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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Team Japan gathers steam after sticky start to World Grand Prix

Staff writer

Having already qualified for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Japan women's volleyball team viewed this week's FIVB World Grand Prix as a final tuneup for the competition in Beijing.

So how's that tuneup going?

Entering the weekend's competition, Japan was on the losing end of a pair of matches.

On Thursday night, the United States defeated the hosts 26-28, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 15-11 at Yokohama Arena. Their rematch will take place in the preliminary round of the Beijing Games.

On Wednesday, Cuba topped Japan 19-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-19. Megumi Kurihara and Miyuki Takahashi, however, reminded Yanagimoto why he wants them in the lineup. Going into Friday's match against Italy, Kurihara's 19 points led all players and Takahashi registered a 13-point outing.

And on Friday, Japan's fortunes changed.

Yanagimoto's team swept aside world No. 2 Italy to win the match in straight sets, 25-23, 25-22, 26-24.

The victory will act as a huge confidence boost, but again, a win isn't the most significant item on Yanagimoto's agenda this week.

In a pre-tournament interview session, he had this to say: "The final round of the World Grand Prix is a pre-Olympic tournament. It is a hard schedule, but we want to identify our weaknesses and work on them before the Olympics.

"The team condition is good and we want to show our best performance to get into the tournament road in the Olympics."

Japan meets China at 6 p.m. on Saturday and Brazil at the same time on Sunday.

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