Azusa Futami and Akiko Hasegawa feeling the team spirit
Ostrava, Czech Republic, June 22, 2018 – After a few weeks away from the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, Japan’s Azusa Futami and Akiko Hasegawa reappeared at the Ostrava four-star stop and have won three matches while enjoying the unique setting of the Lower Vitkovice industrial heritage site during their first ever visit to the Czech Republic.
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“We have been training for a period of five weeks and this is our first competition after this period,” Akiko Hasegawa says. “So we are in good condition, our mentality is in a good state, we are all together and with a great team spirit, so our wins here are the result of all that.”
Azusa Futami and Akiko Hasegawa in action at Ostrava
In Wednesday’s qualifications, Futami and Azusa, who are the only Japanese team at Ostrava, started off with a victory over Czech pair Sara Olivova and Eliska Davidova and followed up with another success, this time against the strong Swiss tandem of Laura Caluori and Dunja Gerson, both in three tough sets and both under the watchful eye of their Italian coach Marco Solustri.
“We played five tournaments in a row in April and May and we were a little tired at the end. In Brazil we did not play very well and lost to the Swiss team that we beat here,” Solustri explains. “Then we had some rest, we had some training and we arrived in Ostrava in a better physical, technical and mental condition.”
The Japanese pair and their coach Marco Solustri enjoying their time in Ostrava
In the main draw, their first match was against a very strong opponent – third-seeded Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Carolina Solberg Salgado. They lost, but on the following morning they recovered with a straight-set victory over Austrian standouts Lena Plesiutschnig and Katharina Schuetzenhoefer to qualify for the knockout rounds of the tournament.
“Yesterday we lost to Brazil, but today we were very focused on the game against Austria and we won,” Hasegawa says after the game and is quick to point out that “we are friends with the Austrians, we often play practice games together and we know each other very well.”
Hasegawa ready to serve
These training sessions with the Austrian team are just part of Solustri’s strategy to make his team an integral part of the international beach volleyball scene.
“Unlike other Japanese teams, who only train in Japan with other Japanese teams, I try to introduce them more into the international scene,” he says. “So we had training camps with Austria, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Germany,… I think it is very good for them to have their eyes open to the world of beach volleyball.”
Akiko and Azusa are happy to have arrived where they are and refuse to make plans about how far they can go in this tournament.
“We take it step by step and focus on the next game. If we win it, then we will focus on the next one,” Futami explains their philosophy.
Great defence by Futami
Futami and Hasegawa feel quite comfortable and happy with each other. “We are both indoor players as well, one is a middle blocker and the other - a wing spiker, but we are on different teams and sometimes we fight,” they say laughing. “But now we are together and enjoy being on the same side of the net.”
Akiko Hasegawa, now 32 years old, and Azusa Futami, 26, paired up at the beginning of the 2017 season with the main focus on the 2020 Olympic Games, which will be held back home in Tokyo.
Marco Solustri describes them as a private team, financed independently of their national federation. In fact, each of the players is supported by a different sponsor – Hasegawa by a communications company and Futami by an engineering company – and, like many top athletes in Japan, they are technically employed by their sponsors under an assistance service provided by the Japanese Olympic Committee.
Hasegawa sets the ball for Futami
“We hope to get a medal at the Olympics,” Hasegawa says in a straight-forward manner, but coach Solustri quickly jumps in to explain:
“Yes, our main goal is qualifying for Tokyo, but we also want to enjoy the path. I don’t want to put too much pressure on Tokyo, because we do not even know the exact selection criteria for the Japanese teams yet. We want to become the best Japanese team, we want to become a good international team and, if we make it to Tokyo eventually, we want to be competitive. We don’t want to be there just because of a wild card.”