Han, 38, is the oldest member of the Korean Air squad competing at the 2023 Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship, along with his 1985-born teammate Yoo Kwang-woo.
Selected by Korean Air in the 2007-2008 rookie draft, Han is a “one-club man,” having played 16 seasons with Korean Air through the 2022-2023 season, and has been captain for eight years since the 2015-2016 season, when he rejoined the squad after his military discharge. Han feels strongly about the position. When asked if it was time to pass the captaincy to the younger members of the team, he said, “I still have to do it.”
However, for this tournament only, Kwak Seung-seok was the captain. Although Han is traveling with the team to Bahrain, he will not be competing as he rehabilitates a knee injury. Kwak Seung-seok, the third most senior member of the team after Han and Yoo Kwang-woo, has been with Korean Air since the 2010-2011 season and has been with the team longer than Han.
Despite being the captain, Kwak’s role in this tournament was more about spending time in the warm-up area than on the court. This is because head coach Tommi Tilikainen’s goal for the tournament was not to win, but rather to gain experience by giving his future players a chance to play. Kwak Seung-seok has only been able to play three spots and come in as a substitute when junior outside hitters with weaker receiving skills have been moved to the back row.
In the final match of the tournament, the 7th-8th place match against Bayang Hongor of Mongolia, Kwak Seung-seok started for the first time. Thanks to Kwak Seung-seok’s role as a back row libero and his receiving skills, which are among the best in the game, Korean Air won the match 3-0 (25-21 25-23 25-18) and finished the tournament in seventh place.
“It’s great to win the last match and finish the tournament on a high note,” said Kwak Seung-seok after the match.
“There were a lot of things to take care of, such as the team atmosphere and communication between the coaching staff and the players,” said Kwak Seung-seok, who served as captain for the first time since his professional debut.
When asked if he thought about becoming a real captain instead of a temporary captain for this tournament, he replied, “I don’t think (Han) will come forward,” and then added, “I heard that (Han) wasn’t going to accompany me to this tournament, so I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be Kwak Seung-seok’s system now.’ I didn’t come to this tournament to do anything. I came to this tournament and did nothing, but (Han) said, ‘You’re still a long way off. Maybe next season, (Han) will still be the captain,” he laughed.
The team also shared their reactions to Dmitry Musialsky’s interview, “Korean Air, the team we played today, is ranked 9-11 in the Japanese League.” “We didn’t even play them at full strength, and I felt like they were disrespecting Korean volleyball,” said Kwak Seung-seok. “Even players from other teams in Korea contacted me and said, ‘I feel bad. We want to play again with our full strength.” “If we come back to this tournament next year with our full strength, we can at least make it to the final,” he added.
Kwak Seung-seok also praised Lee Jun, who took up a lot of playing time in his place. He said, “(Lee) is naturally a good offensive player. He gained a lot of opportunities and experience in this tournament, and I’m sure he felt a lot of things during the match. If he complements them in the upcoming training, he will 안전놀이터 become a better player,” he said.