“Reina was a good fixer”

Heungkuk Life Women’s Professional Volleyball bounced back from a disappointing first set to earn three valuable points.

Heungkuk Life, led by head coach Marcello Abondanza, earned three valuable points with a 3-1 (25-27 25-23 25-13 25-21) set victory over Korea Expressway Corporation in the fourth round of the Dodram 2023-2024 V-League Women’s Division at Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon on Wednesday.

With the win, Heungkuk Life (18W5L, 50 points) extended its winning streak to three games and moved to within two points of leader Hyundai E&C (17W5L, 52 points). Kim Yeon-kyung, the “Volleyball Empress,” led the way with a team-high 28 points and a 56.2 percent attack percentage.

In addition, Tokoku Reina (20 points, real name Reina) lived up to her team’s expectations by scoring the most points in a single game since her V-League debut (15 points against Pepper Savings Bank in Round 4). Lee Ju-ah (8 points), who came up with blocked shots whenever it mattered, also made Coach Abondanza smile.

Heungkuk Life struggled in the early stages of the match. They were down by eight points and then made a hard-fought deuce with a lot of concentration, but lost the first set at 25-25 thanks to back-to-back kills by Vanya Vukiric (registered name Vukiric). It was a similar story to the previous match against Pepper Savings Bank on July 7.

After struggling in the middle of the second set, Heungkuk Life managed to turn the tide with three consecutive points at 15-18, and at 23-23, Lee Ju-ah blocked Bae Yoo-na’s attack after Reina’s opener to seal the second set.

That flow continued into the third set. Heungkuk Life pushed hard on the road, widening the gap early on, and went up 15-6 thanks to back-to-back points. Kim Yeon-kyung’s back-to-back kills extended the lead to 17-6, breaking the opponent’s will to catch up, and at 19-8, Kim’s back-attack gave them a 20-point lead. In the end, the third set was also won by Heungkuk Life.

Heungkuk Life faced a crisis in the middle of the fourth set when they gave up six points at 16-12, but Kim Yeon-kyung’s quick opener and Lee Yerim’s error tied the score. At 20-19, back-to-back errors by Vukiric tilted the match in favor of Heungkuk Life, who eventually closed out the match at 23-21 with a kill by Kim Yeon-kyung and an error by Vukiric.

When Abondanza walked into the interview room, Reina was the first player he mentioned. “I think she did a good job, she played a good game,” said Abondanza, who was excited about Reina’s performance before the match. She had some ups and downs in the middle, but in the fourth set, she made a block at a crucial moment. When it mattered, she solved it on offense,” he praised.

However, there were some disappointments. “Today’s match was similar to the one against Pepper Savings Bank, where we didn’t play well in the first set, then we won the second set hard and finished the match with a little bit of ease in the third and fourth sets,” Abondanza said. As I said before the match, I think we need to work on our mental game,” he said.

There is something else for Heungkuk Sinsaeng to reflect on. Yelena Mrazenovic (real name Yelena), who didn’t help the team with Kim Yeon-kyung and Reina’s performance, had a poor game. She scored just seven points on the night and committed four solo errors. She shot just 25% from the field. Her offensive efficiency was a negative -4.17.

Coach Abondanza said, “When a foreign player has a negative offensive efficiency like that, I don’t know what else to say. He needs to do better as an apogee spiker,” Abondanza lamented.

With three straight wins, Heungkuk Life will wrap up its four-round schedule with an away game against GS Caltex on the 17th before heading into the All-Star break.

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