After 10 straight wins, the Pink Spiders suddenly start to fall apart
Very few sports teams get an opportunity to dominate like the Heungkuk Life Insurance Pink Spiders, home to three of the very best players in the V-League this season. Yet despite the odds stacked heavily in its favor, the Incheon side is starting to struggle.
The Pink Spiders are in a two-game losing streak, most likely due to the absence of twin star players Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Da-yeong. They still have Kim Yeon-koung playing full time, but even the greatest volleyball player in the league's history can’t get the job done on her own.
The Pink Spiders suffered a painful 0-3 loss in their most recent match against the Korea Expressway Corporation Hi-pass in Incheon on Sunday. That came on the back of a 2-3 loss to GS Caltex Seoul KIXX on Dec. 5. Two losses in a row mean that the V-League's superstar team is in its very first losing streak of the 2020-21 season.
Two losses haven't affected the Pink Spiders in the regular season standing, as they are still at the top of the leaderboard with 10 wins and two losses, totaling 29 points. But their recent struggle ended an impressive 10-game winning streak since the very start of the season.
For the Hi-Pass, the win against the Pink Spiders gave them a four-game winning streak.
During Sunday’s game, the Pink Spiders had to play their match without three key starters.
Lucia Fresco is expected to miss more than four weeks of play due to pain in her shoulder. Making matters worse, the Lee twins had to skip Sunday’s game as Lee Jae-young had a fever. Although Lee Da-young was fine, she was still excluded from the roster as the sisters live together.
“Lee Jae-young regularly suffers tonsillitis,” said Pink Spiders head coach Park Mi-hee. “When we checked her temperature on Dec. 12, it was at 38.7 degrees Celsius [101.7 degrees Fahrenheit]. [Since there’s a possibility of her testing positive for Covid-19,] she was tested and didn’t show up to the court. Lee Da-yeong didn’t have a fever, but since she lives with Jae-yeong, I excluded her.”
Thankfully, Lee Jae-young tested negative for Covid-19, meaning that the twin sisters will be back in action soon.
The absence of these three players proved critical. Normally, the Pink Spiders’ strengths are their serves and blocks. But without the twins and Lucia, they lost that edge.
Kim may be the biggest name in Korean volleyball, but fighting through the match without either of the starting hitters by her side proved too much for her. She had to run more and cover more space as less-experienced stand-in players relied on her more. Later in the match, Kim seemed tired.
Looking at the Pink Spiders’ performance over the past few seasons, they’re desperate to retake the top spot this season with their new star lineup. Having won both the regular season and the championship in the 2018-19 season, the 2019-20 season was quite a disappointment as they finished third.
As the season ended early, without having a postseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, their third place finish was a bigger disappointment.
To redeem themselves, the Pink Spiders dramatically strengthened their lineup this season. First the team signed Lee Da-yeong, joining her sister on the roster. Bringing the formidable twins under one roof was news enough, but the Pink Spiders weren't done.
When Kim announced her return to the Korea Volleyball Federation (KOVO) earlier this year, she rejoined her former team the Pink Spiders, giving them a seemingly unbeatable edge in the league this year.
The twins and Kim playing together also raised expectations for the Korean national team. As all three are regulars on the national team, their time playing together for the Pink Spiders is expected to give Team Korea a boost at the upcoming Olympics because the heart of the team will be used to playing together.
During the pre-season tournament, the KOVO Cup, the Pink Spiders finished runner-up, raising some concerns. They quickly silenced any doubters, however, picking up 10 straight wins as soon as the season proper started.
Yet during Sunday’s match, Lee Han-bi scored five points in the first set; but other than that, the club struggled. Aside from Kim, none of the Pink Spiders managed to get past the Hi-Pass’s defense, considered the top in the women’s league.
In addition to that, Hi-Pass continue to pressure the Pink Spiders by repeatedly serving to Kim Mi-yeon, who visibly struggled under the onslaught.
The Pink Spiders’ back-up setter Kim Da-sol also struggled to fight off the pressure.
Due to this, Kim Yeon-koung was responsible for half of the Pink Spiders’ points. She managed to score 21 points throughout the match, but that wasn’t good enough for a win.
“We’re looking at changing [our foreign player], but it’s not easy [due to the Covid-19],” Park said. “Considering the recruitment process, self isolation and adjustment, [getting a new player] will take about six weeks.”
The Pink Spiders will have a chance to redeem themselves against the Industrial Bank of Korea Altos on Dec. 18.
BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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