In the 2023 Korean Volleyball Federation (KOVO) men’s Asia Quarter Tryout Draft held in Jeju Island from the 25th to the 27th, Korean Air’s goal was clear. Libero Lee, who plays for Japan’s Panasonic, chose Ryohei (Japan). Dividing the 24 players into three groups of 8, Korean Air coach Tommy Tilikayinen singled out Ryohei and openly expressed interest in him, even asking questions about the Japanese league’s libero during a meeting held on the morning of the second day.
Korean Air wasn’t the only team targeting Ryohei. KEPCO, which operated the libero last season with Lee Ji-seok, born in 1998, and Ji-won Jang, born in 2001, also tried to reinforce the libero position by selecting Ryohei, born in 1994 and entering the veteran ranks. In this tryout, it was an open secret that Korean Air and KEPCO would select Ryohei from the team with the first nomination rights.
As a result of the draft lottery held on the afternoon of the 27th, KEPCO ranked 2nd and Korean Air ranked 3rd. Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance, who had the right to nominate first, selected Eddy (Mongolia), and it was KEPCO’s turn. Director Kwon Young-min nominated Ryohei without hesitation.
The order of Korean Air that followed. Middle blocker Bayarsaihan (Mongolia), who was also mentioned as the first overall candidate, still remained, but coach Tillikainen’s choice was outside hitter Mark Espeho (Philippines). Although Espeho was expected to be in the top 7, being evaluated as the most stable in receiving ability among participants in this tryout, Eddie, Bayarsaihan, and Ryohei were the tallest (203cm) middle blocker Cai Feichang (Taiwan) in this tryout. It was a somewhat unexpected choice because it was evaluated as the ‘Big 4’ and expected to be selected after the 4th place. Korean Air, which has a receiving line that connects Jung Ji-seok and Kwak Seung-seok, had the thickest outside heater player base among the seven men’s clubs, so it was a choice that made them tilt their heads even more.
Listening to the interview with Espeho after the draft, I had a feeling that Korean Air’s unexpected choice that day might be a ‘God’s move’. Espejo was full of pride and confidence about his volleyball and representing Philippine volleyball. 토토사이트
Espejo said, “When the draft started, I was so nervous that I thought my heart would explode. I didn’t expect Korean Air to be the defending champion team, but I’m honored and happy that Korean Air chose me.”
To Espejo, ‘Korean Air’s main outside hitters Jeong Ji-seok and Kwak Seung-seok are also the main players in the national team. When asked, “I have to compete with these players,” he expressed his confidence, saying, “I am also a member of the Philippine national team.” He continued, “I had a match with Jung Ji-seok before in Myanmar for the under-23 national team. In the past, we competed while watching each other on the court, but now we are playing on the same team. It’s really exciting,” he added.