Japan turned back its lone set dropped in the leg, eventually taking down bitter rivals China in four sets, 19-25, 25-16. 25-23, 25-12, in the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Nations League, Sunday evening at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
The result also sent Hinotori Nippon closer to the final round with an unscathed record of 8-0 and still atop the team standings.
Japan, brimming with confidence with the set advantage, raced into a comfortable 9-2 lead over China in the fourth and final set. With their defense both at the net and on the floor clicking, the Masayoshi Manabe-mentored squad never looked back to close its eighth straight win.
Captain and outside hitter Sarina Koga fired from all over the court and ended with 22 points, 17 coming from attacks with four blocks and a service ace.
Koga once more emphasized the importance of service in their game and the win. The 26-year-old volleyball ace said through a translator, “Our strong point is defense and service. So, we need to make a good service every time against taller teams so that we can do better in defense. Against China, we were able to do serve well and we were able to defend well, that’s why we got the win.”
The two Asian sides fought toe-to-toe until near the end of the opening set when China took advantage of Arisa Inoue’s back-to-back hitting errors and their well-timed blocks to snag the opening set at 25-19.
In the second set, Japan tightened its floor coverage and turned to its service game to disrupt China’s passing and offensive rhythm to lead by as much as eight, 15-8. China searched for answers, but their errors in reception and defense shot themselves in the foot, giving Japan the equalizer at 25-16 with Inoue getting one kill back.
The current league leaders picked up from where they left off for the third set, taking an early 9-5 lead with its attackers using the Chinese block to score. The very same net defense kept China in the game, but when Japan’s transition attack came back, it is eventually a 2-1 advantage to the latter at 25-23.
Kotona Hayashi chipped in 19 points on 18 attacks and a service ace, while Inoue bounced back in the succeeding sets and eventually finished with 15 markers on 12 attacks, one block, and two aces.
Japan will look to continue its winning run against the Netherlands (1-7) on June 29 at 5 p.m. in Calgary, Canada.
Li Yingying paced all scorers with 27 points on 25 spikes and two blocks, while opposite hitter Gong Xiangyu ended with 12 markers on nine attacks, two aces, and one block.
China, which slipped to 5-3 with the defeat, will face Brazil (5-2) on June 28 at 5 p.m. in Sofia, Bulgaria.