VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team played host to Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) of South Korea at UBC’s War Memorial Gymnasium on Friday night, defeating the visiting team in straight sets. Set scores were 25-14, 25-23, and 25-18.
With a rich 30-year relationship between the men’s volleyball programs of UBC and SKKU, the two teams have attempted to visit one another’s home campus once every four years.
In the match, Jarrid Ireland and Ben Chow led the Thunderbirds with 12 kills apiece, while SKKU middle Jun Heuk Jung led the Korean team with 10 kills on 12 attempts.
Ireland reverted back to his traditional position of right side in the match, and his comfort was evident, attacking at an impressive 71 per cent efficiency.
“We did well to adapt within the game,” said Ireland of UBC’s performance. “[SKKU] has a different style of play than we are used to, and we had no idea of what to expect.”
A key component of the Korean team’s offensive system seemed to be apparent spontaneity and surprise – running combination plays with attackers at all regions of the net, not just within the traditional realms of middle and outsides.
Ireland commended the Korean outside attackers for their attacking proficiency in broken play circumstances.
“They really tried to attack down the line in high ball situations, which a lot of teams in the CIS don’t really have the skill to do,” said Ireland. “They got quite a few tools off of our block down the line.”
Third-year player Mac McNicol trained with SKKU in Korea this past summer (his experience can be read here). McNicol, who has been the starting right side for UBC throughout the first half of the season, saw some action on the left-side through two sets on Friday night.
“The Korean style of volleyball is very unique,” said McNicol. “They are very skilled, and we in Canada don’t often see anything remotely close to that level of technical control, but I definitely think that we are a more physical team.”
UBC’s physicality was evident through their play at the net. With 11 blocks on the evening compared to only three by SKKU, UBC won the majority of the net battles.
It should be noted that SKKU is currently in the midst of their offseason, with their university season not starting until April, with school starting in March and going until September. Four high school athletes made the trip to Canada with SKKU. Starting setter Teak Ui Hwang tallied 25 assists in the match, and middle Jeong Yun Kim, earned five kills and two blocks. These athletes are expected to join the university team for the upcoming season.
Dr. Han-Joo Eom of SKKU has been the driving force of the two team’s relationship over the years, and joined SKKU on their Canadian venture.
“It always feels like I’m home,” said Dr. Eom of returning to Vancouver. “It’s always wonderful to come over here; [Vancouver] is like a second home.”
Dr. Eom, after retiring from Korean professional volleyball in the 1980s, came to UBC to earn his masters and PhD in applied statistics. He played for the UBC volleyball team under then head coach Dale Ohman for one season and acted as an assistant coach to Ohman for some time after. More recently, Dr. Eom held a coaching position at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops for the 2009-2010 Canada West season. He is now in charge of international affairs for the Korean Volleyball Association, and is a board member of the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB), as well as a professor of sports statistics at SKKU. Within the realm of sports statistics, Eom is currently focusing his research on the objective index and merit of subjective judgment in sports.
“The volleyball is the same, but the approach to volleyball is different between the two cultures,” said Eom of the differences between Canadian and Korean volleyball. “Korean guys are more orientated skill-wise, whereas the North American players are often already ready physically, with individual skill levels being quite different. Koreans train their whole lives to get to a certain level, taking what they have and developing it over a longer time.”
It has been previously speculated that by the time a Korean athlete reaches the university level, they will have put in over 10,000 hours of training – comparatively more than the approximately 1,500 hours by a dedicated Canadian volleyball player.
The two teams will play once more before SKKU travels back to Korea and UBC continues on with the Canada West regular season. Saturday’s match will once again begin at 7 p.m. at UBC’s War Memorial Gymnasium.