Suntory Sunbirds earn Regular Season title

Going into the weekend, the Panasonic Panthers, Wolfdogs Nagoya and JTEKT Stings were the only teams left with a chance of making the playoffs after the Suntory Sunbirds clinched their berth last week.

The Panasonic Panthers needed a win or a JTEKT Stings loss to claim their berth in the Final 3 playoffs. Their weekend series against the Wolfdogs Nagoya could also, however, give the Stings a chance to come back if Nagoya were to lose both of their matches and JTEKT to win both of theirs against JT Thunders Hiroshima.

On Saturday, JTEKT and JT Thunders played before the Panasonic and Nagoya match, and JTEKT Stings were in a must-win situation.

The Thunders, however, jumped out to a 2-0 sets lead. The Stings responded in the third set taking it 25-19. In the fourth, the Thunders had match point, but a Thomas Edgar service error pushed the set into extra points. At 27-27, a Yuji Nishida spike and a Thunders hitting error gave the Stings the set 29-27 and tied the match at 2-2. In the fifth set at 11-10 for JTEKT, a 4-0 run by the Stings ending on a Nishida spike concluded the match 15-10, 3-2 sets to JTEKT Stings. Nishida finished with 35 points, including a block and six aces. Fukuyama had 7 blocks for the Stings. Australian Thomas Edgar had 41 points (2 blocks and an ace) for the Thunders in the loss.

Next up, the Panthers-Wolfdogs match was a battle of Polish men’s national team players, Michal Kubiak for Panasonic and Bartosz Kurek for Nagoya, and was tight throughout.

Tied at 1-1, at 23-23 in the third set, Kubiak had a kill to give the Panthers a set point and Kurek had a hitting error to give the set to Panasonic 25-23, 2-1 sets lead. In the fourth set tied at 21-21, Kurek was blocked on consecutive points by Akihiro Yamauchi to give the Panthers a 23-21 lead. Panasonic had two match points at 24-22, but Kurek killed two straight points to tie at 24-24 and go to extra points. Then at 25-25, Kubiak killed to give Panasonic another match point at 26-25. Kurek was set by Nagoya, but Kubiak stuff-blocked his national teammate for the point, 27-25 Panthers, 3-1 sets to Panasonic.

Kurek scored 51 points (one block and two aces) in four sets for Nagoya. However, Kurek also had seven hitting errors, seven serving errors and was blocked four times. Kunihiro Shimizu had 29 (5 blocks) for Panasonic and Kubiak had 18 (two blocks and an ace) in the win. The win clinched a berth for the Panasonic Panthers in the playoffs.

On Sunday, JT Thunders again took a 2-0 sets lead against the JTEKT Stings. The Stings dominated the third set 25-14, 2-1 sets Thunders. At the beginning of the fourth set, a quick 3-0 through a service error and two hitting errors by JTEKT actually turned out to be enough of a gap for the Thunders to hold throughout the set to win comfortably 25-19 and take the match 3-1. Edgar scored 28 points, all spikes for JT Thunders, while Nishida finished with 30 (2 blocks and 2 aces) for the Stings.

If Wolfdogs Nagoya were now to win their match against the Panasonic Panthers by a 3-0 or 3-1 set score on Sunday, they would now have a two win advantage, but more importantly the Wolfdogs would clinch the sets ratio advantage and therefore clinch their playoff berth.

The Wolfdogs used their blocking skills to take consecutive points in the second set to give them a 2-0 sets lead. At 22-22 in the third set, Kurek killed to give the Wolfdogs a 23-22 advantage and a Panthers hitting error gave the Wolfdogs two match points.

Panasonic were able to stave off one match point, but a service error gave the Wolfdogs the set 25-23 and match 3-0. The win handed Nagoya their berth in the playoffs. Kurek was the leading scorer with 21 (2 blocks and an ace) in the win.

Finally, Suntory entered the weekend just needing a win against Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler to claim the Regular Season championship. On Saturday, the Sunbirds dominated with six service aces, four blocks and nine more kills in a 3-0 sweep. The win gave Suntory a bye into the Final with the partnership of Masahiro Yanagida 14 (3 aces) and Dmitriy Muserskiy 16 (a block and 3 aces) the driving force in the victory.

Match results for March 20, 2021
Suntory Sunbirds – Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-20)
Toray Arrows – VC Nagano Tridents 3-1 (16-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-20)
Sakai Blazers – FC Tokyo 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22)
JTEKT Stings – JT Thunders Hiroshima 3-2 (19-25, 21-25, 25-19, 29-27, 15-10)
Panasonic Panthers – Wolfdogs Nagoya 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 27-25)

Match results for March 21, 2021
JT Thunders Hiroshima – JTEKT Stings 3-1 (27-25, 27-25, 14-25, 25-19)
Suntory Sunbirds – Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler 3-0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-16)
Toray Arrows – VC Nagano Tridents 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-22)
Sakai Blazers – FC Tokyo 3-0 (26-24, 25-19, 25-16)
Wolfdogs Nagoya – Panasonic Panthers 3-0 (25-21, 26-24, 25-23)

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