What happened to South Korea?

Even team captain Kim Yeon Koung did not hide their aspirations for the FIVB Women’s World Championship 2018. She revealed in the post-game interview against Trinidad and Tobago that the South Korean women’s volleyball team expected to be in the second round. But the Cha Haewon-coached squad took a hard lesson from reality as it became the second Asian team to be eliminated in the competition. Here are the possible reasons about their collapse.

Quality of opposition

The Koreans can bring a scare to their opponents as the tenth-best women’s volleyball team in the world. Its tough luck though that the draw brought them to a challenging Pool C which includes Russia and South Korea. Include 16th ranked Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and world number 24 Azerbaijan in the mix and you get a feel why a second round bid is not a walk in the park.

The ranking are indication that Yeon Koung Kim and her teammates are in line to have a 3-2 record in the pool. But that’s why games are played and not simulated. They lost to gritty Azerbaijan in four sets after bowing down to a gruelling five-setter against Thailand. A glimmer of hope shone when they took the first set against the United States but they were outclassed from sets two to four. A straight-sets loss to the Russians shut down their next round aspirations and their win against Trinidad and Tobago was a consolation.

What’s puzzling is that there were no major injuries with any of their players. Compare that to a Thai squad that nearly beat the USA despite losing Pimpichaya Kokram and Ajcharaporn Kongyot to injury. They have no other reason for their demise other than it being a meltdown. But a deep dive into the stats may explain why they were due for an early exit.

Incomplete defense

South Korea had more kill blocks than their opponents thanks largely to Yeon Koung, Su Ji Kim, Hyo Jin Yang, and Juah Lee. Their 7.2 blocks per game average is higher than the 6.4 their opponents had combined. However, they only led in two of their five games. The Koreans posted ten blocks against a shorter Thailand team in a game that went the distance. They also had ten against the Americans but most of them happened in the first set which they won.

But what supposed to be their trademark floor defense did not go as planned. Their averages on floor defense are worst than their opponents as they only had 36.6 excellent digs per game as compared to 40 for the other teams. The only team they led in digs was against Thailand, 44-37, and they tied the USA at 47. Their competitors are doing better in extending rallies and are getting more scoring opportunities. Hence, Korea’s 49.8 successful spikes per game is lower than their competitor’s 54.8.

The same story goes for receptions. The South Koreans connected on 27.4 average receptions per game which is paltry compared to the opposition’s 31.2. In five games, they led in receptions in just two games including a 30-29 edge against Azerbaijan and a 20-17 advantage against a Trinidad and Tobago team which they defeated. The lower reception rate translates to 5.8 service aces per game which is lower than the seven aces their opponents make per contest.

Lack of variety in offense

Their offensive options were largely limited to two people: Jeongah Park and Yeon Koung Kim. Park had 245 spike attempts in five games while the South Korean team captain seconded with 171. While both of them did score in double figures for every game, opponents were able to plan against them. They just had to adjust from one wing to another because they know that most of the attacks are coming from these two wing players.

Kim and Park could have scored more if their setters distributed the ball better. The discrepancy is well-defined as Jaeyeong Lee had the third highest number of spike attempts with 94 and Su Ji Kim had 57. The predictability of the South Korean was a large factor to their disappointing finish. They must develop at least one more spiker who can also take over the game to relieve Park Jeongah and KYK from heavy scoring duties if they are to do better than this.