Yuki Ishii’s match-high 22 points led host Japan to a four-set victory (25-20, 26-28, 25-16, 26-24) over Russia at the World Grand Champions Cup on Tuesday night.
Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe fielded a team which included five members of the 2012 London Olympic bronze medal squad against the European champions.
What started out as a fairly sluggish affair in the first set heated up in the second with some exciting play from both sides.
Japan took the initiative in the third set with some outstanding defense and fine passing as Russia had problems receiving and the final set proved highly entertaining with the Japan staging a late rally to claim the match.
Star spiker Saori Kimura and sidekick Saori Sakoda added 17 points each for Japan in the win. Riho Otake and Risa Shinnabe chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
“I was hoping we would win,” Ishii said afterward. “I did my best. I was able to do my job in the new strategy well with the help of my teammates.”
Said Kimura: “We really wanted to win the first game. I’m relieved that we did. Russia has really strong blockers, but we never gave up.
“We will do our best against the U.S. tomorrow.”
Natalia Malykh was the top scorer for Russia with 16 points in the loss. Teammate Liubov Shashkova had nine points and Daria Isaeva and Anastasia Shlyakhovaya had eight apiece.
Japan held an 11-2 advantage in service winners. Russia finished with 14 blocks and Japan had six.
“Our serves and defense worked well tonight. Teamwork is very important,” Manabe said. “Russia has tall players and we don’t, so we had to adjust.
“I was not worried when we lost the second set. We made some mistakes with our spikes,” he admitted. “I kept encouraging the players and they responded.”
Japan established a 5-3 lead in the first set behind some nice serves from Kimura. Russia tied it 6-6 on a huge spike by Shlyakhovaya. The hosts led 8-6 at the first TTO after a reception error by Russia. A spike by Shinnabe put Japan ahead 11-9. Kimura’s crosscourt spike gave Japan a 14-13 edge. Japan was on top 16-14 at the second TTO.
A reception error by Natalia Dianskaya took it to 20-17. Sakoda made a fine save and Ishii blasted a spike for 21-17. Malykh’s spike drew Russia within 22-20, but she then served into the net and Japan was two points from taking the set 25-20 Japan claimed the set on a pair of nice serves by Akari Oumi. Kimura had seven points in the set, while Malykh tallied eight.
In the second set, Liubov Shashkova’s spike gave Russia a 15-12 margin. Japan equalized at 15-15 when Russia could not handle an Ishii spike. Russia led 16-15 at the second TTO.
Ishii finished a long rally with a spike and the score was even again at 17-17. Shashkova soared for a crosscourt spike and Russia was ahead 20-18. Malykh spiked to put Russia on the verge of taking the set at 23-19. With Russia up 24-19, Japan saved five set points to level at 24-24. A block by Nana Iwasaka gave Japan set point at 25-24. Japan’s run of six straight points ended on a service error by Kimura. A dink by Chaplina gave Russia its fifth set point, but once again Japan rose to the occasion and it was 26-26. Russia finally claimed the set on its sixth try 28-26.
A service ace by Otake gave Japan a 5-2 lead in the third set. Sakoda’s block made it 7-2 and she then soared for a spike to put Japan up 8-3 at the first TTO. Russia had trouble receiving and Japan’s advantage moved to 10-3. A Kimura block and an unforced error by Russia put Japan on top 13-3.
Japan was really in a groove now and a Sakoda block ballooned to lead to 15-3. Japan made some incredible saves and was up 16-3 at the second TTO.
“Japan played very well today. We had a lot of problems and made a lot of mistakes,” said Russia coach Iury Marichev. “There were many things we did not do well.”
In the third set, Russia pulled with 18-9 and Japan called a timeout. A block by Evegniya Startseva cut Russia’s deficit to seven at 19-12. Shinnabe’s spike stopped the Russian charge and made it 20-13.Moments later, Japan won the set 25-16.
A dink by Ishii gave Japan a 6-4 edge in the fourth set. Russia tied it 7-7 after an extended rally despite a desperation dive by Kimura. Japan held an 8-7 lead into the first TTO. Otake’s spike made it 12-9. Russia fought back to level at 14-14, before a Sakoda spike made it 15-14. Japan had a 16-15 edge at the second TTO.
Russia moved on top 18-17 went Kimura fired a spike wide and a reception error made it 19-17.
Sakoda sent a spike wide and Russia was ahead 22-19. A net infraction pulled Japan within one at 23-22 and the hosts tied it 23-23 on a reception error. Japan saved a set point on a sublime spike by Ishii. Russia botched the ensuing reception and
Japan clinched the match on a block by Sakoda.
“We should play better than this. We have to forget today’s result and concentrate on winning tomorrow.”