kim Ho-cheol, who took over as head coach in December 2021, is also entering his third season with the organization. It’s no longer an excuse that he was new to managing a women’s team or that he couldn’t bring in the foreign players he wanted. It’s time to showcase Kim’s leadership by performing in the league.

Can the team regain the form that saw them advance to spring volleyball for the first time in three seasons and reach the championship game for six consecutive seasons?

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