KUMAMOTO — The United States tightened its grip on the FIVB World League’s Pool B with a power-packed display, beating Japan 3-0 at Kumamoto Prefectural Gymnasium on Saturday.
The Americans’ victory, by 25-17, 25-23, 25-15 scores, improved their win-loss record to 7-2 and left Japan at the bottom of the four-team group at 1-6.
Having won all six World League meetings between the two teams in 2006 and 2007, the United States looked hungry to extend that streak, especially after France, the nearest challengers, had suffered a surprise 3-2 defeat to Italy in Paris on Friday night.
The French are now 5-4, with Italy (3-4) in third place. Only the group winner advances to the six-team final round in Poland next month.
“Any time you can get a 3-0 win it is a big deal in international men’s volleyball league (competition), because it happens so rarely,” U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
“There is so much parity between the teams. We consider ourselves fortunate to come out and win the match 3-0.”
USA reached the first technical timeout with a three-point lead at 8-5 — and with Japanese setter Kosuke Tomonaga in pain on the court after crashing into the net pole trying to retrieve Reid Priddy’s blistering serve.
When Priddy resumed with another thunderbolt ace for a 9-5 advantage, Japan coach Tatsuya Ueta took off his team for the first timeout.
The Americans were impressive at the net, with Ryan Millar and David Lee both pounding some big winners to keep their team ahead.
Crowd favorite Yu Koshikawa gave the home fans something to cheer with a left-wing winner that sliced through the defense, but the U.S. squad’s serving proved to be too hot to handle for the Japanese.
Japan had lost the plot completely when trailing 22-15, forcing a second TO from Ueta, and the superior blocking and smooth-attacking combinations of the Americans swept them to the first frame, 25-17.
“I must take responsibility for today’s game, and I apologize to the many fans,” Ueta said later.
“It is not the fault of the players; it is mine.”
After losing Game 1, Japan needed to lift its game significantly to stay in the match.
The Americans had recovered their form and led 8-6 at the first TTO, when Japanese talisman Yusuke “Gottsu” Ishijima spiked wildly from the left.
Koshikawa kept Japan in touch, but the Americans held too many aces in the center and out wide, where Gabe Gardner and Priddy continued to blaze away.
Down 14-10, Ueta hauled off his team again as a gap began to appear mid-set.
Gardner brought up set point at 24-21, and a Koshikawa serve that struck the net and fell wide ended it 25-23, 2-0 USA.
In Game 3, the points were flowing in the Americans’ favor against a demoralized opponent and they wrapped up the third set and the match 25-15 for an easy win.