Pepper, the ‘Park Jung-ah’ signing, is no longer ‘last place’

October 7, 2023 | by

Gwangju Pepper Savings Bank AI Peppers

In professional sports, it’s not surprising that late starters struggle. The KT Wiz, the 10th team in the KBO, was founded in 2013 and took two years to prepare before joining the first team in 2015, but they finished last for three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays, the youngest team in Major League Baseball, founded in 1998, are now a powerhouse in fall baseball for the fifth consecutive year, but in the first 10 years of their existence, they were at the bottom of the division nine times.

The Pepper Savings Bank AI Peppers, the seventh women’s team in the league, which was founded in 2021 and participated in the V League from the 2021-2022 season, also felt the “woes of a new team” for the past two seasons. After earning just three wins in 31 games in their inaugural season, which ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pepper Savings Bank managed just five wins in 36 games in the 2022-2023 season. While we can take comfort in the fact that we’re getting better, the reality is that for the past two seasons, Pepper Savings Bank has been nothing more than a “scoreboard” for established clubs.

After paying a steep tuition fee for the past two seasons against senior clubs, Pepper Savings will be looking to see the “fruits of their labor” this season. Pepper Savings Bank has strengthened its roster by signing Park Jung-ah, the captain of the national team who has won five championships, and Chae Sun-ah, a ‘salaryman’ who can play outside hitter and libero. Will Pepper Savings Bank be able to make an impact in the 2023-2024 season, their third season in the league?

8 wins and 59 losses in 67 games in their first two seasons.

Unlike IBK Altos, which was founded by recruiting experienced players from existing clubs, Pepper Savings Bank built its team around young players, bringing in prospects from special designations for new clubs. It was a move that showed the first head coach Kim Hyung-sil’s plan to make a leap to a strong team in time for the prospects he had collected to grow into the mainstay of the team rather than strive for immediate results.

With a modest goal of five wins in its first season, Pepper Savings Bank recorded 3 wins and 28 losses in 31 games before the season ended prematurely. Considering that the sixth-ranked Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders won 10 games, Pepper Savings Bank’s performance in its inaugural season was very serious. Eventually, Pepper Savings Bank invested KRW 990 million in last year’s free agency market and transplanted experienced setter Ignaeun to the setter position, which was considered the team’s weakest point.

Following Igoeun, the team selected Nia Reed with the first overall pick in the foreign player draft. However, Pepper Savings Bank finished the season with five wins, just two more than in its inaugural season, despite playing five more matches. With outside hitter Ji Min-kyung and middle blocker Ha Hye-jin out for the season due to injuries, the team did not have a full roster, and Reed, the No. 1 foreign player, did not show a clear advantage over foreign players from other clubs.

In December of last year, Pepper Savings Bank traded its first-round pick for the 2024-2025 season to GS Caltex KIXX to acquire veteran libero Oh Ji-young, who was the starting libero at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pepper Savings Bank hasn’t shown much of a turnaround with Oh, going 3-13 in her 16 games. However, the presence of an experienced veteran in a young team is a big boost for the team.

With foreign player Nia Reid leaving South Korea without completing the season after being found in possession of hemp-based jelly, Pepper Savings Bank relied heavily on the play of captain Lee Han-bi last season. Lee played in all 36 regular-season games for Pepper Savings, scoring 439 points, ranking 11th in scoring and seventh among Korean players. Considering that in the 2021-2022 season, Lee scored 262 points in 31 games, that’s a huge improvement in one year.

Park Jung-ah-Yasmin Gase, Pepper ready for a breakout year

As soon as the season ended, Pepper Savings Bank touted itself as the “big hand” in the FA market. First, they signed captain Lee Han-bi for three years and up to 1 billion won, libero Oh Ji-young for three years and up to 1 billion won, and outside hitter Park Jung-ah for 775 million won and Chae Sun-ah for 100 million won. However, it was a big mistake for Pepper Savings Bank to give up the rights to Choi Ga-eun and Kim Se-bin to the Korea Expressway Corporation High Pass to reacquire Igoeun as a compensatory pick.

With the second overall pick in the foreigner draft, the team selected Yasmin Bedardt, a 192-centimeter outside hitter who played for Hyundai E&C Hillstate for the past two seasons. Yasmin was at the top of her game at the beginning of last season, but a herniated disk sidelined her and was a major factor in HCE’s season collapse. However, if she is able to recover from her injury, it will be hard to find a more potent striker in the V-League. Pepper Savings Bank is taking a gamble on Yasmin for the 2021-2022 season.

Having won three championships with IBK and two championships with DOT, Park Jung-ah could be a great addition to the team. However, during her time at Roadworks, Park was exempted from serving with the help of “defensive geniuses” Lee Myeong-ok and Moon Jeong-won. However, it will not be easy for Park to be exempted from receiving at Pepper Savings Bank. The biggest challenge for Park will be whether she can maintain her offense while receiving her opponent’s targeted serves.

The weakened middle blocker strength is also a big concern for Pepper Savings Bank this season, as they lost their main middle blocker Choi Ga-eun and No. 1 rookie Kim Se-bin to Roadworks last season. The team is fortunate to have Ha Hye-jin back after missing all of last season due to a shoulder injury, but she has yet to show her 100% form in cup competitions. Pepper Savings also selected middle blocker MJ Phillips in the Asia Quarterly Draft to bolster their weakness in the middle.

Following the resignation of Achen Kim in June for personal reasons, Pepperdine hired Joe Trinzi, formerly the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, as its new head coach. While it is yet to be seen how well he will integrate into the team, including his chemistry with the players, the new coach has been praised for minimizing disruption and quickly overhauling the team. Now in its third season, the team is looking to break away from the “winner-take-all” mentality of the established clubs and make a splash in the league this season 스포츠토토.


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