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Volleyball - 28. October 2008.

Japan's Pioneer claim Princess Cup Women's Invitation for first time

Players line up after receiving their individual awards on Sunday

Nakhon Pathom, Thailand,  – The Pioneer Red Wings brought the curtain down on the 14th Princess Cup Women's Volleyball Invitation at the Nakhon Pathom Sports Centre Gymnasium in style by overpowering Sichuan in straight sets to capture the title for the first time.

The Red Wings, fifth in this year's Japanese Professional V League, were led  by three key Japanese players who competed in the Beijing Olympic Games – Megumi Kurihara, Miki Sasaki and Asako Tajimi. American Tayyiba Haneef-Park also played a vital role in helping the Japanese team to victory on Sunday.

Pioneer landed the prestigious trophy of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn plus five individual awards.

For the Japanese side, it was a repeat win over Sichuan as they had already beaten the Chinese rivals in the group round-robin preliminaries. In the preliminaries, they struggled over a hard-fought five sets, but in the final clash they swept aside the Chinese with splendid teamwork and tactics, winning 25-17 28-26 25-19 in 75 minutes.

The bitter loss shattered Sichuan's dreams of a comeback attempt in the biennial tournament. At the Suphan Buri edition in 2002, the Chinese side tamed Japan's Denso Airy Bees in the showdown to clinch the title. At the previous edition in Bangkok two years ago, Sichuan finished a disappointing third.

Chen Jing, who was with the Chinese national team at the Athens Games four years ago, scored a team-high 12 points for Sichuan, while Haneef-Park topscored with 20 points for Pioneer.

Meanwhile, reigning champions Sangsom of Thailand took third place after beating Vietnam's Sport Centre 1 in a closely contested five-set encounter 17-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-20, 15-13, while Indonesia outclassed Sri Lanka 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-16) in the fifth-place play-off.

Earlier, Malaysia beat Laos 3-2 (17-25, 25-11, 23-25, 25-18, 15-12) in a gruelling 109 minutes to finish seventh place.

After the end of the third-place play-off encounter, Thai Head Coach Nattaphon Srisamutnak expressed his satisfaction over the Thai’s form despite the fact that they could not retain the title.

“It's satisfactory. I  set an initial target that, due to the absence of several main players who have been playing in European Professional Leagues, a place in the semi-finals should be a success for my team. My girls achieved the set goal in the tournament,” said Srisamutnak.

Final Ranking
1. Pioneer Red Wings (Japan)
2. Sichuan (China)
3. Sangsom (Thailand)
4. Sport Centre 1 (Vietnam)
5. Indonesia
6. Railway Sport Club (Sri Lanka)
7. Malaysia
8. Laos

Individual awards
Best Scorer: Tayyiba Haneef-Park (Pioneer Red Wings)
Best Spiker: Megumi Kurihara (Pioneer Red Wings)
Best Blocker: Chen Jing (Sichuan)
Best Server: Chen Jing (Sichuan)
Best Libero: Mami Yoshida (Pioneer Red Wings)
Best Setter: Yukiko Uchida (Pioneer Red Wings)
Best Digger: Wanna Buakaow (Sangsom)
Most Valuable Player: Megumi Kurihara (Pioneer Red Wings)

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