Tokyo, Japan, May 20, 2016 - A superb display of setting from Haruka Miyashita and powerful spiking from Miyu Nagaoka has helped steer Japan to a 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 27-25) win over the Dominican Republic, ending any chance the Caribbean team had of qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
While Japan has played better this week, it was a solid result after the dramas of Wednesday night’s match against Thailand, but is still not enough to guarantee it will be going to a 12th Olympics.
Japanese coach Masayoshi Manabe opted to start Saori Sakoda over Miyu Nagaoka, but his Olympic star struggled to have her usual influence as the brash upstarts from the Dominican Republic took the fight up to the home team.
The Japanese were having trouble countering the power of 19-year-old Brayelin Martinez, and especially Prisilla Brens, who was leading all comers with six points at the end of the first set.
Japan looked to have it in the bag at 21-16, but when the Dominicans fought back to 21-20 Manabe replaced Sakoda with Nagaoka, who helped steer Japan to 25-22.
Any resistance the Dominican Republic showed in the first set quickly dissipated in the second, with Nagaoka notching up ten individual points for the set, while captain Saori Kimura was also enjoying a strong match with eight points.
Dominican Republic coach Marcos Kwiek elected to keep top scorer Martinez on the bench for most of the second set, only introducing her back into the match when his team trailed 8-16 and with little hope of saving the set.
Brens continued to work hard for the visitors, moving to 11 points by the time Japan took the second set 25-16, while Libero Brenda Castillo was everywhere as usual.
The spark returned for the Dominican Republic in the third set, although not until the match looked dead and buried.
At 21-16 the capacity crowd were beginning to gather their belongings, but then the team from the Caribbean dug deep one last time, clawed back to 23-23, and then held a set point at 23-24.
But the Japanese, closing in on locking up a spot in Rio, put their shoulder to the wheel one last time to see off the desperate Dominicans 27-25.
Miyu Nagaoka was the key for Japan, picking up 21 points in little more than two sets of action, and she was given an armchair ride by setter Haruka Miyashita throughout.
For the Dominican Republic its Olympic hopes for 2016 are over, but in Japan it has shown it has a nucleus of good young players, built around one of the best Liberos in the business in Brenda Castillo who will still be just 28 at Tokyo 2020.