Things learned, observed during Okinawa District Volleyball Festival
Published: October 10, 2011
I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year – they need to hold the Okinawa District Volleyball Festival, Okinawa Invitational Volleyball Tournament, whatever you want to call it, every year.
A terrific event, featuring Okinawa’s and South Korea’s finest DODDS schools (the latter three with seven Far East tournament titles between them), and three Japanese teams making their way to Kubasaki High School on Sunday for the grand finale.
Competition led off the three-day event, with co-hosts Kubasaki and Kadena taking on Seoul, Osan and Daegu American for six matches each on Friday and Saturday, with the reigning Far East Division I Tournament champion Falcons coming away with the best record, 4-0, in the unofficial American pool-play standings.
But Sunday put the event’s deeper meaning on display. Nearly 200 players, coaches and family members packed Kubasaki’s Dragons Den, which was divided into two courts most of the day with just Japanese and American teams facing each other over a good eight hours. American power vs. Japanese defense and finesse.
Okinawa’s Futenma Senior and Gushikawa Senior and Commercial High Schools ruled the day with their solid display of court coverage and ball placement.
But it was what each of the teams, Japanese and American, took away with them after the closing social at the Camp Foster Food Court.
Just as the Americans were impressed with the Japanese court coverage, so, too, were the Japanese taken with the American’s joy and team spirit on the court.
Keep in mind, Japanese players take up sports from around the time they’re 9 or 10 years old and play them year-round.
Thus, it can become “work ball” for the Japanese as opposed to “play ball” for the Americans.
It was also fun to see Japanese and American players exchanging bumping, setting and hitting tips, without so much as a word spoken; volleyball being the international language that it is.
Even culinary delights became culturally exchangeable. Japanese players sampled pizza from the Kubasaki Dragon Inn concession stand. And when offered, American players tried on some Japanese onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in dried seaweed.
Yes, they need to do this again. Often. And invite international schools from Tokyo and DODDS Japan power Nile C. Kinnick as well.
One would think when Seoul American and reigning two-time Far East Division II Tournament champion Daegu American bid farewell to a coaching icon (Denny Hilgar) and several top-tier players (Liz Gleaves, Destinee Harrison, Kristina Bergman, Angie Robinet) that the shingles outside the coaches’ offices read: “Rebuilding.”
Well, the star power may be gone, along with some thunderous hitting and Gleaves’ 43-inch vertical leap. But from watching those two teams perform over the weekend, I didn’t see that much of a dropoff in terms of scoreboard accomplishment.
Seoul’s senior triad of setter Tiffaney Mitchell, outside hitter Hannah Swafford and middle blocker Tammy Garman aren’t as spectacular as their predecessors, but they’re workmanlike and they as a team get along fantastically. Definitely a reflection of their coach, Lori Rogers, who has assumed the helm from Hilgar, now at Rota, Spain.
Same can be said of Daegu American under coach Joanna Wyche. Maleah Potts Cash’s hitting and blocking have ramped up considerably, sophomore Kaitlyn Nott is coming into her own as backup middle and sisters Leanne and Michelle Quizon continue to sparkle on defense and at setter.
Can you mark Seoul up for a D-I repeat and Daegu for a D-II three-peat? May be too early to tell, but if they keep improving, they’ll make a ton of noise when they host their respective tournaments next month.
Speaking of teams potentially on the rise, don’t sleep on Kadena. They came away winless during the festival, but by Sunday, they were holding their own with their Japanese counterparts, even leading in two matches. “I was beaming, like a proud parent. It was so exciting,” coach Sara Corley said. Arissa Alvarez is coming into her own at setter, Nia Rodriguez can block with the best of them, Heather Brown bears considerable watching at the net. Just don’t sleep on them.
Kubasaki’s another team that can be dangerous if you take the Dragons lightly. Good defense, a pair of jump servers and solid outside hitting. If coach Michael Hogen could just develop a middle blocker …
Oh, and those matching Panther Paw socks worn by the Kadena Panthers? Those came courtesy of Corley, who ordered them from Team Cheer.com; she used to be Kadena’s cheerleading coach. “I wanted the girls to have them” as a show of spirit and unity, “and they agreed,” Corley said.
Events such as these can bring out the “small world” in DODDS. Take Tony Alvarado, for example. Kubasaki’s football defensive coordinator used to be Osan’s head football coach from 2004-08 and knows Hogen quite well from their days of working together. Alvarado remembers a couple of Osan’s players, such as senior Alex Hauter, who used to babysit Alvarado’s children, and Ivy de la Cruz, who was with Alvarado at Ansbach, Germany, where he transferred for three years prior to coming to Kubasaki. “I still remember the Pacific. I feel like I’m back home now,” Alvarado said.
Wyche, too, spent a trip down memory lane over the weekend. Formerly a math teacher at Okinawa’s Lester Middle School, she was Kadena’s assistant volleyball coach from 2006-07 before taking Daegu’s reins. Her elder sons, David (class of 2006) and Daniel (2007) played football and basketball and ran track for the Panthers. “They always ask me about when I go to Kadena,” Wyche said. “I tell them, ‘Yes, I saw the banners, I saw their pictures in the hall.’ They’re Panthers for life. It’s always special to come back. I love it.”