Women’s professional volleyball team Heungkuk Life announced in an official press release on the morning of the 22nd that it has finalized (terminated) the contract with Yelena Mrazenovic (registered name Yelena), who accompanied the team for the past two seasons, and signed Willow Johnson, an American national who played in the American Professional League Athletic Unlimited.
After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2020, Willow played as an opposite spiker in the U.S. Pro League with Turkkiye Nirupert Velediespo in the 2020-2021 season.
Heungkuk Life 메이저 토토사이트 expects Willow to be a great addition to the team as an attacker who can utilize her height of 191 centimeters to hit hard and block.
“I’ve always been interested in K-culture and it’s been a dream of mine to play in the Korean League,” Willow said in a statement to the club. “I’m honored to play with the Pink Spiders, a traditional and prestigious club in Korea, alongside great players.”
“I’m looking forward to the level of competition in the Korean League and hope to help lead the Pink Spiders to a championship.”
Johnson, who was born in 1998, rose to prominence in 2018 when she was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Player of the Year. In 2022 and last year, she participated in the Korean Volleyball Organization (KOVO) V-League Women’s Foreign Player Tryouts for the second consecutive year, but was not selected by any club.
However, Heungkuk Life, who had been watching Johnson’s performance, reached out to her at the end of the 2023-2024 season. The team made the bold move to replace foreign player Yelena after her recent poor performance and attitude controversy.
Heungkuk Life was initially considered the favorite to win the title before the season began. With “volleyball queen” Kim Yeon-kyung delaying her retirement for a year to help them win the V-League title, and the addition of veteran middle blocker Kim Soo-ji in free agency, they were considered to have the perfect combination.
The presence of Yelena, who has been with the team since last season, was also seen as a strength for Heungkuk. Heungkuk believed that Yelena, along with Kim Yeon-kyung, would form one of the strongest offenses in the seven clubs in the women’s league.
However, Yelena fell short of expectations with 501 points and a 39.98% attack success rate in 24 games this season. As the rounds went on, she struggled to keep her opponents in check, which only increased the offensive pressure on Kim.
In particular, she dropped from 142 points (45.42% attack success rate) in Game 2 to 132 points (37.54% attack success rate) in Game 3. Attack accuracy dropped noticeably. In the fourth round, the team scored only 98 points (34.84% attack success rate). Outside hitter Kim Yeon-kyung and outside hitter Tokoku Reina (registered name Reina), who is a non-Asian quarterfinalist, had to struggle instead.
Her demeanor on the pitch was even more problematic. Yelena showed signs of unprofessionalism, such as openly showing emotion during matches and making unpleasant faces at Abondanza’s game time.
Red flags were also raised in Heungkuk Sinsaeng’s title defense. After four rounds, the team is in second place with 18 wins, 6 losses and 50 points, eight points behind first-place Hyundai E&C (19 wins, 5 losses and 58 points). With a smaller gap between them and third-place GS Caltex (15 wins, 9 losses, 43 points), second place is also far from assured.
Heungkuk Life threw a curveball by substituting a foreign player. The calculation is that if Willow Johnson can adapt to the V-League and play her part, the team will be able to regain the lead and take a shot at winning the championship.
Willow Johnson’s father is Major League Baseball legend Randy Johnson. It’s interesting to note that the daughter of a baseball legend is now playing in Korean professional volleyball.
Randy Johnson played in 618 games (603 starts), 4135⅓ innings, 303 wins, 166 losses, 2 saves, a 3.29 ERA, and 4875 strikeouts in his major league career from 1988 to 2009.
He is a five-time Cy Young Award winner, the top pitcher in Major League Baseball, and a 10-time All-Star. He also has ties to South Korea, where he helped the Arizona Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series with Byung-hyun “BK” Kim. Upon retirement, he was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
The V-League is currently on the All-Star break. The league will hold the All-Star Game for the 2023-2024 season at Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon on Nov. 27 before taking a break until Nov. 29. Round 5 will begin on the 30th.
The best-case scenario for Heungkuk Life would be for Willow Johnson to receive her work visa as soon as possible and be available for the team’s Game 5 match against Korea Expressway Corporation in Gimcheon on the 30th. If the work visa is delayed, she will not be able to participate in team training, so the administrative process must be finalized quickly.
A representative from Heungkuk Life told ‘X Sports News’, “Before Johnson receives his work visa, he will not be able to train with the team, so we are trying to process the things that can be processed first, such as medical tests.” “The issuance of a work visa usually takes about a week at the earliest and two weeks at the latest. From the club’s point of view, we hope it will be finalized as soon as possible, but it is difficult to predict when exactly the visa issue will be resolved.”
“There are reports in the media that Johnson will be able to play against Korea Expressway Corporation on January 30, but honestly, we don’t know,” he said, adding, “Johnson has been training diligently in the United States, so her physical condition is fine.”
As for Yelena, she is preparing to leave Korea after her contract was terminated. Heungkuk Life is doing its best to make the farewell as beautiful as possible, even though it’s the last time they’ll be together.
A representative from Heungkuk Life said, “The signing of Johnson and the termination of Yelena’s contract were done very quickly. We are trying to give each other a beautiful finish.” “Yelena plans to say goodbye to the players at a later date and leave the team after organizing her life in Korea,” the official added.