Tokyo, Japan, October 28, 2003 - Japan, hosts of the 2003 World Cup, go into the women's tournament with a new look team, invigorated with two bright young stars, tall and talented and plumped with confidence after the team took the silver medal at the recent Asian Games in Vietnam.
The two youngsters, Kana Oyama and outside hitter Megumiu Kurihara are just 19-years-old and measure 187cm and 186cm respectively, giving the side a height advantage that was formerly a deficit.
Coach Shoichi Yanagimoto will run the two teens in his starting six and is confident that the combination will serve him well.
"We have gained confidence from tournament to tournament and from match to match," Yanagimoto has said of his lineup.
The new combination, which has yet to perform before their home crowd, had a historic win over arch rivals Korea at the Asian Championship, and although their were ultimately deprived of the gold medal by a titan Chinese side, it still proved to be a nourishing confidence booster.
The team also warmed to the World Grand Prix in Italy in August with wins over world champions Italy and Cuba, facts that underline Yanagimoto's quote about the team's growing confidence.
Himself formerly a national setter from the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Yanagimoto is a veteran trainer for both men's and women's club teams and has won two championships with Toyobo club.
Team captain Tomoko Yoshihara, a veteran returning to the national side after several years absence, brings with her rich experience. The 33-year-old middle blocker from Pioneer Redwings also played two years in the lucrative Italian League. The Japanese team also has an important mentor and role model in the Team Manager, Masae Nakamura, a member of the legendary Japanese gold medal women's team of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. That was a success that lionized them in their country and laid the foundation stones for years of fascination and success with the sport of Volleyball.
Yanagimoto is optimistic that Japan's first three matches, against Argentina, Egypt and Korea respectively, will give the team the positive start they need in this round robin format tournament where each team meets all of their opponents once in this moveable feast of top class Volleyball.
The prize is also rich with the top three teams advancing straight into the Olympic qualification tournament and Yanagimoto believes teams with an 8-3 win-loss ratio will be among the top three. Indeed, with a good set ratio, 7-4 may even be enough, he says.