In professional sports, it’s not uncommon for a team to come out of nowhere and become an overnight favorite. However, it is also very fun to watch a team slowly fill in the gaps and rise in the rankings each season. In that regard, GS Caltex KIXX has been an entertaining organization for volleyball fans to root for. This is because GS Caltex has shown fans how a team that was at the bottom of the standings grew step by step to win a championship.
After winning their second championship in the 2013-2014 season, GS Caltex experienced a “fall” in the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 seasons, dropping to fifth place. However, GS Caltex, which has improved its ranking every season since Cha Sang-hyun took over as head coach, became the first women’s team to achieve a “treble” in the 2020-2021 season, winning the Cup, regular season, and championship, thanks to the trio of Mereta Lutz, Lee So-young (Jung Kwan-jang Red Sparks), and Kang So-hwi.
However, with Lutz and Lee leaving the team after the trip, GS Caltex failed to build a dynasty and dropped to third in the regular season in 2021-2022 and fifth in the regular season in 2022-2023. If GS Caltex stays at the bottom of the standings for two consecutive seasons, their hard-earned reputation as a ‘traveling team’ will be tarnished. Of course, generational change is important, but GS Caltex is not immune to the pressure of this season’s performance.
GS Caltex falls to the bottom in five seasons
After achieving the 2020-2021 season treble, GS Caltex lost Lutz to the Japanese League and captain Lee So-young to a big-money transfer. With the “Sawtooth Sisters” Lee So-young and Kang So-hwi becoming free agents at the same time, it was nearly impossible for GS Caltex to retain both players. However, GS Caltex maintained its top spot (3rd place) in the 2021-2022 season with a 20-11 record in the regular season thanks to the contributions of transfer student Yoo Seo-yeon and new foreign player Leticia Moma Vasoco (Hyundai E&C Hillstate).
GS Caltex retained internal free agents Ahn Hye-jin and Yoo Seo-yeon at the end of the 2021-2022 season with a three-year total value of 840 million won and three-year total value of 750 million won, respectively. In addition, the team re-signed foreign player Moma, who led the team in points (819) and offensive success rate (47.30%) in the 2021-2022 season. GS Caltex believed that the team could maintain its top three finish in the 2021-2022 season.
However, GS Caltex was wrong. The sixth-ranked Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders, who were the best foreign players in the 2021-2022 season, saw a surge in power after the return of “Empress” Kim Yeon-kyung. GS Caltex’s weaknesses were evident at the top, where they ranked fifth out of seven clubs in blocking at 2.09 per set, and on defense, where they also ranked last in receiving efficiency (39.46%, 5th) and digs (19.29 per set, 6th).
Eventually, GS Caltex tried to turn things around with two trades last December. It sent setter Lee Won-jeong, who hadn’t gotten much playing time behind Ahn Hye-jin and Kim Ji-won, to Heungkuk Life for a first-round pick in the 2023 rookie draft and libero Oh Ji-young to Pepper Savings Bank AI Peppers for a first-round pick in the 2024 rookie draft. Lee Won-jung became the starting setter for Heungkuk Life, and libero Oh Ji-young signed a free agent contract with Pepper Savings Bank after the season for three years and up to 1 billion won.
While many players saw a drop in performance from the previous season, there was one player who had the best season since his professional debut. It was GS Caltex middle blocker Han Soo-ji. After ranking seventh in blocking with 0.61 blocks per set in the 2021-2022 season, Han Soo-ji was crowned “Blocking Queen” for the first time last season with 0.83 blocks per set, beating out a host of new and old middle blockers, including Bae Yuna (Korea Expressway Corporation High Pass), Yang Hyo-jin (Hyundai E&C), and Jung Ho-young (Jung Kwan-jang).
GS Caltex in the 2023-2024 season with many variables
Despite acquiring rookie picks through two trades during the season, GS Caltex, which finished in the top half of the standings for four consecutive seasons from 2018-2019 to 2021-2022, did not immediately go into “rebuilding mode” after one bad season. In fact, in the V-League, where at least three and as many as four of the seven franchises play spring volleyball, no team can afford to start the season with a losing record. GS Caltex also prepared for the season with the goal of both improving its performance and replacing its roster.
After retaining libero Han Soo-jin and middle blocker Mun Sung-hwa from the free agency market, GS Caltex brought back the league’s oldest player, Jung Dae-young, who led the Roadworks to the championship after nine years. As the eldest sister, Jung is two years older than head coach Lim Dong-kyu, and will serve as a moral support for her younger siblings on the team. But aside from her role as the eldest sister, she can also hold her own as GS Caltex’s starting middle blocker, as she ranked third in blocks (0.77 per set) last season.
After opting out of re-signing Moma, GS Caltex selected Cuban outside hitter Giselle Silva in the Foreign Player Draft, and Indonesian outside hitter Medi Yoku in the Asian Quarterly Draft, then replaced her with Thai setter Soraya Pomra, before bringing back Philippine national setter Iris Tolenada due to Pomra’s personal situation. GS Caltex is in desperate need of setter reinforcements after setter Ahn Hye-jin’s shoulder surgery.레고토토
GS Caltex star Kang So-hwi, who will earn the highest salary on the team at 550 million won, including an option for 150 million won, has taken on even more responsibility this season as he was named GS Caltex’s captain. After ranking 11th in scoring (455 points) with a 40.45% success rate (5th) last season, GS Caltex will be even stronger this season if Kang So-hwi can improve on his role as the team’s homegrown ace. The development of Kwon Min-ji, an aggressive offensive prospect, will also be crucial for GS Caltex.
GS Caltex named Tolenada as the Asian quarterback, but given her chemistry with the other players, it’s likely that fourth-year setter Kim Ji-won will be the starter. Kim Ji-won was selected to the national team and competed in the Hangzhou Asian Games, but she has yet to play full-time in the league. The performance of the setters, including Kim Ji-won, could have a huge impact on GS Caltex’s performance this season. This means that GS Caltex is a team with many variables this season.