[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Suntory Sunbirds earn back-to-back V. League titles


The Suntory Sunbirds won their second straight V. League title on Sunday, April 17th.

After losing all three sets (25-19, 28-26, 25-21) to the Nagoya Wolfdogs, the Sunbirds stormed with one on April 10, the first day of the Japan men’s professional volleyball finals in Shizuoka determined effort.

Suntory coach Kota Yamamura’s club forced a golden set (bonus tiebreaker) by winning the regular sets 25-16, 25-21, 25-17.

Then, 15 minutes into the second round, the winner-take-all golden set began and the Sunbirds maintained their strong form at the Chiba Port Arena, winning 25-17.

The V. League was founded in 1994. Ten teams competed this season in the men’s division. There is also a V.League for women, which featured 12 teams in the 2021-22 season.

The Japan Volleyball League, which preceded the V. League, was formed in 1967.

Masaki Oya, setter and team captain for the Sunbirds, was named League V season MVP.

After the game, he reflected on the team’s journey to another championship.

“Today we were able to play volleyball from start to finish, which is the highlight of this season, and we were able to attack without giving up the pace to our opponents,” Oya said, according to comments on the team’s official website.

Outside hitter Dmitriy Muserskiy, an imposing 218cm force on the front line, was delighted with the result.

“I’m happy to have won two championships in a row,” said Muserskiy. “I want to thank everyone on the team.”

Suntory posted a 29-9 record that season.

Ahead of their title-winning 2020-21 season, the Sunbirds last won a league crown in 2006-07 but finished runners-up in 2010-11 and 2014-15.

The franchise also won five consecutive V. League titles from 1999-2000 to 2003-04.

For the 2021-22 season, the Sunbirds placed two players in the V. League Best 6 team, underdogs Masahiro Yanagida and Oya.


Shibuno comes second in the Lotte Championship

Hinako Shibuno hit a 2-under 70 with no bogey in the finals of the Lotte Championship in Ewa Beach, Hawaii on April 16 in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

The solid performance helped Shibuno earn a 9-under-279 and a runner-up finish in the LPGA Tour event at Hoakalei Country Club.

Hyoo Joo Kim of South Korea finished the tournament with 11 under 277 points and won the tournament.

For Shibuno, their overall performance in Hawaii was a positive experience.

“I can build on not having bogeys from day three and day four when there were tricky winds and hard pin setups,” Shibuno said loudly Kyodo News. “I couldn’t win but personally I think it was a reward for my hard work. I will do that even more in the future.”

The 23-year-old, the 2019 Women’s British Open winner, shot 1 under 71, 70, 68 and 70 in a row at the Hawaii tournament.


Teenager Iimura takes bronze at the Men’s Foil World Cup

Kazuki Iimura, a student at Keio University, became Japan’s youngest foil fencer to win a medal in a senior World Cup event.

At 18 years and 3 months, Iimura accomplished the feat by winning the bronze medal at the Men’s Foil World Cup in Belgrade on April 17th.

The previous record belonged to Yuki Ota (18 years, 7 months), who went on to win Olympic silver medals at the 2012 London Games and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games.

In the quarterfinals, Iimura triumphed 15:6 over German Alexander Kahl.

Italy’s Giorgio Avola defeated Iimura 15-9 in the semifinals.

April was an important time in Iimura’s blossoming career. That month he also shone on the world stage at the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships in Dubai, capturing the men’s junior foil singles title.

And Iimura acknowledges the growth he has shown as a fencer.

“I think I was able to take the winning momentum from the World Juniors to third place here at the Worlds,” Iimura was quoted as saying Kyodo News. “I’m not happy with the result, but I hope this medal will give me a boost of confidence and keep getting involved [to the sport].”


The all-female referee crew is writing the history of the Asian Champions League

Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita and assistant referees Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi on Thursday, April 21, becoming the first female trio to officiate an ACL match.

“Her selection reaffirms the AFC’s commitment to strengthening and developing women’s football at all levels and ensuring that AFC women match officials continue to receive the highest standards of quality training and expert guidance to scale the greatest stages in world football.” The Asian Football Association said in a statement.

Yamashita, 36, has been registered as an international referee since 2015. The Tokyo native worked at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 and Tokyo Olympics last year, overseeing the USA-Sweden women’s game.

Bozono, a Tokyo native, has also been an international soccer referee since 2015.

Teshirogi, who hails from Hokkaido, made her debut as an international official in 2013.

Like Yamashita, Bozono and Teshirogi also worked at the Tokyo Olympics.

Announcing her appointment in April 2021, Bozono expressed her gratitude for the opportunity.

“Although the world is still in a critical situation, I am very honored to have been appointed as the referee for the Tokyo Olympics,” she said in a statement. “I am filled with gratitude to my colleagues, my family, my fellow referees and everyone involved in the Tokyo football community for all their support. I will do my best to prepare myself both physically and mentally to contribute to the success of the tournament.”


Raptors’ Watanabe makes NBA playoff debut

Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe, a fourth-year pro, appeared in his first NBA playoff game of his career on April 16.

The Kagawa Prefecture native came off the bench and posted a 5:27 playing time in the first round of the Raptors’ playoff series opener against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 16. He finished the game with two points in 1-on-2 shooting and scored a tack jumper.

The 76ers won the first three games of the best-of-seven series and forced the Raptors to a must-win in Game 4 on April 23.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward [Japan Sports Notebook] here Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week and Twitter @ed_odevenand find him on JAPAN Forward special sports website, Sports Look.


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