Hey volleyball fans, over the next few weeks I’m going to give you a breakdown of the 16 teams competing in the men’s edition of the Volleyball Nations League which begins May 25th. Hopefully, it gives you a better idea of the teams you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
While volleyball is quite popular in Korea, it hasn’t quite translated into a consistently strong men’s volleyball program like it has in Japan. Every player on Korea’s national team plays in the domestic KOVO V-League league, which is highly restrictive on foreigners. In fact, over 30 players are dueling it out hunger games style in Monza in tryouts for only 7 foreigner spots, which pay $300,000 base salary apiece. No wonder it’s so competitive.
As for the Korean team itself, only 5 players are returning from the 2017 World League roster. They are desperate to make a push this summer as they are competing in the Nations League, The World Championships, and the Asian Games, which could decide their fate for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A lot of hope will be pinned on their young star Jiseok Jung, a 23-years old outside who can serve, pass and hit at a high level. He was in the top 10 of the KOVO for scoring, hitting %, aces, reception %, and digs and also lead the Korean Air Jumbos to a title.
They also have Moon Sung-min, an experienced player at opposite who makes up for his lack of athleticism with a powerful and accurate swing.
Unfortunately, Korea will be without several of their stronger veterans, at least for the Nations League. 32-year-old Shin Yeong-Seok, the first middle to win MVP in KOVO league history, had knee surgery as soon as his club season ended.
Han Sun-soo, who is widely considered to be Korea’s best setter, has been left off their Nations League roster, leaving many fans confused. Also, everyone should pour one out for Slovenia, who dismantled every team in Group 2 of World League last summer, got half their roster paid in the Italian league, and still didn’t get an invite to Nations League.
The best case scenario for this team is that their roster meshes and plays in some competitive matches to gain some momentum as they look ahead to the rest of the summer. Maybe a young player emerges, but I really can’t see them finishing higher than anyone except Australia (spoiler for the next team).
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Jiseok Jung (Korean Air Jumbos)
OH: Jeon Kwang-in (KEPCO)
OPP: Moon Sung-min (Hyundai Capital)
MB: Choi Min-ho (Hyundai Capital)
MB: Park Sang-ha (Samsung Fire Bluefangs)
S: Lee Ming-yu (OK Savings Bank)
L: Yong-chan Bu (Samsung Fire Bluefangs)