Koo makes history by following in his father’s footstepsThe Cheonan Hyundai Capital Services Skywalkers’ libero Koo Ja-hyeok may only be a rookie, but he’s already garnering serious attention in the Korean Volleyball Federation (KOVO).
Koo’s father played as a center for the Uijeongbu KB Insurance Stars until he retired in June 2006. The elder Koo made his pro debut in 1995 and retired in 2004. But once the KOVO was established, he returned to the court and played two more seasons. Although Koo also wanted to be like his father and play center, as he only stands at 1.82 meters (5 feet, 11 inches) he ended up playing libero.
Despite the sport always being around him, interestingly, Koo started volleyball in 2007, just after his father retired. At the time, Koo was only in third grade in elementary school.
“I remember watching my dad on the court, but since I was young, I don’t remember much,” Koo said. “I watched his clips a lot. I said I wanted to play volleyball because my dad looked cool. They said no at the time, but eventually they allowed it because once I set my mind to something, I have to do it. Later, I heard that my dad said no because he didn’t want me to go down a tough road.”
Up until high school, Koo played as an outside hitter. But once he got to college, he had to switch his position to libero, as he was considered too short to be an outside hitter. He was considered tall in his classroom, but among the volleyball players, he didn’t measure up - unlike his father who is 1.96 meters tall.
“Throughout my school days, I always had concerns about my height,” Koo said. “I tried to get taller by taking medication, and I was very stressed. But in the end, I accepted it and told myself to just do what I can. And then, I accepted my new role as a libero.”
His big break came during his junior year at Hanyang University when Skywalkers selected him in the third round of the KOVO’s 2019 rookie draft.
“He could’ve been a player who got selected earlier, but luckily we got him,” said the Skywalkers’ head coach Choi Tae-woong.
“I was expecting an early call,” Koo said. “[But] rather than getting disappointed, I think I just need to try my best.”
Ever since Koo started playing in his new position, his role model has been the Skywalkers’ legendary libero Yeo Oh-hyun, who currently serves as the club’s playing coach and a player. This means Koo had to face off against his role model for a starting spot.
The Skywalkers are known as a team with great outside hitters, and Yeo had been the team’s starting libero. Due to this, Koo was only substituted onto the court with an outside hitter for brief moments, for receives. But recently, he’s been sharing his playing time with Yeo. As Koo’s time on the court is increasing, so are mentions of him as a possible candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
“Coach Yeo is amazing in terms of his playing ability, but I really envy his leadership and his energy,” Koo said. “I want to learn.”
As of Monday, the Skywalkers are ranked third in the league with 17 wins and 11 losses, totaling 51 points. Although they are 10 points behind the leader, the Seoul Wooricard Wibee, the Skywalkers are always mentioned as the team that has the potential to win the playoffs.
“I don’t have any personal goals this year,” Koo said. “I’m just happy to be helping the team win on the court. But my dream is to be on the national team one day, like my dad.”
The Skywalkers will continue their season with a match against the Daejeon Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance Bluefangs tonight at 7 p.m. in Cheonan, South Chungcheong.
BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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