Kurihara returns to Japan squad
Tokyo, March 27, 2006: After a season on the international sidelines, Japanese ace Megumi Kurihara has returned to the national squad at the start of World Championships year.

The 21-year-old wing spiker has not played for Japan since the Athens Olympics, but was named in a 22-strong squad by the Japan Volleyball Association on Monday.

At 1.86 metres, Kurihara formed a dynamic partnership with the 1.87-metre Kana Oyama as Japan blasted their way into the Athens Olympics.

Dubbed "The Meg and Kana Show" by the Japanese media, Kurihara and Oyama made sure there would be no repeat of Japan missing out on a second straight Olympics after the disappointment of failing to qualify for Sydney.

Kurihara and Oyama, who is also 21, are two of six Athens veterans in the squad, alongside captain and setter Yoshie Takeshita, Miyuki Takahashi, Sachiko Sugiyama and teen phenom Saori Kimura, who is still only 19.

There are six newcomers: Midori Takahashi, Akiko Ino, Saori Takasaki, Masayo Eguchi, Yuki Ishikawa and Shuka Oyama.

From these 22, head coach Shoichi Yanagimoto will pick the players for competitions and training camps. The first camp will start on May 8, and the first international competition will be the prestigious Montreux Volley Masters in Switzerland in early June, followed by Courmayeur in Italy.

All roads lead back to Japan, though, for the World Championships, where the hosts have been drawn with Korea, Poland, Kenya, Chinese Taipei and Costa Rica in Pool A in Tokyo, beginning on October 31.

One name missing from the list is that of Athens Olympian Ai Otomo, who is unavailable as she is expecting to give birth in the summer.

The full list is: Megumi Itabashi (setter, Hitachi Sawa Rivale), Yuka Sakurai (libero, Denso Airybees), Yoshie Takeshita (setter/captain, JT Marvelous), Miyuki Takahashi (wing spiker, NEC Red Rockets), Kaoru Sugayama (libero/wing spiker, JT Marvelous), Makiko Horai (wing spiker, JT Marvelous), Ayako Onuma (wing spiker, Hitachi Sawa Rivale), Sachiko Sugiyama (middle blocker, NEC Red Rockets), Midori Takahashi (setter, Toyota Auto Body), Miki Shimada (middle blocker, Sanyo Electric Osaka), Kana Oyama (wing spiker, Toray Arrows), Saori Arita (wing spiker, NEC Red Rockets), Megumi Kurihara (wing spiker, Pioneer Red Wings), Erika Araki (middle blocker, Toray Arrows), Saori Kimura (wing spiker/setter, Toray Arrows), Akiko Ino (libero, Hitachi Sawa Rivale), Saori Takasaki (wing spiker, NEC Red Rockets), Maiko Kano (wing spiker, Hachioji Jissen High School), Masayo Eguchi (wing spiker, Pioneer Red Wings), Yuki Ishikawa (middle blocker, Takefuji Bamboo), Mari Ochiai (wing spiker, Hisamitsu Seiyaku Springs), Shuka Oyama (wing spiker, Hisamitsu Seiyaku Springs).

(Jeremy Walker)