For those of you new to these 2018 men’s nations league previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting May 25th taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
Despite being #13 in our power rankings, Japan is the first team on this list I could see beating one of the more elite countries under the right circumstances. They are a national program with a clear mission and development program, which makes sense given that they are hosting the next Olympic Games.
This past pro season, they had several players venture outside of the Japanese V-league, where members of the national team have traditionally played. Yuki Ishikawa is the most well-known of these players and one of the best young players in men’s pro volleyball period. He had a 53% hitting percentage on 2.27 kills per game this season in Italy, trying to carry an underperforming Latina team. He has near perfect fundamentals and can hit the ball as hard as any Cuban.
Captain Masahiro Yanagida had a breakout season in the German Bundesliga, finishing 8th in MVP voting playing for the volleyball Bisons Buhl. Issei Otake joined him in Germany, having a reasonably successful season for United Volleys Rhein/Main in his first season out of school. There seems to be a very clear objective by volleyball Japan to get their players competing at a high level in foreign clubs.
As a team, Japan is an absolute blast to watch. They would run through a brick wall to stop a ball from hitting the floor, and they celebrate like have won the Olympics after every point. Unfortunately, they have a huge weakness that is impossible to fix: their height. No matter how much we would like to believe otherwise, height is probably the single biggest asset you can possess as a volleyball player and Japan comes up short. Other than middle hitter Akihiro Yamauchi, they give up several inches to opposing teams at every position, which limits what they can do offensively.
Even if they don’t have a realistic shot at making the top 6, I urge everyone to try and watch Japan at least once. Their core players are much improved after spending a season playing overseas, and I guarantee they will be the hardest working team at this tournament.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Yuki Ishikawa (Latina)
OH: Masahiro Yanagida (Bisons Buhl)
OPP: Issei Otake (Rhein/Main)
MB: Akihiro Yamauchi (Panasonic Panthers)
MB: Haku Ri (Toray Arrows)
S: Naonobu Fuji (Toray Arrows)
L: Satoshi Ide (Toray Arrows)