Korea’s national women’s volleyball team is on the verge of a new era as it is set to welcome new Italian coach Stefano Lavarini into the fold.
The squad did not get a favorable result at last year’s FIVB VNL, as it wound up in 12th place, so it will be looking to climb up a few notches this time around.
With beloved veteran skipper Kim Yeon-Koung leading the charge once more, can the world’s ninth-ranked team do more damage at the FIVB VNL 2019?
FIVB VNL 2018 record & stats
Win/loss: 5 / 10
Sets win/loss/ratio: 16 / 34 / 0.471
Points win/loss/ratio: 1022 /1141 / 0.896
Final position: 12th
What’s new for Korea in FIVB VNL 2019?
The Koreans appear to be in “win now” mode with the impending entry of new Italian coach Stefano Lavarini.
The 40-year-old coach, who has won titles in his home country and in South America, is reportedly set to start on the job in May after he wraps up his stint with Brazilian club Minas. It’s unclear how much time he will have with the team ahead of the start of the FIVB VNL 2019, which starts on May 21 in China. But it will be quite the challenge for the team to adjust to his tactics right away with so little time ahead of the tournament.
Lavarini will be taking over from Cha Hae-won with the specific mission of ensuring the Koreans qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. His continued role with Korea’s women’s national team, according to Globo, will depend on whether or not the squad earns a ticket to Tokyo, in which case he will stay on until 2020. Otherwise, he’s set to return to club volleyball.
Korea world ranking: 9 (October 2018)
Korea FIVB VNL 2019 match schedule
May 21 at 10 AM CT – Korea v Turkey
May 22 at 10 AM CT – Serbia v Korea
May 23 at 10 AM CT – Netherlands v Korea
May 28 at 2:30 AM CT – Belgium v Korea
May 29 at 3:30 AM CT – Korea v Thailand
May 30 at 6:30 AM CT – China v Korea
June 4 at 7:30 PM CT – USA v Korea
June 5 at 4:30 PM CT – Korea v Brazil
June 6 at 4:30 PM CT – Germany v Korea
June 11 at 10 AM CT – Russia v Korea
June 12 at 1 PM CT – Italy v Korea
June 13 at 10 AM CT – Korea v Bulgaria
June 18 at 3 AM CT – Korea v Dominican Republic
June 19 at 3 AM CT – Korea v Japan
June 20 at 3 AM CT – Korea v Poland
Korea games to watch out for in FIVB VNL 2019
Korea finished 12th in last year’s competition, with only five wins, so it’s hard to see the team making life hard for top-tier outfits like Serbia or Brazil. However, it did spring surprise 3-0 defeats of both China and Russia.
Korea is pooled with China for the second week of competition with Belgium and Thailand making up the group. Given the latter two squads finished right below Korea in the standings last year at 13th and 15th, respectively, it means that the week 2 fixtures really could make or break Korea's tournament, particularly given its tough start in week one.
Korea provisional FIVB VNL 2019 roster
Head coach: Stefano Lavarini
Setters: Lee Hyo-hee, An Hye-jin An, Lee Da-yeong , Lee Won-jeong, Lee Na-yeon
Liberos: Kim Hae-ran, Yim Myun-gok, Kim Yeong-yeon, Oh Ji-young
Middle Blockers: Lee Ju-ah, Kim Su-ji, Jung Dae-young, Park Eun-jin, Han Soo-ji, Kim Hyun-jeong
Wing Spikers (Outside & Opposite Hitters): Kim Yeon-koung, Lee So-young, Pyo Seung-ju, Kim Hee-jin, Kang Soh-wi, Lee Jae-yeong, Moon Jung-won, Jeong Ji-yun, Ha Hye-jin, Choi Eun-ji
Average age: 26.4 (3rd oldest)
Average height: 179.7cm (14th tallest)
Korea player to watch in FIVB VNL 2019: Kim Yeon-Koung
Each time Koreans take to the volleyball court most eyes will be on veteran Kim Yeon-Koung. The 31-year-old outside hitter has been a member of the national team since 2005 and has won all kinds of individual accolades, including Most Valuable Player and Best Scorer at the 2012 London Olympics as well as Best Scorer at the 2018 Asian Games.
However, Yeon-Koung did not make it to the leaderboard in any statistical category during the FIVB VNL 2018 so it will be interesting to see how she fares this year. She is considered a legend in Korean volleyball and is the heart and soul of this team, so everyone will be looking to her leadership once more from the FIVB VNL 2019 to, hopefully, Tokyo 2020.
The bottom line: How far can new coach Stefano Lavarini and Kim Yeon-koung take Korea?
Korea is coming off a rough 17th-place finish at the World Championship in China in 2018, a terrible result for a team which had finished fifth in Rio 2016. It was uncharacteristic, which might be the reason for bringing in Lavarini.
It’s interesting to see whether Korea is considering rebuilding the team with its star player Yeon-Koung already at 31 years old. There are questions about whether or not she is now past her peak. The team has relied on her for years, and that was best exemplified when Yeon-Koung won Most Valuable Player in the London Olympics despite her squad finishing in fourth place.
This year’s FIVB VNL would be a great opportunity for other players to step up to the plate.
Most of Korea’s roster consists of veterans with extensive international playing experience but there are some young players who can potentially take over. There’s 19-year-old middle blocker Park Eun-jin, 24-year-old outside hitter Lee So-young as well as 22-year-old wing spiker Lee Jae-yeong.
What is a realistic FIVB VNL projection for the Korea women’s team?
After shaky performances in 2018, anything better than 12th place would be ideal for Korea at the FIVB VNL 2019. It would certainly boost the team’s confidence heading into the Olympic qualifiers.
But with a new coach potentially coming in right as the tournament begins, it would be understandable if the Koreans encounter chemistry hiccups which could affect their performance.
How to watch Korea in FIVB VNL 2019
Watch the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League in its entirety LIVE on FloVolleyball.