U.S. spikers hand Japan four-set loss in FIVB Women’s Grand Champions Cup


The United States volleyball team prevailed over Japan in four sets on Wednesday night, winning 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21 in their round-robin match at the FIVB Women’s Grand Champions Cup.

The result left both sides with 1-1 records as the event moves to Tokyo and resumes play on Friday.

Jordan Larson-Burbach and Kelly Murphy paced the U.S. with 20 points apiece in the triumph. Kristin Hildebrand added 16, including four blocks. Yuki Ishii was the top scorer for Japan with 19 points. Saori Kimura had 13 in the loss.

A day after losing to Olympic champion Brazil in straight sets, the U.S. was all business.

“Japan is the team we have played against the most this year,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said. “They are always well coached and fight very hard. We always have battles with them and today was another one. They know us well and we know them well.

“We learned some of their offensive patterns when we trained with them last week in Tokyo.”

Despite several early mistakes, the U.S. took charge in the first set and had the momentum for the majority of it.

Japan, which beat European champion Russia in its opening match on Tuesday, came out sluggish and had trouble mobilizing its attack.

The U.S. did a good job of neutralizing Japan star Saori Sakoda, who had only three points through the first two sets, one night after she notched 17 against Russia.

The Americans executed well in all facets of the game in the victory. Japan struggled with receiving throughout the evening.

“We served well tonight and were successful with it. The U.S. played us very tough,” said Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe. “They are very tall and powerful. They used speed and the high block to make it difficult for us.

“Saori Sakoda (striker) was marked well by them.”

A block by Kristin Hildebrand put the U.S. up 5-4 in the first set. A spike by Kimura moved Japan ahead 6-5. Six of Japan’s first seven points came off U.S. errors. The U.S. led 8-7 at the first TTO. Sakoda soared for a spike and Japan was done by one at 11-10. A spike by Yuki Ishii tied it 13-13.

The U.S. extended its lead to 19-15 on a spike by Lauren Paolini and Japan called a timeout. Jordan Larson-Burbach elevated for a cross-court spike and the margin grew to 22-15. Lauren Gibbemeyer’s spike gave the U.S. set point at 24-18. Gibbemeyer ended the set 25-19 with another spike. Hildebrand and Larson each collected five points in the set.

The visitors could not handle an Ishii spike and Japan went ahead 5-4 in the second set. Kimura’s attack made it 7-6 for Japan. She then connected on another and Japan was on top 8-7 at the first TTO. An Ishii spike gave Japan a 12-10 edge. Hildebrand’s spike pulled the U.S. within one at 13-12.

The U.S. led 16-13 at the second TTO, and it was 18-15 after a Paolini spike, then 24-19 moments later when a Yukino Nagamitsu serve sailed long. The Americans took a commanding 2-0 lead when Kelly Murphy closed out the set with a thunderous spike.

Murphy gave the set to the U.S. at 25-19 with a thunderous spike.

“Tonight was a great match. Every time we play Japan it is a battle,” Hildebrand said later. “We blocked and defended well. We did a good job of executing our game plan. We also passed and served well.”

Japan came out determined in the third set and grabbed an 8-4 lead at the first TTO after a U.S. spike went long. A Kimura attack put Japan up 10-5 and it looked like the hosts had finally found their footing. A nice return by Miyu Nagaoka gave Japan a 14-9 edge and the U.S. took a timeout. Akari Oumi sent Japan into the second TTO with a 16-9 lead on a spike.

Japan was in front 23-16 before a net infraction gave the hosts set point at 24-16. But the U.S. fought back with three straight points. A block by Nana Iwasaka gave Japan the set 25-19.

“We were able to win just one set,” Kimura stated after the match. “I thought we served well. They rallied well and made it difficult for us to get points.”

In the fourth set, the Americans led 8-7 at the first TTO, then 16-12 at the second break in the action.

Kimura’s spike brought Japan within three at 17-14 and Kiraly took a timeout. Hildebrand’s block put the U.S. up 21-17 and the summit was clearly in sight.

When Murphy fired a spike long, Japan was within two at 21-19. Murphy connected with another shot and the U.S. was two points from the win at 23-20. After Oumi could not handle a shot, it was match point for the U.S. It ended with one final spike from Murphy.

“They were fast and blocked and served well. We had trouble dealing with their speed,” Japan middle blocker Riho Otake concluded.