VNL: Poland completes Manila sweep, stuns Japan in straight sets

Japan's efforts fell short as they could lose the top seed in the VNL playoffs. PNVF
By John Rhey Piamonte

PASAY—Capping off the preliminary phase in a dominant fashion, world no. 1 Poland demolished Japan in a lopsided 25-17, 25-19, 25-18 victory on the penultimate day of the 2023 Volleyball Nations League (VNL) Week 3 held at the packed Mall of Arena, Sunday.

The Polish power was in full display all game long with Wilfredo Leon spearheading the Poles' rampage, finishing with 16 points, on 10 attacks, three blocks, and three aces. 

With this crucial victory against league-leading Japan, Poland now secured a top 3 finish in the prelims, climbing to a 10-2 slate, and a chance to even rise at the second spot if the USA drops its final game against Bulgaria on Monday. 

After a neck-to-neck start of the opening set, Poland broke the 15-all deadlock with consecutive kills for a 19-17 cushion. Lukasz Kaczmarek then took over for the Poles as his service game fueled the 8-0 bomb that silenced Japan.

Playing undermanned, the Ryujin Nippon's main gunners Yuji Nishida and captain Yuki Ishikawa kept Japan afloat in the following set with Nishida pouring in seven of his nine-point total in the second.

But Leon went berserk and roared three-straight service aces that turned the tables on Japan, 14-10. Another setter ace from Marcin Janusz mounted a decisive 17-12 lead for Poland.

Japan head coach Philippe Blain then decided to pull out his first stringers in the third set leading to Poland cruising past the competition for a 25-18 closer.

Star outside hitter Ran Takahashi, middle blocker Akihiro Yamauchi and setter Masahiro Sekita all did not play the game for Japan who still sits in the top of the standings for now at 10-2. 

Kaczmarek and wing spiker Aleksander Sliwka added 12 and 11 for the powerhouse Poland.

"It is important for us to keep up and win as many games as possible. To be as high as possible before the Finals in Poland," Sliwka said.

Meanwhile, Tatsunori Otsuka topped Japan after an 11-point showing.

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