Reika Utsugi emphasises speed and defence for Japan ahead of WBSC Women's Softball World Cup Finals
05/07/2024 2 Minute Read

Reika Utsugi emphasises speed and defence for Japan ahead of WBSC Women's Softball World Cup Finals

Japan have won the WBSC Women's Softball World Cup three times but have not stepped on top of the podium since 2014. USA are 12-time world champions, including the last three editions while Japan are Olympic champions having beaten USA in the gold medal game at Tokyo 2020.

As three-time world champions and two-time Olympic gold medallists, Japan enter the WBSC Women's Softball World Cup Finals 2024, which take place from 15-20 July in Castions di Strada, Italy, with a strong legacy and a No. 3 world ranking to their name. And despite the intense competition, including 12-time world champions, three-time Olympic gold medallists and world No. 1 USA, head coach Reika Utsugi has opted for a youthful roster to help Japan win their first title since 2014, indicating a strategic shift aimed at fostering new talent.

"Our strength will be speed and defence," Utsugi told the WBSC, adding that she hopes her side can reach the final. It's widely expected that USA-Japan will likely be the World Championship Final contenders.

"I really hope that we make that happen," Utsugi said. "Every country is strengthening, so we'll do our best."

Japan will open the 2024 Finals against World No. 10 Australia on July 15, then face No. 2 Puerto Rico on July 16 and No. 8 Netherlands on July 17, with an eventual showdown against arch-rivals USA in the Super Round.

The pitching staff remains solid, featuring legends Yukiko Ueno and rising star Miu Goto, alongside Misaki Katsumata and Sakura Miwa. Catchers Haruka Sumitani and Yume Kiriishi, infielders Kyoko Ishikawa, Hitomi Kawabata, and Kanna Kudo, and outfielders Risa Kawamura and Ayane Nakagawa, who all helped Japan achieve a 5-1 record, losing only to Canada, in Group C in 2023.

In that year, Japan showcased powerful hitting with seven home runs and 14 doubles in six games, boasting a .408 batting average. Sakura and Goto were the starting pitchers, with Ueno and Katsumata out of the bullpen, achieving a combined 1.65 earned run average. Goto's bad night against Canada resulted in eight of the 13 earned runs allowed.

Japan is a women's softball powerhouse that boasts approximately 50,000 registered players. They compete in three levels: student, lifelong (rubber ball), and competitive (yellow leather ball). The competitive level includes college softball, the amateur Women's Softball National Championship (76 editions), and the professional 16-team JD League, established in 2022 as a development of the original Japan Softball League from 1968.

After a three-game series with the US Elite Team (4-8 July), Japan will complete preparations for the XVII Women's Softball World Cup Finals with a warm-up game against No. 5 Canada.

Born in Beijing in 1963, Utsugi naturalised in 1996. She played for Japan, earning silver at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and bronze at the Athens 2004 Games. She has been the head coach since 2011.