• May 30, 2023

Na Kyung-bok missed Woori Card’s busy offseason

Woori Card is strengthening its offense through active player acquisition.

Woori Card’s Woori WON team announced on its official social media on the 26th that it has executed a 1:1 trade, sending outside hitter Song Hee-chae to OK Financial Group Eatman and receiving outside hitter Song Myung-geun from OK Financial Group. Song Myung-geun and Song Hee-chae have been on the same team for nearly 10 years, from their playing days at Kyunggi University to 2018, when they played for OK Savings Bank Rush & Cash, and this time they continued their relationship by exchanging jerseys through a trade.

After losing homegrown ace Na Kyung-bok (KB Insurance Stars) in the last free agency, the Woori Card selected 201-centimeter Japanese apogee spiker Issei Otake in the Asia Quarter. The Woori Card also acquired Slovenian international outside hitter Matej Kok in the Foreign Player Draft, and on the second consecutive day, the team brought in outside hitters Han Sung-jung and Song Myung-geun via trade.

Asian Quarter and Foreign Draft Prioritize Offensive Reinforcements

Compared to the women’s team, which had a relatively active free agency period with 20 players becoming free agents and five players choosing new teams, the men’s team had 16 players become free agents, but 15 remained with their original clubs. In the men’s free agency market, which was dominated by ‘stability’ rather than change, the only player who chose to move for a total of 800 million won was Woori Card’s homegrown ace Na Kyung-bok, who was named the regular season MVP in the 2019-2020 season.

Of course, Na Kyung-bok will not be able to play for any team in the 2023-2024 season as he was enlisted as a full-time reserve upon signing, but the departure of Na Kyung-bok, who ranked 5th in scoring (603 points, 1st in Korea) in the 2022-2023 season, was a huge loss for Woori Card. However, the team can’t lament the departure of their ace forever. As soon as the free agency period ended, the Woori Card made an aggressive move to fill the 600-point gap left by Na Kyung-bok.

First, the Wizards used the seventh overall pick in this year’s newly established Asian Quarter to select Issei Otake, a 201-centimeter Japanese apogee spiker. Although Otake is the third oldest of the seven players selected in the Asian Quarter, he played in the German League in the 2017-2018 season and has been selected for the Japanese national team. He also won the Best Apogee Spiker award at last year’s AVC Cup.

After Leo Andrici’s injury and Riverman Agamez’s age led to disappointing performances last season, Woori Card selected Slovenian outside hitter Matej Kok in the Foreign Player Draft. In a foreign player draft that saw four of the seven men’s clubs re-sign players from last season, with Samsung Fire Bluefangs and Hyundai Capital Skywalkers also selecting V-League veterans, Kok is the only new foreign player on the men’s roster for the 2023-2024 season.

Kok was not ranked in the pre-draft preference survey of the clubs’ managers, but Woori Card head coach Shin Young-cheol gave him high marks for his all-around game, including his sub-receivers, fundamentals, and height. For Woori Card, the best case scenario would be for Asia Quartet Otake to be an outside hitter and Kok to fill the outside hitter spot left by Na Kyung-bok. However, Shin also revealed that the team is willing to rotate Kok between the left and right side depending on the situation.

Two trades to fill the void left by Na Kyung-bok

There are three main reasons why Matej Kok could be a viable option as an apogee spiker. First, if Kok has a stellar offensive performance on par with Tyson Duluth (KEPCO Big Storm) or Lincoln Williams (Korean Air Jumbos); second, if Otake’s performance or health in the Asian Quarter is disappointing; and finally, if the defense is too weak to allow Kok to play outside hitter. In response, the Wolves made two trades to bolster their outside hitter depth.

First, the Woori Card acquired Han Sung-jung from KB Insurance in a trade for setter Hwang Seung-bin on May 25. Han Sung-jung was traded by Woori Card to KB Insurance back in December 2021, and chose to rejoin the team after a year and five months. Of course, Hwang Seung-bin is a good setter who was the starting setter for Woori Card in the 2022-2023 season, ranking second in sets (10.29 per set). However, Woori Card was able to use Hwang as a trade card as setter Lee Seung-won completed his military service on the 14th.

On the 26th, they traded the team’s lifeblood Song Hee-chae to OK Financial Group and acquired outside hitter Song Myung-geun, who specializes in attacking. Song Myung-geun and Song Hee-chae, who have been together since their playing days, were the outside hitter duo that led OK Savings Bank to back-to-back championships in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons. While Song Hee-chae is an all-around passer, Song Myung-geun is an offensive force, posting a 51.87% offensive success rate in the 2022-2023 season, even though he only played half the season 안전놀이터.

Woori Card also had a breakout season in 2022-2023 with outside hitter Kim Ji-han, who scored 301 points with a 53.65% attack percentage. Of course, neither Kim Ji-han, Han Sung-jung, nor Song Myung-geun are very good sub-receivers, but with Han Sung-jung and Song Myung-geun, the Woori Card’s left side is not much different from the 2022-2023 season with Na Kyung-bok and Song Hee-chae. In fact, the available resources on the court will be even greater than last season.

Add to that the addition of middle blocker Park Jin-woo, who ranked eighth in blocks (0.48 per set) last season, and you have a strong middle blocker lineup with Lee Sang-hyun, who ranked first in fastball (65.14%) and ninth in blocking (0.40 per set) in 2022-2023. The Woori Card, who were considered a prime example of a team weakened by the free-agent departure of Na Kyung-bok, have been making diligent moves during the off-season to minimize the void left by their native ace.

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