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Japan secures meeting with Brazil in FIVB Women’s Grand Champions Cup finale

Fivb, Kyodo

Host Japan delivered a strong all-around effort in a three-set triumph over the Dominican Republic volleyball team on Saturday in the FIVB Women’s Grand Champions Cup.

In Japan’s 25-17, 25-19, 29-27 win, the dynamic duo of Saori Kimura and Saori Sakoda both amassed 14 points. Brayelin Martinez had 12 points in a losing effort at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

The winners held a 7-1 advantage in the blocking department while the defeated side dominated the blocking category 9-5. The Dominicans made 22 unforced errors to 16 by the Japanese.

“Today our serve and defense were as I had expected going into this match,” said Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe. “Today our serve and defense were as I had expected going into this match. I thought blocking the Dominicans would be hard, so I tried to get our team to have blocking and defense in sync, and in the end it worked out well.”

The first set pitted Japan’s finesse against the power of the Dominican Republic, with the home team taking an early edge thanks to solid net play from Kimura and Yuki Ishii. Candida Arias bounced a pair of hard spikes to counter, but Japan moved out front 11-6 causing the Dominicans to regroup with a timeout. The home team played confidently, extending to 16-8 on an ace by Nana Iwasaka, and despite a late rush from the Dominicans, closed out a relatively easy first set 25-17, led by five points from Kimura, including two aces.

Japan continued to have good serving in the second, this time from Risa Shinnabe, who put the home side ahead 7-4 with a gorgeous ace. Sakoda got busy in this set, displaying her patented aerial attack throughout, putting Japan ahead 20-16 with a hard drive down the sideline. A drive down the center from the hard hitting Iwasaka gave Japan set point at 24-18, setting the stage for Ishii to take the second set with her ninth point (25-19) to lead all scorers at that point.

Said Kimura: “For the first and second (sets), we could break out a little with serving, and our scoring was pretty balanced. So I think it was good effort overall.”

Isabel Peña of the Dominican Republic was jittery to start the third set, with a couple of early errors. But she would pull together and push her side out front with a number of scores to jump out 12-8. That seemed to spark Sakoda, who brought a surprising block on Brens Prisilla Rivera at the net (12-9), and then later another stuff on Martinez to tie at 14-14.

But the Dominicans showed incredible spirit, keeping an edge to grab a set point at 24-22. But Kimura responded in true superstar fashion, helping her side fight off four set points to eventually take the set, with three scores late from her, taking the set 29-27, and the match 3-0.

“Everyone stayed focused until the end of the match,” Shinnabe said. “For the first and second set we had our own pace, and got some momentum going. However during the third we started to slow because out blocking was not effective, but we stayed focus until the end, and that’s why we won.”

After the match, Dominican captain Bethania De La Cruz said, “Today’s match was very difficult, but we had to accept the fact that we lost. Japan did their homework, and exploited our shortcomings. Our counter attacks were not effective today.”

A first title for the second-placed Japanese will be on the line in their final match on Sunday against Brazil, which has four straight wins after beating Russia in four sets. The United States beat Asian champions Thailand 3-2.

“Tomorrow will be everything we have worked for this season, so I need to try really hard to bring this home,” Kimura said. “All the team members and staff will be acting as one, we need to believe in ourselves that we can win this game for sure.”

Ishii said, “We really have to have a great start. It would be nice to get the first eight points, but even if they can score one, we don’t want to let up or give away any momentum. This will be the last game.”