Game 3 of the 2023-2024 V-League Women’s Championship between Hyundai E&C and Heungkuk Saengsim took place at the Gyeyang Gymnasium in Incheon on Monday. The match went to a fifth set as both teams battled back and forth to tie the set score at 2-2. Hyundai E&C, who were just one win away from the title after winning the first and second games in straight sets, took control of the fifth set with a 3-0 lead. They extended their lead further and reached the 14-7 championship point with an open attack from Moma Bassoko (Cameroon).

Then, when another open attack by Moma hit the Heungkuk Life Court, all the Hyundai E&C players jumped on the court and celebrated by dancing the Kang Kang Soolae. The coaching staff, including head coach Kang Sung-hyung, also hugged each other and praised each other’s hard work. Hyundai E&C, the No. 1 team in the regular season, swept the third set 3-2 (22-25 25-17 23-25 25-23 15-7) to win the overall title for the first time in 13 years since the 2010-2011 season, and the championship for the first time in eight years since the 2015-2016 season.

Hyundai E&C is a traditional powerhouse that was a powerhouse even before the inception of the V-League, but they have only won the V-League championship twice. Aside from Pepper Savings Bank, the seventh-ranked team, Hyundai E&C is the team with the least number of championships.

Hyundai E&C has been one of the most unlucky teams in the league due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. After leading the 2019-2020 season, the team didn’t even have a postseason due to the early shutdown of the V-League due to COVID-19. Two seasons later, in the 2021-2022 season, Hyundai E&C was leading the league with a record-breaking 28-3 win-loss record and 82 points, with a huge gap between them and second-place Roadworks (70 points, 24 wins and 8 losses). However, the women’s league was once again shut down early due to COVID-19 and did not even have a postseason. The men’s team, on the other hand, completed the regular season and played in the postseason, making the situation even more unfair for Hyundai E&C.

Last season, the team built on the momentum of the previous season and opened with 15 straight wins, but foreign player Yasmin Bedardt went down with a back injury. With only domestic players, the team held the top spot for a long period of time, but eventually lost the lead to Heungkuk Life at the end of the season and finished the regular season in second place. The losses were devastating, and Hyundai E&C ended the spring volleyball season with two losses in the playoffs against Road Corporation.

Before the start of this season, few would have predicted Hyundai E&C to finish first in the regular season. They were the outright underdog. This was because their domestic player strength was negative compared to last season. To bolster its strength, the team sought to sign “volleyball queen” Kim Yeon-kyung, who became a free agent (FA). The team was on the verge of signing Kim, but she changed her mind at the last minute to stay with Heungkuk Life. Meanwhile, Hwang Min-kyung, the team’s captain for four years, moved to IBK as a free agent. In pursuit of Kim Yeon-kyung, the team also lost Hwang Min-kyung.

While there was no obvious domestic recruitment, Kang Sung-hyung, who is in his third year in charge, has been diligent in organizing the team. Foreigners were also bountiful. The team brought in Moma Bassoko (Cameroon), who had played for GS Caltex for two seasons but was considered to have reached his limit. After crying over injuries to foreign players last season, Moma stayed healthy and finished the season strong, scoring 109 points in just three games, including 38 points in Game 3 of the championship, and was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the championship after sweeping 25 out of 31 votes in the journalists’ poll. Add to that the fact that Wipawee (Thailand), the No. 2 pick in the Asia Quarterly Tryout, filled the outside hitter spot, which has been a weakness for Hyundai E&C.

Yang Hyo-jin, the best middle blocker in the V-League, was still a foreign player in the front row. The “national trio” of Kim Dae-in (setter), Lee Da-hyun (middle blocker), and Jeong Ji-yoon (outside hitter) also improved steadily, and Hyundai E&C dramatically won the regular season title with a one-point margin, shattering the pre-season assessment that they were “Uhung” (Heungkuk Life won the title anyway).

The fruits of the regular season title were sweet. Stamina was the biggest factor in the championship match against Heungkuk Life. Heungkuk Life, which slipped to second place after losing to Hyundai E&C by one point, came to the championship after playing three playoff games against Jung Kwan-jang. On the other hand, Hyundai E&C, who faced Heungkuk Life in good shape after more than 10 days of rest and reinforcement training, took the first and second games, which were played in full sets, with their physical advantage. The third game also went to a full set, forcing a physical battle, and they were able to end the series early with a three-game sweep.


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