The Hisamitsu Springs and Nagoya Wolfdogs are just one win away from the titles of the 2021-2022 V. League in Japan after the two teams won the first leg of the Finals at the Hana arena, in Shizuoka, on Sunday.

In the women's competition, seven-time Japanese champions Hisamitsu Springs had a remarkable weekend with victories against the two best-ranked teams of the regular season, to come closer to their eighth triumph.

Ranked third in the regular season, the Springs faced the second-placed Toray Arrows in a semifinal and won 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-19) with 26 points (23 kills, two blocks, one ace) by outside hitter Arisa Inoue on Saturday. The result forced a golden set between the teams, which the Springs won 25-23.

The golden set victory advanced the Springs to the final series against regular season winners and defending champions JT Marvelous. Despite playing on consecutive days, the Springs topped their opponents 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-22, 25-23) to start the decisive series ahead on Sunday.

“It was a tough match, but the players kept their concentration and did their best,” head coach Shingo Sakai said. “But the series is still open and we will prepare for next week.”

Tokyo Olympic champion middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo was a key player in their victory as the 34-year-old veteran scored 25 points with 20 kills and five blocks. Inoue came next with 24 points (22 kills and two blocks). A teammate of Akinradewo in the USA national team, Marvelous opposite Annie Drews topped all scorers with 32 points (29 kills, two blocks, one ace).

The second leg of the women’s V. League final will be played on Saturday at the Chiba Port Arena. If the Marvelous win, a golden set will be needed to determine the season’s champions.

In the men's competition, the Wolfdogs maintained their momentum and opened the final series with a straight-set (25-19, 28-26, 25-21) triumph against the defending champions Suntory Sunbirds on Sunday. They are looking for their second national title, having won the first back in 2015-2016.

“In terms of volleyball, there is still much work to be done,” said the Wolfdogs' head coach, American Chris McGown. “I think Suntory are a great team and we have to be well prepared.”

The match featured a remarkable battle between international volleyball stars Bartosz Kurek and Dmitry Muserskiy. A 2018 world champion, the Polish opposite led the Wolfdogs to the victory with 20 points (19 kills, one ace), but his Russian counterpart, a London 2012 Olympic champion, was the top scorer of the match with 21 points (19 kills, one block, one ace).

On Saturday, the Sunbirds had to survive six sets against the Panasonic Panthers to advance to the final. Ranked second in the regular season, they were downed 3-2 (25-19, 19-25, 25-23, 21-25, 15-10) in the semifinal, but bounced back to win the golden set 25-21 and advance. Muserskiy produced 33 points (31 kills, two blocks) in the semifinal and 12 points (ten kills, two aces) in the golden set, ending the day with an impressive 45 points.

The men’s final will be played on Sunday and if the Wolfdogs win again, they will take the title. In the case of a triumph of the Sunbirds, a golden set will be needed.

The weekend also determined the fate of the teams fighting against relegation in both genders. Despite occupying the bottom spots in the regular season, the Kurobe Acqua Fairies and the Victorina Himeji, among the women, and the VC Nagano and the Oita Miyoshi, on the men’s side, survived the battles against teams coming from the Japanese second division and will remain in the country’s elite next season.