It’s finally caught up. Korean Air, which has been at the top of the standings since the beginning of the season but hasn’t been able to hold on to the top spot, took down Samsung Fire and eliminated the point gap with leader Woori Card.
Korean Air earned a 3-0 (25-23 25-20 25-22) set victory over Samsung Fire in the fourth round of the 2023-2024 V-League Men’s Division at Gyeyang Gymnasium in Incheon on Saturday. With the win, Korean Air added three points to its tally and tied with Woori Card (43 points, 15 wins and 10 losses), which has played one game less, but remained in second place due to its losses.
On the other hand, Samsung Fire, which had lost three straight games before this match, fell into a four-game losing streak amid poor performances from the rest of the lineup except for Yosvani (Cuba). Although they remain in third place with 38 points (14W9L), they now have to worry about catching up to fourth-place OK Financial Group (36 points, 13W10L), which has won five straight games, as well as fifth-place KEPCO (34 points, 12W11L) and sixth-place Hyundai Capital (32 points, 9W14L).
Murad, who scored a whopping 52 points with a 72.73% attacking success rate while accounting for 48.18% of the team’s offense against Cheonan Hyundai Capital on Dec. 12, was a little more erratic and up-and-down today, but he led the team’s offense with a 13-point run in the third set alone. After coming from behind at 22-20, he fended off an attack from Kim Jung-ho to set up a 24-20 match point, then converted a quick opener at 24-22 to seal the win for his team.
Murad’s final stat line on the day was 23 points, including three blocks and one service point, for a 52.78% attack percentage. Additionally, middle blocker Cho Jae-young, who led the team in consecutive points on each of her own serves, finished with nine points, including two blocks and two service points, the second-highest total on the team.
Speaking after the match, Korean Air head coach Tommy Tilikainen said, “We got a lot of help from our bench today. When Murad was shaky, Lim Dong-hyuk came in and gave us a boost, and our one-point server Espejo served a crucial service ace in the second set. Setter Yoo Kwang-woo also did a good job in the third set,” he said, analyzing the factors that led to the victory, “Plus, my serve went in so well today.”
Although Woori Card has played one less match, they are tied on points with Woori Card, so they must be hungry for the top spot in the regular season. Coach Tilikainen said, “That’s right. We’re hungry. I think that if we make sure that we work on the things that we need to work on during the All-Star break, it will make a positive difference in the remaining 12 games. There have been times this season when we’ve looked weak, but we also have weaknesses. But the players are aware of that and that’s a positive thing. If we can work together as a team and work on our weaknesses, I think we can play better volleyball.”
When asked about his personal plans for the All-Star break, Tilikainen laughed and said, “That’s up to my wife, not me. I have no authority. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” “I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of time for my personal schedule, I think I’m going to take a little bit of time off and then come back and train with the players.”