V League All-Star game ends as race to title heats up

V-Star players celebrate during the 2023-24 V League All-Star game held at Incheon Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon on Saturday. [YONHAP]

Not only did Hillstate snatch the top position on the table from then-league leaders Pink Spiders in December last year, but the Suwon side has now been riding a six-game winning streak since Dec. 27.  
Hillstate will not want to let their guard down, however, if they want to avoid last season’s isappointment. The Suwon side failed to win a title last season, ceding the top spot to the Pink Spiders in the second half of the campaign and finishing as league runner-up, before losing the playoffs to Gimcheon Korea Expressway Hi-Pass. The second-place Pink Spiders, meanwhile, have not been able to close the point gap with Hillstate, instead allowing third-place GS Caltex Seoul Kixx to narrow the gap by seven points.   The Incheon side’s attack was one of the factors that troubled them in recent games, but it may improve over the remainder of the season with the new addition of opposite spiker Willow Johnson, who joined the team on Jan. 22 and replaced Jelena Mladjenovic.   Whether Johnson can lead the Pink Spiders to glory remains to be seen. The Pink Spiders won the 2022-23 league, but missed the championship title after allowing Hi-pass to come two games behind to win the five-game series 3-2.   Over in the middle of the table, the third-place Kixx have shown a strong performance so far to solidify their position, staying seven points clear of fourth-place Daejeon Jung Kwan Jang Red Sparks.
This year may see the Kixx in the playoffs for the first time since the 2020-21 season, when they swept the Korea Volleyball Federation Cup, league and championship titles.  The Kixx finished the 2021-22 league season as runners-up, but the playoffs did not take place due to Covid-19. The capital side then failed to reach the playoffs last season after finishing the league in sixth-place on the seven-team table. League winners, runners-up and third-place teams advance to the postseason in the V League. The runners-up and third-team compete first in the playoffs to reach the championship where they face the league champions.   The so-called, “semi-playoffs” between third-place and fourth-place teams take place when the point gap between the two is three points or less. The winner then reaches the playoffs.   
The semi-playoffs could take place this year as the race in the middle of the table has been competitive, with some teams having switched standings a few times so far this season.   As of Sunday, the fourth-place Red Sparks have 36 points, the Hwaseong IBK Altos come in fifth with 33 points and sixth-place Hi-Pass have 25 points.   Last-place Gwangju AI Peppers, meanwhile, have not seriously challenged the other competitors, staying at the bottom of the table with just seven points.Over in the men’s V League, the race for the league title has been even more competitive. Only seven points separate league leaders Seoul Woori Card Woori Won and 슬롯게이밍 fifth-place Suwon Kepco Vixtorm on the seven-team table.

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