A record night for volleyball, and SamsungDAEJEON ― The path to a sport’s longest-ever winning streak is never gentle.
On Sunday, in fact, just when Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance’s men’s volleyball was poised for a record 70th straight victory, it looked as though it might be snatched out of their reach, as Hyundai Capital led the first two sets at Chungmu Stadium in the KT&G V-Tour 2004.
But Samsung proved its mettle, coming back with ferocious power and finally claiming its prize.
Not since Jan. 2, 2001, when it lost 2-3 to Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps, has Samsung lost a game.
Prior to this, the longest winning streak ever seen in Korean volleyball was a 69-game streak by LG-Caltex Oil’s women’s team in the early 1990s.
Even before Sunday’s game started, the opposing coach sounded a bit overwhelmed.
“We will throw everything we have at them, but without a doubt, Samsung is one step ahead of us,” Hyundai Capital coach Kim Ho-chul said.
Hyundai indeed made an impressive show of it, especially early on. Four blocks from Hyundai’s center, Bang Sin-bong, and three more from their right, Who In-jung, stymied Samsung’s attacks.
In the third set, however, Samsung burned with determination to take home the 100 million won ($84,890) prize.
Samsung coach Shin Chi-yong, seeing that his team was weak on receiving Hyundai’s serves, took out left Lee Hyung-do and replaced him with Sohn Jae-hong.
That decision was right on the money. As Samsung’s receiving improved, everything else worked like clockwork.
Samsung center Choi Tae-woong got half a beat faster, and Hyundai’s responses were half a beat too late. And more power came from Samsung’s right, Chang Byung-chul, whose strikes had been blocked in the first two sets.
While Hyundai was busy trying to block every spike from Mr. Chang, who scored a total of 42 points, center Kim Sang-woo and Sin Sun-ho made fast attacks that contributed to the victory.
Entering the last set, the two teams were tied at two sets each, and tension was high. Samsung pulled ahead, 7-3, but Hyundai surged and nearly caught up; at one point, Samsung was only one point ahead, at 13-12.
For a moment, it looked again as though Samsung would not make history that night. But fate appeared to be on their side, and they finally beat Hyundai in the last quarter, 15 to 12.
“It feels as if my blood pressure is going down,” coach Shin said afterward.
Earlier, when Hyundai was two sets ahead, Mr. Shin had been pacing up and down the court, never coming close to sitting on his chair. It was an unusual sight, since Mr. Shin, who has coached the team since 1995, is famous for not letting his emotions show.
“I appreciate the effort of my players, who set out to win, even though some of our star players couldn’t join us on the court,” Mr. Shin said.
“Since we have come this far, I hope we can set another record by winning 100 games,” the coach added.
by Chang Hae-soo
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