V-League season kicks off Saturday

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V-League season kicks off Saturday

The new season of the V-League, the Korean professional volleyball league, starts its six-month run on Saturday, and the Korean Air Jumbos and IBK Altos are the favorites for the men’s and women’s division titles, respectively.

The 2015-16 V-League season, sponsored by NH Nonghyup, begins about a week earlier than last season because of the Olympic qualifiers schedule. The men’s division, comprising seven teams, will have a total 126 games, with each team playing 36 games. The women’s division, comprising six teams, will have 90 games, with each team playing 30 games.

The men’s side opens with a match between defending champion OK Savings Bank Rush & Cash and runner-up Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance Bluefangs on Saturday, while the women’s division tips off a day after with Hyundai E&C Hillstate and Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders facing off in Incheon. The regular season ends on March 7.

From March 11 to 16, the playoff between the runner-up and No. 3 club in the regular season will be held in a best-of-three series format. The winner will meet the regular season champion in the best-of-five championship series from March 17 to 26.

In the men’s division, if the league standing points between the No. 3 team and No. 4 team are less than three, there will be a special match to decide who will be in the playoffs.

The Korean Air Jumbos are picked as this season’s favorite for the men’s side, as setter Han Sun-soo is returning after completing his military service. The 29-year-old, who is the highest-paid player in the league with a 500 million won ($432,000) salary, will give additional power to Cuban attacker Michael Sanchez, who is in his third season in the V-League.

“I thank other coaches for picking us as the top favorite to win the championship, but I think all [teams] are at the same level,” Jumbos coach Kim Jong-min said at a media event held on Tuesday. “The results can always be reversed depending on each team’s condition on game day.”

The Bluefangs, which failed to get their eighth consecutive championship title, are also favorites along with defending champion Rush & Cash, but both teams’ performance will depend on their foreign players.

The Bluefangs, now led by new coach Im Do-hun, sacked three-time V-League MVP Leonardo Leyva Martinez after the Cuban attacker didn’t join the team training for personal reasons. The team announced last Friday that they signed Germany’s Gyorgy Grozer as his replacement.

For Rush & Cash, the recovery of Robertlandy Simon Aties is key, since the 28-year-old Cuban recently had knee surgery.

“This will be the first time that we couldn’t play practice games because of an issue with a foreign player,” Rush & Cash coach Kim Se-jin said.

The Hyundai Capital Skywalkers, which appointed former setter Choi Tae-woong as the new coach, is hoping to revive the team’s reputation for quick volleyball, while the KB Insurance Stars, which changed its name from the LIG Insurance Greaters, are also looking for a fresh start.

Both teams brought familiar foreign players to fans this season. Former Jumbos player Martin Nemec joined the Stars, while former Greaters player Oreol Camejo Durruthy has signed with the Skywalkers.

Kepco Vixtorm is hoping for a full recovery of their attacker Jeon Kwang-in from his knee injury, while last season’s worst team, Woori Card Hansae, hopes to reanimate their success in the KOVO Cup in July, when it won their first title in club history.

In the women’s division, fans will see all-new foreign players after they were selected in the tryout system. Since the league forced teams to pick American college graduates aged 21 to 25 and foreigners who have less than three years of pro experience, experienced Korean players have become important for this season.

With this reason, the defending champion IBK Altos are again picked as a top favorite, as they still maintain a strong squad with top local players.

“Since the foreign player system has changed, we will have to see how the league will take shape after playing a couple of rounds,” Altos coach Lee Jung-chul said.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]
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