Yukiko Wada led the way with 32 points as Japan beat the United States three sets to two in Week 2 of the FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League, handing the US women their first loss of the tournament on Saturday, June 17.
The 21-year-old Wada, who had scored 22 points in the first seven matches, turned in what was likely the biggest game of her career to lead Japan to a 23-25, 25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 15-6 victory over the reigning Olympic champion in Brasilia.
"I just tried to remain aggressive and not be afraid of their block," said Wada, who had 28 kills, one ace and three blocks.
"We had some pretty tough matches before this one," Wada told FIVB.com. "[And] we had a meeting with the players and said to each other that we had to keep fighting for every single point."
Wada added, "We still hadn't won a tie-breaker in the VNL and we did it today, so I think that we need to keep this same mindset for the third week."
With the preliminary round victory in the Brazilian capital, Japan is now in sixth place in the VNL 2023, with five wins and 16 points. The United States is fourth with six victories and 16 points.
Mistakes Prove Costly for Team USA
The United States committed 29 errors to 19 for Japan and that proved to be the difference as the teams were almost even in other categories, with Japan getting more points from kills (69 to 65) and aces (five to three) and the Olympic champion dominating in blocks (11 to eight).
Facing Japan, the United States didn't start setter Micha Hancock, opposite spiker Jordan Thompson or middle blocker Haleigh Washington.
Cuttino scored eight points in the opening set to lead the US to a two-point victory. Despite losing three set points, Japan completed a two-point victory in the second set.
Six service errors contributed to a third-set loss for the US.
In a tight fourth set, the Americans took their first lead midway through the set and took their first two-point lead with back-to-back points with the set tied at 19. After Japan fought off two set points at 24-21, the US sent the match to a fifth set with a kill from setter Ashley Evans.
Japan opened the tiebreaker with six consecutive points and cruised to the deciding set win to earn its first five-set victory in this year's VNL. For the US, it was the team's fourth five-set match in the preliminary round.
Volleyball Tournament Info
The Volleyball Nations League is the world's premier annual international indoor volleyball tournament. For three weeks during the preliminary competition, the top 16 teams in the world play four matches a week. At the end of the preliminary round, the top eight teams will go to the final round.
Japan's next match is in Week 3 on June 28 against Turkey in Bangkok.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.