Title-holders the USA extended their winning run on Sunday with a hard-fought three-set victory against defending two-time Asian champions Japan that strengthens their hold on top spot of the standing in the 2021 FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League in Rimini, Italy.

Japan rested key players Sarina Koga and Erika Shinomiya, but remained strong offensively with the likes of Ai Kurogo and Mayu Ishikawa. Still, despite putting up a fierce fight, Japan found the rivals too strong.

Putting the tough rivals under constant pressure from the front and back of the court with some spectacular digs, Japan played exceptionally well in defence. However, the USA lived up to their top billing as the world No.1, foiling the smaller-built rivals’ attempts with their mighty attacks, powerful jump serves and solid blocks which helped them edge past Japan in intense battle 25-23, 26-24, 25-20.

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Kelsey Robinson scored 14 points apiece in the USA’s victory, while Ai Kurogo bagged 15 points on Japan’s losing efforts. Yuki Ishii added 12.

Japan’s Yuki Ishii said at the virtual Mixed Zone: “USA served very well, therefore we couldn’t make a good pass and make a high-set and we had to defend a lot. If we play again against the USA we will definitely have to serve better, because their offence is very quick.”

Chiaka Ogbogu of the USA said: “I think we went to this match thinking that Japan is hosting the Olympics, so we wanted to treat it as an Olympic match. Our key words were: patience and aggressive. Patience – who we need to be, and aggressive – because we know we have opportunities to score.

“There were a lot of mega rallies, they had a really good defence, we knew that. That’s why patience comes in. We had to be patient with our swings and also patient with them covering so well, so it was all about staying patient and making sure that they were not trying to score after the very first opportunity,” she added.

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