Japan celebrate winning a point at the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix
Lausanne, Switzerland, April 29, 2016 - Twelve teams will compete in FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 1 in 2016 hoping to qualify for the Finals in Bangkok, Thailand from July 6 to 10
. As the competition approaches we feature Japan in the seventh of a 12-part series.
Japan - Keeping a rich tradition in women’s volleyball alive
Japan hold a World Grand Prix record in terms of participation, as they have appeared in all editions of the premier annual women’s tournament. This year, they will continue that tradition and participate for the 24th time.
Japan have made numerous attempts to reach the World Grand Prix podium since 1993 and managed to finish fourth on three occasions – in 1994, 1997 and 2013. It took them 22 years before they finally landed on the podium as they finished as runners-up in 2014.
Japan conceded to Brazil 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 27-25) in the gold medal match, but the Asian side sent a strong message to their rivals that they can certainly match any team’s intensity and style of play. The team sacrificed a lot and have improved their offence, but never gave up on what they are best known for – their defence. Japan further stamped their authority on defence when Yuko Sano was named tournament MVP and Best Libero.
Last year, Japan reached the Final Six in Omaha but finished bottom after losing their five matches. They triumphed in four of their nine matches in the Preliminary Round, winning twice over Thailand 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-22) in Bangkok and 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-15) in Hong Kong. They had a big win over powerhouse Serbia 3-1 (25-22, 18-25, 28-26, 25-23) and an easy victory over the Dominican Republic 3-0 (25-19, 25-12, 25-15).
Japan have had their fair share of glories in the history of the sport. They won three World Championship titles and two Olympic gold medals in the 1960s and 1970s. They then started another climb to the top of the game in 2008, when Masayoshi Manabe was appointed as coach.
Manabe was responsible for Japan’s resurgence in international volleyball as he assembled a formidable group of young players led by Saori Kimura, who eventually became the face of Japan’s new glory.
Japan’s recent successes can be traced back to the 2010 World Championship, when the team won bronze – their first medal in 32 years. Their victories became testaments of their patience and hard work.
In 2011, Japan won the Montreux Volley Masters title, then their inspiring journey continued with their first return to the Olympic podium since 1984, as they trounced Asian rivals Korea to claim bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The following year, they bagged another bronze at the 2013 World Grand Champions Cup, before they had their best ever finish at the World Grand Prix in 2014.
Player to watch - Sarina Koga
Sarina Koga joined the national team straight out of high school. She was discovered at the 2011 All-Japan Junior High School Championship when her team Kumamoto Shin-Ai bagged the crown and she was named as the championship’s best player.
Koga first became part of the junior national team that won gold at the 2012 Asian Youth Girls’ Volleyball Championship. At a young age, Koga’s resilience on court was already evident when she won the MVP and Best Scorer awards in that tournament.
Koga was further exposed to a more competitive environment when she was promoted to play in the senior national team. She debuted with the senior team at the Alassio Cup in May 2013. A couple of months later, she led her team to take bronze at the 2013 FIVB Volleyball Women’s U23 World Championship and once again showed her potential as she was named Best Outside Spiker.
Her most recent success with the national team is the silver medal finish at the Montreux Volley Masters in 2015. Koga’s impressive performance in last year’s World Grand Prix and the World Cup made her a quality addition to the Japanese roster. Koga could be the player to continue Saori Kimura’s legacy as the team's offensive weapon.