SAPPORO – The United States defeated Japan 3-2 (17-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-17, 15-12) in the last match of the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals on Sunday at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.
Japan finished in fourth place in the final standing with five points while the U.S. finished bottom with three points. Italy was fifth with four points. Japan, Italy and the U.S. finished 1-4. Brazil was champion, followed by China and Serbia.
Japan has now lost its last seven matches against the U.S. in the World Grand Prix.
Japan’s Yukiko Ebata was the top scorer in the match with 24 points, while the top scorer for the U.S. was Nicole Fawcett with 22.
The U.S. had the advantage in blocking points 11-9 but Japan had the edge in service points, 4-2. Japan made 22 errors to U.S.’ 31.
Japan got off to a good start in the match. A Risa Shinnabe ace put the home team in front at 4-3 and a great block by Japan setter Haruka Miyashita — on her 19th birthday — put her team up by three points.
After a service ace by Japan captain Saori Kimura took the score to 11-7, U.S. coach Karch Kiraly called a timeout. American captain Kristin Hildebrand and Lauren Paolini got good shots in but Riho Otake made a great block on Hildebrand and Ebata slammed down a kill to maintain Japan’s four-point lead at the second technical timeout.
Nana Iwasaka came up with another block — on Kelly Murphy — and Ebata sent down two more good hits as Japan eased its way to the end of the set. Ebata brought up set point and a quick combination between Miyashita and Otake put Japan 1-0 up.
Kimberly Hill got the Americans off to a good start in the second set with successive spikes, while Ebata came up with a block on Fawcett and a spike of her own, but the U.S. was two points ahead at the first TTO.
A strike by Ebata and another good block by Iwasaka drew the teams level at 8-8 but the U.S. soon crept ahead again and a monster hit by Fawcett gave it a three-point lead at 12-9. A superbly judged tipover by Kimura levelled the scores at 14 and the two teams were level again at 17, but Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe called a timeout at 17-19.
He called another two dropped points later but his team had gone flat. A long serve by Kimura handed set point to the Americans and a netted serve by Yuki Ishii levelled the scores at 1-1.
Ebata kept the pressure on the Americans in the third set and substitute setter Naoko Hashimoto — at 172 cm — got a good block on the 193-cm Hill. After Ebata sent down a big hit and then blocked Fawcett to give Japan a three-point lead at 13-10, Kiraly called his players off court.
Then Japan lost its spark and when the gap narrowed to two points at 15-13, Manabe called a timeout. The U.S. drew level at 18 and then started making errors. Kiraly called a timeout at 18-20 but the Americans had trouble dealing with Kimura’s serves.
A sweet tipover by Shinnabe made the score 23-18, a service ace by Kimura brought set point and a long shot by Fawcett after another poor U.S. reception put Japan 2-1 up and in doing so clinched fourth place in the tournament.
Ebata was again to the fore early in the fourth set with some great kills but it was an even game to 9-9 when a double touch by Hashimoto and a reception error by Kimura handed the momentum to the U.S., and at 10-14 Manabe had to call a timeout.
The Americans kept the pressure on and after a block by Fawcett on Shinnabe made the score 20-15, Manabe called another timeout. But Japan had lost its rhythm. Fawcett landed a couple of heavy blows and a block on Mizuho Ishida brought setpoint. A spike by Cassidy Lichtman then sent the match to a tiebreak set.
Successive points by Lichtman put the U.S. three points ahead at 6-3 and Manabe called a timeout. The next point saw great defending by both sides but Japan had most of the spiking chances and didn’t take advantage of them, Alisha Glass eventually blocking a shot by Ebata.
The U.S. was four points ahead at the turnaround and Japan was struggling to stay in the match. A long shot by Kimura extended the U.S.’ lead to five points at 10-5 before Ebata sent down two kills and Kiraly called a timeout.
At 12-8, Ebata hit a rocket, then she blocked Fawcett and Hirai did the same to make it a one-point game. Kiraly called a timeout but Lauren Gibbemeyer hit a shot wide and the scores were level at 12.
Japan then failed to deal with a U.S. attack, Fawcett hit a winner down the line and finally a shot from Lichtman limped over the net to end the match and bring the Americans their first win of the Finals. It was Japan’s fourth straight loss in the Finals, the first time it has lost four straight in the Final Round.