Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championship – Part 2: The big 5

Interestingly at this tournament, the only 2 teams where the players and staff have to pay to participate are Australia and New Zealand.  All the other teams had their costs covered by their federations or government funding. Some of the top players in the other teams had semi-professional players playing in the top domestic league competitions in their countries. A couple of the players were already playing in their senior national teams in World Grand Prix events.

So the top 5 countries at this event is usually (in no particular order) Japan, China, Korea, Thailand and Chinese Taipei (OK, that was a pretty specific order). There is a big gap between them and the rest, so everyone else is playing off for 6th. For Australia, this event is the most important indoor event at the end of a 4-year program. For countries like Japan and China, where their players are in high standard daily training and competition environments, this is the 2nd most important event in a 6-moth program (They’re really thinking about Junior World Championships).

So what do the top 5 teams look like?

Chinese Taipei. Smallest out of the 5 teams. Chinese Taipei uses the 1st and 2nd tempo attacks through the middle of the net more than any other team in the competition with great proficiency. During their quarter-final against Korea, their fast tempo attack was enough to win them a set from 21-14 down. They were also able to go out of their comfort zone and win some clutch high balls at the antenna, but were not quite consistent enough on reception to beat Korea.

Thailand. Possibly the team with the least resources in the big 5 but with the most interesting offence. Setter Tichaya Boonlert was the most able setter at the tournament at running 1st and 2nd tempo offence in the middle of the net, as we saw in Thailand in April when her club team won the Sealack tournament. She was also able to add a fast ball to the antenna in the repetoire. After reviewing the video I think she was the best setter in the tournament. No other team played faster and closer to the net. Thailands 2 outside hitters (Wipawee Srithong and Chutchuon Moksri) were born in 1999 and their opposite (Pimpicchaya Kokram) was born in 1998, making them a serious threat if all 3 compete at Asian Youth Championships in Thailand in October.

Korea. This was my favourite team to watch. They were led by identical twins Lee Dayeong (winner of best setter award) and Lee Jaeyeong (joint winner of best outside hitter award), who are both on the Korea’s World Grand Prix roster. While most other teams were either emotionally reserved or played with what seemed to be a “scripted enthusiasm”, Korea was the team that wore its heart on its sleeve. They seemed to be the team playing closest to their limits to achieve their results. Most of the attack went through Lee Jaeyeoung on the left side, although she could also get set a “short” outside set, or a metre ball from 2 or 4. They were not particularly strong with the middle attack, with Dayeong not getting a consistently timed set to her hitters.

The Awesome Twins: Setter Lee Dayeong (#4) and Captain/Passer Hitter Lee Jaeyeong (#12). Both won the award for best player in their positions.

The Awesome Twins: Setter Lee Dayeong (#4) and Captain/Passer Hitter Lee Jaeyeong (#12). Both won the award for best player in their positions.

Japan. Another fun team to watch. The team had arguably the best player in Sarina Koga. Playing with ultimate precision and control, the team possessed a number of players who could hit hard as well as the control balls into the gaps to create uncertainty in the defence. Also the strongest team in reception and defence. Japan had won this age group at Asian Youth Championships 2 years previously but had lost to China at World Youth Championships when Koga was called up to the national team. Japan’s promise in the media guide of “resolute and speedy combination volleyball, which is regarded as a tradition of Japanese” was severely put to the test when their starting setter was injured in the semi-final. Their inspirational captain (Yanagita) and libero (Koike) had the wildly entertaining warmup ritual of handstand walking from one sideline to the other.  The players were the most professional of any team. Nothing seemed to unsettle them – not even the injuries of their best player (Koga) and setter (Shirai) during the semifinals seemed to affect them as they crusised to win the game against Thailand.

China. They were just bigger. While the other teams had players who could spike reach at 2.90-3.00 and block reach between 2.80-2.90, China’s starting lineup could al spike reach at 3.10+ and block reach at 3.00+. While the other teams relied on speed, angles and skill, China could just hit over the top of the block – which they often did, hitting angles we teach players to avoid – and make it hard for the other teams to to score. China possessed a capable setter (Sun) and the 2 best middle attackers (Hu and Zhang). They had a lot of depth on the bench and didn’t show their true lineup until the finals.

The Semifinals. Both these matches were fantastic and full of drama. All 4 teams had been able to play varying lineups during the 2 weeks but played their best lineups with a gold medal game on the line. In the first game, Korea gave China a decent scare winning the first set and narrowly losing the 2nd set after leading for much of the time. Lee Jaeyeong was mercurial in leading in the attack in these 2 sets, but an injury to middle blocker Kang caused disruptd the momentum. The stadium was silent when Kang fell and screamed in agony. In the silence, an ultra-competitive  Hu yelled something to her teammates as Kang was being carried off which prompted an awkward murmered laugh from the crowd. One of the locals explained to me that she had yelled “Don’t worry about her. Just do your jobs!”. By the end of the 2nd set, Korea had played 100 rallies at their best level and ran out of steam. Korea were unlucky to not win. They scored 60 kills compared to China’s 48. They scored about the same amount of points off blocks and aces. They just made too many errors. China just prevailed with strength, size and consistency.

The 2nd semifinal between Japan and Thailand was not without injury. The crowd was shocked with disbelief when Japan’s Koga was carried off late in the 1st set after landing on the foot of the Thai opposite spiker going under the net. After the substitution, Thailand ran the same play again and the opposite spiker once again went under the net. You could see the Thai coach yelling about it afterwards. Late in the 2nd set Japan lost its setter landing on the spiker’s foot. Japan’s captain and other passer hitter, Yanagita took over setting duties and Japan cruised to an easy 3-0 win over Thailand. After both injuries Japan seemed to perform at the same level, siding out and straight away as if nothing had happened.

Bronze Medal Match – KOR v THA

This was a fantastic match going to 5 sets: Korea finding something in the tank after giving everything they had the night before against China in the semi; Thailand really putting Korea under pressure and finding  ways to score points through its young players out of system. By the time Thailand worked out they were good enough to win it was too late. While Lee Jaeyeong was a strong contributor to the win scoring 19 kills off 45 balls, she had a quiet 2nd and 3rd sets where she scored only 2 points. While she was struggling, her teammates Ha Hyejin (20 kills from 40 balls, including 8 kills from high balls), Jeong Yuli (11 kills from 28 balls) and Kang Sohwi (10 Kills from 16 balls) stepped up to keep Korea in the game.

Thailand relied largely on their 3 young players hitting 90% of the ball. To add variety these players attacked along the width of the net. Although preferring to use the 1st and 2nd tempo attack in the middle 6 metres of the net, Thailand also found ways to win when forced to play a high ball on the outside.

Gold Medal Match – CHI v JPN

Japan’s lineup adjustments due to injuries to their starting setter and best attacker changed their game significantly. Their other starting outside hitter Yanagita took on setter’s responsibilities and players Sakamoto and Nakamoto came off the bench to play the 2 passer hitter positions. The result of the lineup change was that Japan played a slower offensive game setting mainly to the 2 players coming off the bench (they got set 98 times). Mabashi, who eventually won the Best Opposite award only got set 16 times, and Yanagita struggled to set a 1st tempo ball in the middle, placing enormous pressure on the passer hitters. Japan was able to win the first set with some great attacking from the left side. The sets were higher and slower but China initially only put up a double block, allowing Sakamoto and Makamoto to hit line when china blocked cross and vice versa. It was fantastically executed. As the game progressed, China worked out the set was going to the left side and began using triple blocks. However they left the line allowing the Japan’s left side hitters to score there. Finally they set the triple block at the antenna and it was game over for Japan. Japan actually performed OK considering the 1 dimensional attack the implemented outscoring China in Attacks (50 to 41).

China on the other hand started off nervously losing the first set, but eventually were just too big. Their middles were set 32 times, with Hu scoring 11 times. This took the pressure off the outsides and opposite hitters, who were able to score anyway by hitting over the top of the block into position 6. Finally, stacking the block on Japan’s main attackers took away the Japan’s last chance to win (They scored 13 block points to Japan’s 4).

It was kind of a disappointing game: Japan played well below their best but better than China and still lost; Japan did everything right within their means to win but China still won (So yes, the team that scored less kills than their opponents in both the semi and gold medal game became the champions!).

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One Response to “Asian Women’s (U19) Volleyball Championship – Part 2: The big 5”

  1. Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 2: The Big 4 | Hugh's Volleyball Blog Says:

    […] previously wrote about China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei and Thailand at the AVC U19 championships. This time, in my follow up to my post about the AVC U17 championships, I will focus on China, […]

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