CAMP WALKER, South Korea – One thing Daegu’s Far East Girls Volleyball Division II title teams had in common was an abundance of height, be it Lynnette Grant and Kadijah Parker in 2005 or Kristina Bergman and Maleah Potts Cash in 2009 and ’10.
How different things are today. Daegu’s tallest players, juniors Kaitlyn Nott and Lari Robertson, stand 5-foot-6 or thereabouts. But coach Joanna Wyche insists her players can still be tall if they play and think like it.
“I have to work with what I have and create players who are 6 foot whether they’re physically or mentally 6 foot, so they can get as high as Maleah or Kristina,” said Wyche, whose Warriors finished second in D-II last November.
“If you work with them and believe they can get up on that net, they can.”
Wyche cited now-graduated outside hitter Leanne Quizon, all of 4-11 but now playing at Division II Mount Olive (N.C). College. “If she can serve as an (outside hitter) with as much vertical height as Kristina, they can get there.”
Beyond those two middle blockers, Daegu still sports a wealth of experienced setters, defenders and outside hitters now in their third season together. What worries Wyche, however, is she feels they’re not showing the same sense of urgency they did in the championship seasons.
“They can’t fly on the wings of past stars and past championships,” Wyche said. “They have to work just as hard and write their own history.”
That authoring must take place against equally experienced teams that feature height, such as Matthew C. Perry (junior Courtney Beall) and E.J. King (senior Katie Rock, whose mother becomes the Cobras’ fourth coach in four seasons). Defending D-II champion Morrison Academy always looms as a threat.
On the Division I level, the PCS plane was a blessing for several teams.
Yokota welcomes sophomore Sarah Claypool from reigning Europe D-I champion Ramstein; sophomore Noblae Wainwright comes to Nile C. Kinnick from California; and Seoul American brings aboard three transfers - Glenesha Berryman, Ashley Clement and Robin Galiano - each an underclassman who fill key roles for the Falcons.
Kubasaki didn’t get any transfers, but coach Mike Hogen returns his entire starting lineup and the Dragons are aiming for their first Far East D-I Final Four berth in seven years.
Kinnick longtime coach Al Garrido had considered stepping down after his Red Devils finished second to American School In Japan in the D-I tournament, until the last three Guam national women’s team coaches, each now working at Yokosuka Naval Base, approached Garrido and offered to help coach the team.
“Who wouldn’t want to be in that situation?” Garrido said. “Now, I think the ship is running a lot more smoothly.” Kinnick has gone 76-1 in the last three regular seasons and has won three straight DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain regular-season titles, something no DODDS Japan school has ever done.
Garrido is hoping his five returners plus two other newcomers can take that last, final step, capturing the school’s first Far East D-I title. That road leads through ASIJ, and its setting-hitting tandem of Baileigh Gibson and reigning D-I Tournament MVP Liz Thornton.
“You hope they don’t beat you. You try to make the other girls on that team be the ones to beat you,” Garrido said.