Exclusive Direct Shooting! Japan men’s volleyball team’s W aces, Yuki Ishikawa and Ai Takahashi, are headed to the Paris Olympics! The “W-piece” of the men’s volleyball team! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Exclusive Direct Shooting! Japan men’s volleyball team’s W aces, Yuki Ishikawa and Ai Takahashi, are headed to the Paris Olympics! The “W-piece” of the men’s volleyball team!

Report on the "direct confrontation" between the two struggling players in Italy's Serie A!

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The match between Monza and Milan took place on December 4. This was supposed to be the fourth time that Yuki Ishikawa (28, Milan) and Ai Takahashi (Ran, 22, Monza) were to face each other in Serie A, but due to Ishikawa’s injury, the match did not take place. However, he is already here for his third season,

He is already in his third season here, and I don’t think he and I have any special feelings toward the matchup. As a fellow national team player, he has grown up here and is playing very well this season, so I think he will be a great help for the national team.

When Ishikawa said this, Takahashi responded.

Last year (their first meeting), I was a little conscious of him, but this season I was not that conscious of him.

The two attackers, who are the pride of Japan, were completely at home in Italy.

Takahashi (left) and Ishikawa pose for the FRIDAY camera after a match in Monza, a city on the outskirts of Milan in northwestern Italy (photo by Watanabe Koji).

Takahashi injured his muscular system in the previous match. His participation on the day was in doubt, but he played the full match. Ishikawa, on the other hand, came off the bench but did not participate in warm-ups, and continued to inspire his teammates from the bench throughout the match. The team later informed him that he had ongoing back pain. He has already undergone a thorough examination and has started rehabilitation and will be checked again soon. Milano won the match in straight sets, 3-0.

After the match, Ishikawa and Takahashi were extremely popular. There was a long line of people waiting to take pictures and get autographs from each of them. It was impressive that not only female fans but also many children, men, and local Italian fans were included. Takahashi attributes this popularity to “the accumulation of our own efforts.

I think that Japanese volleyball is gaining recognition and attention from people around the world.

The Japanese national volleyball team is now enjoying a period of great success. In July this year, the team won a bronze medal at the Nations League for the first time in half a century at a world tournament featuring the best volleyball players in the world.

In October, the team qualified for the Paris Olympics on its own for the first time in four tournaments. Ishikawa, who has been the core of the team since 2002, and Takahashi, who has been competing in Italy since 2009, have been gaining recognition and reputation, and gaining popularity on the strength of their abilities.

Ishikawa feels that his days competing abroad have directly led to the improvement of the national team’s level.

I think there is a link between us competing in Italy and the national team’s improvement,” he said. Not only us, but also Yuji Nishida (23) and Masahiro Sekita (30) have experience playing overseas. Overseas clubs are not the best environment compared to Japan. It makes me think about how I can improve my skills there. I wonder if my volleyball skills and my range as a person will improve.

The Paris Olympics are less than half a year away. How will they compete on that stage?

The most important thing is to work hard every day. I think players from all clubs are playing with the Olympics in mind, so I think we should also keep that in mind.

It is a matter of course to contribute to the team’s victory, but how much I can grow will lead to the victory of the national team” (Takahashi)

The friendly competition in Italy will continue, aiming for the first medal since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Takahashi was also concerned about the effects of his injury, but he started and finished third on the team with 7 points. He also showed a strong back attack.
Takahashi became the youngest player ever to join the national team at the age of 19. He has shown rapid growth, playing in the Tokyo Olympics, but his goal is to “grow up!
Ishikawa missed the game, but was cheerful as he cheered on his teammates, hugged, and mingled with fans.
When asked for a message to readers, he responded with words of gratitude, perhaps because he has already spent nine seasons in Italy.

From the December 29 , 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text Miko Ryokai Photographed by Watanabe Koji

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