The Japan’s Men’s squad finished 8th at the 2006 World Championship and were quite satisfied with this result. Everyone believes that the squad has been rapidly improving since the present head coach, Tatsuya Ueta, was appointed in 2004 after the disappointment at the OQT. Many believe that the team has finally come through a long dark tunnel.
2007 will be an absolutely crucial year for Ueta’s squad due to the World Cup 2007, at which the top three teams will qualify for the Olympics in Beijing next year. Bearing in mind that the schedule will be very tough prior to the Olympics next year, Japan’s squad is aiming to qualify for the Olympics at the World Cup with the support of volleyball fans in Japan.
The squad started its first training camp in May this year. Ueta named 22 national players for the 2007 World League headed by 37-year old Masaji Ogino. Ogino made his comeback to the international stage in 2005 and played incredible volleyball in the World Championship in 2006. Most players who competed in the World Championship will remain in this year’s squad.
The players for whom the head coach has high hopes this year are Yu Koshikawa and Yusuke Ishijima. Koshikawa showed his potential as an outside hitter in 2005; however, last year was a mediocre year for him. Ueta hopes Koshikawa will be one of the key players in the team in the future and Koshikawa came up to Ueta’s expectations when he was the best scorer in the preliminary round of the World League 2007.
Ishijima, who had been playing in Brazil, is expected to show his improved form. Compared to Koshikawa, whose volleyball was very sharp, Ishijima’s way of playing is dynamic and powerful. He has a marvellous ability to cheer everyone up through his volleryball.
Ueta also has high hopes for Takahiro Yamamoto, a left-handed spiker, as an ace spiker. Yamamoto won the Best Scorer Award at the World Cup 2003; however, afterwards he underwent an operation on his knee. This year he has been in good form and is looking forward to the World Cup 2007.
Furthermore, Usami, the setter who won the Best Setter Award at the previous World Cup, joined the squad this spring and has been dictating the team’s play. His ability as an athlete as well as a setter has been internationally recognized. Usami and Tomonaga are different types of players and the team plays differently depending on which of them is setter.
At the Asian Men’s Championship in September in Jakarta, Japan’s squad, as the defending champion, threw away the championship and finished runner-up. Now Ueta and his players have taken to heart that even a little mistakes cause failure.
Ueta’s squad is almost mature. By refining individual skills, reducing errors, making offence faster and increasing accuracy in service reception, Japan’s squad is aiming to advance to the podium at the World Cup 2007.
In 2004, immediately after the Japanese men’s team failed to qualify for the Olympics in Athens, the Japan Volleyball Association appointed Tatsuya Ueta, then coach of Japan’s junior men’s national team, as head coach of the senior national team. Since then, Ueta, who is considered a hardworking and progressive coach, has not only been coaching his squad very hard, but also collecting and studying lots of information from abroad. Consequently, he has built up his present volleyball philosophy and the success of the national team so far has been entirely due to his efforts.
Tatsuya Ueta was born in Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. He started playing volleyball at the age of 12 and developed into an astute middle blocker. He played volleyball for high school and university teams and gained a reputation as a good player even in his school days. He joined Nippon Steel Blazers in 1987 and played for the national team from 1989 to 1993.
He was assistant coach of Nippon Steel Blazers from 1995 to 1998, and head coach of Nippon Steel’s successor, Sakai Blazers, from 1999 to March 2001 before joining the Japan Volleyball Association as coach of the junior men’s national team.
His goal is to compete in the Olympics in Beijing and this aspiration is the motivation for his squad. In order to achieve this goal, Ueta regards 2007 as a vital year. He has worked to improve his squad step by step and as a result Ueta’s squad beat Italy twice and France once in the World League 2007. In particular, beating one of the volleyball power houses, Italy, home and away has given Ueta’s players enormous confidence and enthusiasm. Players were convinced that nothing was impossible. Since the World League Ueta’s ability as a coach has improved his reputation.
Ueta has been discovering weakness in the team and correcting them all the time because he believes that Japan will have no chance to go to Beijing without achieving accuracy in service reception and lightening speed in offence.
He has confidence in his squad and is looking forward to competing in the World Cup 2007 and to qualifying for the Olympics in Beijing.