It was generally a good day to be a top seed at the 2012 European Volleyball Championships.
None of the three unbeaten No. 1 seeds lost in the opening day of the three-day event held at Kaiserslautern High School and Ramstein Air Base and only Ramstein dropped a set.
Ramstein, Naples and Rota, which all entered the day as favorites, emerged from it without any losses as well. Ramstein and Naples went 3-0 in their respective divisions while Rota went 4-0 - matching its record during its entire regular season. Ansbach, co-No. 1 with Naples, had a tougher time, winning its first three matches before falling to Aviano 25-23, 25-21 in the last match of the night..
No. 2 seeds had mixed results, with Lakenheath falling twice in Division I play and AOSR and Vicenza losing at least once in Division II. Alconbury was an exception in Division III, matching Rota’s 4-0 mark.
At Kaiserslautern High School, the top seeds were tested early and often in a number of hard-fought matches during the first day of round robin action.
After losing a set to Vilseck early on, Ramstein played to its top-seed billing, easily disposing of third-seed Patch in two quick sets, 25-14, 25-12. “They played flawless and they played as a team,” Ramstein coach Erin Markus said of her Royals. “That’s what we need to do if we want to win the tournament.”
Ramstein had all it could handle in the second set of the night’s final match before prevailing against Heidelberg 25-8, 25-22. Heidelberg earlier beat No. 2 seed Lakenheath in a nail-biter, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16. The underdog Lions, coming into the tourney ranked No. 5, pulled off the upset after a two-set loss to Kaiserslautern. “Actually, what really did it was the motivational speech by one of the parents,” said Heidelberg coach Ross Brand, of his team’s rebound. The message, Brand said, was: “Bring it from the heart.”
“Our parents, they’re our No. 1 fans,” said Heidelberg sophomore Lashay Daniels. Daniels and senior Aneli Whitford had six kills apiece against Lakenheath, while senior Emma Roberts registered 11 for the match.
Lakenheath had a tough day. After Heidelberg, the Lancers faced Kaiserslautern, a team they had beaten earlier in the year. The Red Raiders dug deep to earn a win in three long drawn-out sets that often saw the scores flip-flop by a point or two. For No. 4 Kaiserslautern, the victory was “indescribable,” said Red Raiders coach Dennis Decker. Senior outside hitter Tonje Lunde recorded three aces, nine kills and three “monster blocks against the big hitters,” Decker said. Junior setter Misty Castillo had three aces and senior outside hitter Grace Gonzalez had two aces and two kills for Kaiserslautern.
About two hours later, however, the Red Raiders fell flat against Wiesbaden, losing in two sets, 25-19, 25-18.
Earlier in the day, Patch beat Wiesbaden in two sets, and Kaiserslautern in three. Patch coach Mike Rubino visibly letting out a sigh of relief after his team took the match from Kaiserslautern. “This is the first time we played them,” he said of the Red Raiders. “They’re a good team.” After Patch lost the first set, 25-12, Rubino told his team to “turn it around.”
The Wiesbaden and Vilseck contest was also close, with the Falcons eking out the win, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21.
Black Forest Academy shook up the power structure at Ramstein Air Base with two upset bids, one a success and the other a heartbreaking miss. But the Falcons, and the rest of the crowded Division II field, were unable to knock the top seeds from their perch.
A perennial postseason overachiever, Pool B sixth seed BFA played above its humble status to hang a loss on third-seeded Aviano and take the opening game from Ansbach before falling to the pool’s top seed.
Falcons head coach Les Porter explained that his team took the court Thursday undeterred by seeds and rankings.
“I think they ignored it, because they know that they played well during the season,” said Porter, citing a handful of close losses his team suffered this fall. “We were excited to come in wherever we were seeded.”
Defending champion Naples, meanwhile, cruised undisturbed through Pool A, handling second seed Vicenza without incident.
“It was fun, exciting volleyball,” said Wildcats head coach Julia Byler. “That’s what we like to play.”
Bitburg matched Naples’ undefeated Thursday. One of the two must accept a loss when the teams meet Friday morning as pool play continues.
They may be the Dragons, but the girls of the Alconbury volleyball team are on a mission to slay a beast of their own.
Division III top seeds Rota and Alconbury survived their respective sides of Thursday’s pool play at Ramstein Air Base unscathed, remaining on course for a potential championship showdown Saturday. The teams never met in the regular season, and Dragons coach Angie Miller is anxious to see her team get a shot at the undefeated defending champions.
“We’d really like to play Rota for the championship. We really would,” Miller said. “We know their talent, we’ve been scouting them. I think we can take them if we get the chance.”
Alconbury was pushed to the maximum three sets in each of its morning matches against Brussels and Ankara, but swept low seeds Bamberg and Lajes in the afternoon to enter Friday’s play unbeaten.
True to form, powerhouse Rota won its four Thursday matches in eight total sets, though Sigonella muddied the Admirals’ pristine afternoon by forcing extra points in a 27-25 first set.