Bluefangs savor early taste of victory
For Daejeon Samsung Fire Bluefangs, playing in the finals has become a regular routine, and claiming the trophy all but a foregone conclusion.
Since Korea’s professional volleyball league was launched in 2005, the team has never missed a spot in the V-League championship series. In that time, the Bluefangs have claimed five of seven championship trophies.
And this season is going perfectly according to script as the team confirmed its place in the championship series after clinching the regular season title on Wednesday.
Led by coach Shin Chi-yong, Daejeon beat Suwon Kepco 45 3-1 (25-17, 25-14, 20-25, 25-23) in Suwon, Gyeonggi, to claim its fourth regular season title. The team’s other championship title came after it won the playoffs in the postseason.
This season, the team has racked up an unassailable 81 points with 28 wins and five losses, making its remaining three games de facto dead rubbers. The Bluefangs have already confirmed their top position in the league as second-place Incheon Korean Air Jumbos mathematically cannot overtake them. They now advance directly to the best-of-five championship series, which begins on April 7.
“Winning the trophy is never easy. But I’m glad we pulled off another [regular season] title,” said Shin, who has managed the Bluefangs for 18 years. This makes him the joint longest-serving manager in Korea’s sporting history along with baseball manager Kim Eung-ryong, who guided the Haitai Tigers from 1983 to 2000.
Including during his amateur days, Shin has brought 13 trophies so far to the organization. However, he felt more pressure this season due to the squad’s relative lack of depth.
“We’ve been flying since the start of the season but that just added to the pressure as we couldn’t afford, squad-wise, to slip up or have any major injuries,” said the 57-year-old. “Fortunately, the boys stayed in good shape.”
Shin, a former national team coach, said a combination of three factors helped the team pocket another title: Teamwork, foreign player Gavin Schmitt and veterans such as Seok Jin-wook and Yeo Oh-hyun.
Schmitt, 26, has cemented his role as the best attacker in the league for the last three seasons. Using his size advantage and power, the Canadian international has so far amassed 1,081 points in 33 matches, 120 points more than second-placed Andjelko Cuk of Kepco 45.
Schmitt also has a successful attacking rate of 59.22 percent this season, his best since arriving in Korea.
But even with these advantages, lifting the championship trophy is not likely to be a walk in the park for the Bluefangs as four of their five losses this season came at the hands of the Jumbos, who are shaping up to be their main threat.
“Since we have so much experience in the finals, I think we can step things up a notch from the regular season,” Shin said.
“We have about a month left, and we’ll use that time to let the players recharge and patch up any problems.”
By Joo Kyung-don [firstname.lastname@example.org]