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JT Thunders, NEC Red Rockets take Japan V. League titles

 
The NEC Red Rockets celebrate their V. League crown
Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2015 – JT Thunders of Hiroshima picked up their first ever V. League title on Sunday with a 3-0 (41-39, 25-19, 25-19) victory over the Suntory Sunbirds of Osaka.

On Saturday, the Kawasaki-based NEC Red Rockets took their first title in 10 years with a 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22) win over two-time defending champions Hisamitsu Springs, who play in Kobe and Tosu.

Men’s Final
The Thunders, coached by Veselin Vukovic, had come close to glory in 2014 but finished as runners-up in both the V. League and the Kurowashiki All-Japan Volleyball Tournament. They finished top in both the regular season and the Final Six with the Sunbirds runners-up both times.

Most of the 8,000 fans at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium were expecting a close fight and they weren’t disappointed as the first set went to a mammoth 80 points.

The first hint of daylight between the two teams came around the second technical timeout, courtesy of smart kills by Suntory captain Kota Yamamura and Brazilian Evandro Guerra. But the Thunders quickly closed the two-point gap before opening up a lead of their own at 22-20. Suntory brought the scores level at 23-23 and then it became a long slog to the end. JT saved 11 setpoints before a shot by Shio Ozawa was touched as it went long. Masashi Kuriyama then sent a spike wide to the right to give JT the upper hand.

Losing the massive first set seemed to take the edge off the Sunbirds’ game and the Thunders managed to take early leads in the next two sets. They were three points ahead at the first TTO of the second set and six ahead at the second. At the first TTO of the third set, they were four points ahead, but as they closed in on victory, they eased up and the Sunbirds were able to close to within a point at 20-19 after a couple of big hits from Evandro. But JT’s own big-hitting Brazilian, Leandro Vissotto Neves steadied the ship at 21-19 and a final devastating burst of serving by MVP Yu Koshikawa – including two aces – brought the Hiroshima team the title.

Women’s Final
The women’s title match was a closer affair as the Rockets attempted to stop Hisamitsu making a V. League hat trick. Regular-season champions Hisamitsu had breezed through the Final 6 without dropping a set, while the Rockets had a so-so 3-2 record and finished second, as they had in the regular season.

In the first set of the final, it looked as if Hisamitsu would come out on top again. Led by Japan players Miyu Nagaoka and Risa Shinnabe, the Springs prevailed against the Rockets in a 26-minute set. Things remained tight in the second set until Rockets coach Akinori Yamada made the decision to bring in 18-year-old Sarina Koga. Putting such a young player into a tense final before a packed Tokyo Gymnasium crowd was a gamble, but it paid off as Koga quickly found her spiking form and the massed NEC fans got behind her and the team.

The other key to the victory was some sensational defending by libero Sayaka Iwasaki, who was in scintillating form. Yamada also utilized his two setters well, switching in captain Miyuki Akiyama to take the pressure off Kaname Yamaguchi at crucial moments. Yamada’s moves helped the Rockets resist the pressure of Shinnabe and particularly Nagaoka, with the team in red outblocking Hisamitsu 11-6.

“We did all the things we’d prepared for,” Yamada commented. “All the players – including the starting members and substitute players – earned this win and I’m really grateful to them.”

“All I can say is it’s a real shame to lose today,” said Hisamitsu coach Kumi Nakada. “The game was different from usual, maybe because of the pressure we felt in defending our title or because of NEC’s offensive tactics.”
Akari Oumi was named the MVP.

Women’s V. League Final Rankings
1.    NEC Red Rockets
2.    Hisamitsu Springs
3.    Ageo Medics
4.    Okayama Seagulls
5.    Hitachi Rivale
6.    Toray Arrows
7.    Denso Airy Bees
8.    Toyota Auto Body Queenseis


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