Okayama Seagulls pass Denso into fourth place

The Okayama Seagulls entered the last weekend of January tied on wins at nine with the Denso Airybees and Saitama Ageo Medics, but were in sixth place as they had fewer points than Denso and Saitama.

Saitama were supposed to play once, but a positive Covid test meant that their match was postponed. Denso and Okayama played two matches over the weekend and a loss could have had significant playoff implications.

On Saturday, Okayama faced the Toyota Auto Body Queenseis. For the Seagulls, Japanese women’s national team setter Haruka Miyashita has been trying to guide the team to its first title, narrowly missing last year in the final. Miyashita’s setting gave the Seagulls a 2-0 lead, but the Queenseis took the third set 25-21 to stay alive. At match point in the fourth set (24-17), Miyashita’s serve led to a free ball, which she set to Yuzu Nakamoto for the kill to win the match 3-1. The Seagulls’ Shuka Kaneda led the team with 21 points (2 blocks) and Mioko Yabuta had 25 (1 block and 1 ace) for Toyota in the loss.

Denso on Saturday met Victorina Himeji and Kathryn Plummer seemed to be the only player working for the Airybees. Plummer had 43 points, including 4 blocks and 39 kills on 78 swings in the 3-1 win. No other Denso player reached double digits. Akiho Matsumoto for Himeji led the way with 22 points (2 aces), but was not enough.

Going into Sunday’s matches, Denso were still in fourth place, while Okayama had moved into fifth place with Saitama not playing. The Airybees took on bottom of the table PFU Blue Cats, while the Seagulls played Hitachi Rivale.

At 14-14 in the first set, two errors by the Airybees and a kill by the Blue Cats gave them a 17-14 lead, which Denso could not come back from. In the second set, with the score tied at 22, a Blue Cats block and two kills by Roslandy Acosta ended the set 25-22 and gave the Blue Cats a 2-0 set lead. A quick 3-0 run early in the third by the Blue Cats, with two spikes from Roslandy Acosta, kept the Airybees from catching up, giving PFU a big upset win 3-0.

Okayama saw an opportunity and struck quickly against Hitachi taking a 2-0 set lead. Rivale did fight back in the third set to make it 2-1 for the Seagulls.

Tied at 16 in the fourth set, however, Miyashita found Kaneda on three straight points to give the Seagulls a 19-16 lead. The final four points for Okayama went from Miyashita to Sanae Watanabe to give the Seagulls the set 25-21 and the match 3-1. Miharu Yoshioka led the Seagulls with 19 points (all kills), and Miyashita had four points on one spike, one block and two aces in the win.

Toray Arrows suffered a scare in their match against the NEC Red Rockets on Saturday. The Red Rockets took a 2-0 set lead before Toray fought back to win in five sets 3-2. Jana Kulan put up 26 points (2 aces) and Ai Kurogo contributed 23 for the Arrows in the come from behind victory. Toray then faced Victorina Himeji on Sunday and swept their match 3-0. Toray Arrows are still perfect at 18-0, with four matches left in the regular season.

JT Marvelous defeated Kurobe Aqua Fairies on Sunday 3-1. American Annie Drews for JT had 23 points (2 blocks) and Thailand’s Thatdao Nuekjang had 9 (3 blocks) in her first start for JT in the win.

Match results for January 30, 2021
Denso Airybees – Victorina Himeji 3-1 (35-33, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22)
Hisamitsu Springs – Hitachi Rivale 3-1 (25-23, 28-26, 20-25, 25-23)
Toray Arrows – NEC Red Rockets 3-2 (19-25, 19-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-12)
Okayama Seagulls – Toyota Auto Body Queenseis 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 21-25, 25-17)

Match results for January 31, 2021
PFU Blue Cats – Denso Airybees 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17)
Hisamitsu Springs – Toyota Auto Body Queenseis 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-11)
JT Marvelous – Kurobe Aqua Fairies 3-1 (22-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-21)
Toray Arrows – Victorina Himeji 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 26-24)
Okayama Seagulls – Hitachi Rivale 31 (25-16, 25-22, 18-25, 25-21)

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