KAWASAKI, Japan – The U.S. Collegiate National Team – Japan (CNT Japan) squared off against Japan’s World University Games (WUG) team twice Friday, playing planned three- and four-set matches at the NEC Red Rockets Training Center in Kawasaki. 

Despite the scorelines – CNT Japan lost the morning match and tied the second – head coach Heather Olmstead was pleased with what she saw throughout the day.

“I thought we did a really good job serving tough and improving the consistency in our serving today. We put pressure on the opponent, and I thought we passed really well today. It was nice to see our team getting more comfortable passing the ball, and CC McGraw (Minnesota; Prior Lake, Minn.) is comfortable taking charge back there and helping our passers know what to do and where to go.” 

Middle Katie Myers (Maryland; Westerville, Ohio) agreed with her coach.

“Today went really well. We were scrappy and picked up our passing a little bit more and gelled better as a team.” 

In the morning matchup, CNT Japan leapt out to an early lead, turning a 16-14 deficit into a 23-25 set victory. Japan WUG, however, claimed the final two sets for the overall win. The second set saw the hosts prevail in extra points 27-25, and Japan WUG closed out the third in regulation at 25-18. 

Once again, the U.S. won the net battle 13 blocks to three. Both Lauren Forte (California-Berkeley; Tempe, Ariz.) and Dani Drews (Utah; Sandy, Utah) stuffed three attacks, while Myers and Saige Kaahaaina-Torres (Utah; Honolulu, Hawaii) blocked two shots apiece. 

The American service and passing games also improved. They served up five aces and just six errors. Jacquelin Quade (Illinois; Fort Wayne, Ind.) led the way with two aces. She also topped the squad with 28 total receptions, 43 percent of which were positive. McGraw added 12, 75 percent positive.

Offensively, Japan WUG outhit the visitors .327-.152. Drews paced the Americans with 10 points, two more than Taylor Banister (LSU; Missouri City, Texas). Six different players found the floor for CNT Japan in the morning.

The second match was even closer than the first. Both teams were deadlocked with two set victories, and CNT Japan narrowly enjoyed a 93-91 advantage in overall points won. In the first set, the U.S. jumped out to an early five-point lead and maintained it for a 25-22 set win, and they came from behind in the fourth, ending the final frame on a 10-3 run to force the tie. 

The American block was even stronger the second time around, winning the category 20-4. Myers stopped four Japanese attacks herself, and three others – Forte, Heather Gneiting (BYU; Pleasant Grove, Utah) and Brooke Botkin (Southern California; Houston, Texas) added three. McKenna Melville (UCF; Eagan, Minn.) and Mica Allison (Illinois; White Heath, Ill.) rounded out the U.S. block with two apiece. 

Melville also led the team in receptions with 35, 54 percent of which were positive. Botkin was two back at 33 receptions, 27 percent positive. 

From the service line, CNT Japan delivered nine service aces in the afternoon, four of which came from Kenzie Koerber (Utah; Chino Hills, Calif.). 

Not only was CNT Japan more familiar with themselves by the end of the day, but Allison thinks they also grew familiar with Japan WUG. 

“We did a good job of adjusting to them,” she said. “We played them for seven sets, so we started picking out their tendencies and what they were trying to do. As the games went on, we were seeing what they were doing and adjusting to it very quickly.”

After the two matches, the teams bonded over a dinner that consisted of staples from both countries, among others: sushi and pizza. Dinner won’t be the last the two teams see of each other, either; CNT Japan and Japan WUG will play another three-set match Saturday, May 25, again at the NEC Red Rockets Training Center.