Japan volleyball squad wraps up World League campaign with first victory


In its final FIVB World League match of the season, Japan finally picked up its their first win, beating Germany 3-2 (25-22, 25-22, 14-25, 23-25, 17-15) at the Koshigaya City Gymnasium on Sunday.

This was the fourth match for Japan against the Germans in World League play, with Germany winning the other three. This was an entertaining see-saw match, thrilling the hometown Koshigaya fans who had hoped to host World League matches in 2011, but could not because of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Japan was led by Kunihiro Shimizu and Yu Koshikawa, who scored 24 and 22 points, respectively. For Germany, Marvin Prolingheuer had 22 points, a valiant effort on his 24th birthday.

“Germany had a huge advantage in blocking yesterday, but that did not happen today, and I think that was the difference,” Japan coach Masashi Nambu said. “Our strategy for today was to be calm when Germany countered, and not rush too much. In our serve, we wanted to concentrate on the right side in order to avoid their libero. Yesterday the libero was receiving well, and it led to many points for Germany.

“Today in the first and second set, that strategy went well, but after that Germany adjusted and played better. We lacked stamina today, and we did not really pick it up until the very end. If there had been another set, we’d have lost. Improving our stamina is very important for us moving forward.”

Said Koshikawa: “Since this team started out together a year and a half ago we have suffered so much, and now we have finally won, and can see what winning feels like. I think it will accelerate our growth as a team. The best thing about today was that even though our opponent was leading at times, we could remain composed and come back at the right times.”

The first set was close, with Shimizu living up to his promise to attack better than he had on Saturday, scoring a pair of six in the set to push Japan out front 7-5 early. Germany’s Prolingheuer attacked well as he did on Saturday with six points in the opening frame, but neither side led by more than two points until the very end, until an ace from Yamato Fushimi put Japan over the top 25-22.

Dropping the first set appeared to spark the Germans, as Prolingheuer and Björn Höhne came out firing to push their side up 7-4. But Japan came back with strong attacking from Shimizu and Koshikawa, the latter with a particularly stunning pipe attack tying it at 17-17, and then an ace from Naoya Shiraiwa gave Japan a 20-19 lead. A wonderful block from Hideomi Fukatsu gave the home team a 23-21 edge, and Shimizu pitched in a pair of kills to finish 25-22.

Both teams were even early in the third set, but then Germany went on a 5-0 run to go ahead 12-7, largely from great attacking of Prolingheuer on the wing. Japan was frazzled, making this set an easy one for the Germans. Ryusuke Tsubakiyama looked nervous in a brief appearance off the bench, his errant attacks late giving it to Germany 25-14.

Those nerves appeared to carry over into the fourth set for Japan, with errors receiving and in service allowing Germany an early 8-5 edge. But Japan regained its composure, and eventually took a 21-20 edge on an ace from Shimizu. But again errors plagued Japan late, and a Tom Strohbach spike evened the match at 2-2, taking the set 25-23.

The German block, which had been so dominant in the win over Japan on Saturday, got rolling again in the tiebreak, with two consecutive stuff blocks on Koshikawa pushing the visitors ahead 8-4. But a pair of aces from Yamato Fushimi brought Japan back within one at 10-9. Germany’s Collin gave his side match point, but Shimizu and Koshikawa brought Japan back to take the tiebreak 17-15, and the match 3-2.

“First of all congratulations to Japan, I think to come from 8-4 behind in fifth set, fighting hard with spirit, they deserve to win,” Germany captain Dirk Westphal said. “For us, the game was black and white compared to yesterday. Today was less focused, with a lack of concentration. Maybe we were a little tired, but that’s no excuse. We were not so good on the block. There were many easy tips or shots we couldn’t defend, and if you play like that it’s hard to win. In the end we must accept the result and try to do better the next time out.”