It was a lineup worthy of head coach Tomi Tilikainen, who wanted the tournament to be an experience. He kept trying new things until the last match.
Before the start of the 2023 Asian Volleyball 스포츠토토 Confederation (AVC) Men’s Club Championship, head coach Tommi Tilikainen kept emphasizing the word ‘experience’. It’s a big international tournament, and while results are important, he believes it’s more important to try new things and give younger players a chance.
Indeed, Tilikainen continued to try different things after the loss to Suntory Sunbirds (Japan) derailed their title challenge. In the top-flight Group E match against Bayang Hongor (Mongolia), he started Jeong Jin-hyuk for the first time and used Son Hyun-jong as an apogee. For the fifth-place match against Kuwait Sporting Club (Kuwait), he switched Son’s position to outside hitter and ran an aggressive lineup.
Korean Air’s final match of the tournament was the 7th-8th place match against Bayang Hongor, who they met again two days later. As the final match, Korean Air could have gone with a tried-and-true lineup in hopes of pulling off the upset, but Tilikainen opened up the lab once again. He used Kang Seung-il as the starting libero for the first time, and started Jung Jeong-yong, Kwak Seung-seok, and Lee Jun at the same time.
With all three outside hitters on the court at the same time, the question on the field was, “Who will be the apogee? On the surface, Lee Jun was the Apogee. Lee was exempt from receiving and often attacked from the right side, but there wasn’t really a fixed apogee. The three players were almost equally divided in terms of attacking position, possession, and connection.
The advantages of using three outside hitters with virtually no apogee were clear. There was more team stability in terms of fundamentals like receiving, defense, and second-stage connections. This is because the players who play in the outside hitter position can always be involved in receiving or defense. This naturally led to more diversified attacking patterns. In fact, Jung Jin-hyuk, who had relied too heavily on Lim Dong-hyuk in the previous match against Kuwait Sporting, showed a more relaxed and diverse game plan.
Of course, this also exposed some weaknesses. Lee Jun revealed a weakness in his decision-making when Bayang Hongor gave him a man-to-man block. He also looked unfamiliar with attacking from the right. Also, due to the nature of the tactic, active jumping sets from the wing attackers, one of Korean Air’s hallmarks, were used more often than usual, but the success rate was not very high.
Once the V-League starts, this tactic is likely to be less common. This is due to the return of foreign player Lincoln Williams, who is Apogee. However, it’s a tactic that Korean Air may have a chance to use at some point, as they have quality outside hitters in the form of Kwak Seung-seok and Jung Ji-seok, as well as Jung Yong, Lee Jun, Son Hyun-jong, and Asian Quarterly Foreign Player Mark Espejo.
Even if they don’t end up using it, the day’s lab opener was significant for the younger players like Jung and Lee to experience new positions and tactics. Add in a shutout victory (25-21, 25-23, 25-18) and you’ve got yourself a win.
Under Tilikainen’s guidance, the Korean Air players gained valuable experience right up until the final game. Now it’s time for them to turn that experience into results back home.