Tokyo, Japan, April 3, 2018 – When the Japan Volleyball Association announced their women’s national team squad in March, it was more notable for those players not on the list. Only seven players from the 2016 Rio Olympics squad remain.
Japanese volleyball icon Saori Kimura retired from the sport a year ago, as did namesake Saori Sakoda, while former Japan team stalwart Yukiko Ebata is currently not part of the selection. The holdovers from Rio 2016 are Miyu Nagaoka, Haruka Miyashita, Yurie Nabeya, Haruyo Shimamura, Erika Araki, Yuki Ishii and Kanami Tashiro.
Japan also changed their coach after the Rio Olympics bringing in Kumi Nakada to replace Masayoshi Manabe. Nakada had big boots to fill after the success of Manabe, who guided his team to an Olympic bronze medal in London in 2012, but Nakada, an Olympic bronze medallist herself in 1984, has brought a quiet determination to her team in a transitional period.
The loss of Kimura cannot be underestimated, not only as a brilliant attacker and devastating server, but also as the figurehead of Japanese women’s volleyball. Replacing her as a player, captain and cultural icon hasn’t just been difficult, it’s been impossible.
Notable players returning after injury include 23-year-old setter Haruka Miyashita, powerful lefty Miyu Nagaoka, 26, and 21-year-old Sarina Koga. The youngest player on the squad is 18-year-old wing spiker Miyu Nakagawa.
Japan were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage in Rio, finished seventh in the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix and fifth in the 2017 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup, but they did manage to beat Brazil twice in the latter two competitions, their first victories over the Brazilians in six years.