Preview of 21st Japan Handball League

Men's Japan Handball League as well as women's starts from 14 Sep. to 26 Dec., 1996. One team will have 14 matches (two round robins) and top three teams each will go forward to the play-off which will be held on 10 to 11 Jan. 1997 in Tokyo.

Men's League: Nakamura again?

Last season, the defending champion Nakamura Niyaku Corporation, who was the first place in regular season, crowned the play-off and won their two consecutive championship. Nakamura, the favorite this season again, will be led by three Koreans - Cho, two time best scorer in JHL, Oh, ex-captain with powerful move, and Park, who becomes new head coach this season. Besides three Koreans, Japanese players in Nakamura are powerful line-up including three national players (Inoue/Takagi/Izumi).

Well, who can stop Nakamura? Wakunaga Pharmaceutical, runner up last year, is one of the candidates. They have B.Bramanis, new player from Estonia as well as four national players (Nakayama/Sugiyama/Yamaguchi/Tsubone). Nisshin Steel and Daido Steel are stable. Nisshin Steel has Mizutani, who got in the national team recently and Daido Steel has three national players (Sueoka/Fujii/Tomimoto).

We should watch how Osaki Electric, Honda and Sanyo Fashion House will challenge above four teams. Osaki electric welcomed the distinguished Korean, Meng as a head coach this season. Honda got three rookies(Kayaba/Hiromasa/Sasanami) who are expected to play active roles and has GK Hashimoto, ex-captain of national team. Sanyo Fashion House gives free rein to Iwamoto, star player in the national team as well. Toyota Auto Body, who promoted to the first division from the second best hustles to challenge again. The point is whether their good defensive play is available in the first division.

Women's League: In confusion

Each women's team reinforced aggressively. Five teams welcomed new foreign players. Last season, Omron, who was the runner up in the regular season, beat Hokukoku at the final of the play-off and crowned 9th victory. Many veteran players including Wan, MVP last year, were replaced by new comers including Chinese national southpaw player Shi. Though Omron is said that is good at defense with another Chinese national GK Wang, you should keep your eyes on their offense this year.

Hokukoku Bank, who wants to achieve a fervent wish to be a number one, features their daring fastbreak. Izumi, third place last season, is led by Lim, great Korean who is a player and a head coach this season. Powerful new comers include another Korean Hong, who was the best scorer in the World Cup and that makes Izumi the first candidate to crown. Osaki Electric, who aims to win back the penant, got new powers including Kim. You should also keep your eyes on fighting GK Kanamaru. Hitachi Tochigi got Back and Konno from Osaki Electric this season. Wang would lead the team this year because she got used to the atmosphere of the team. Chateraise, who is famous for their unique combination play, acquired world famous Danish M. Flormann.

Two promoted teams Tateyama Aluminum and JUSCO can leap into prominence if they play up to form from the beginning.

Second Division

Men's second division is led by Denso, who wants to go back to the first division and Honda Motor KUMAMOTO and Sankei, who got powerful rookies recently. They are followed by Toyota Motor Corporation and Hokuriku Electric Power. We will see how Tokuyama, Osaka Gas and new team ARACO KYUSHU will play with top teams.

There are only four teams in women's second division. Daiwa Bank, who wants to go back to the top, is the leader and followed by Brother, Sony Kokubu and Munekata.