Five things we learned from the opening weekend of DODDS-Europe winter sports:
1. Kaiserslautern is a rising hoops power.
While it’s very early, Kaiserslautern has all the makings of a championship contender in both boys and girls basketball.
The K-town boys, who settled for third place after a devastating semifinal loss to rival Ramstein in last year’s semifinals, bring back three starters and another three contributors from that rugged squad. The familiarity on offense was apparent as the team cracked 70 points in each of its two opening-weekend wins.
The leadership of returning standouts Lorenzo Williams, Devin Joseph and Andy Stern pointed the way for the Red Raiders, head coach Brant Tryon explained. Williams averaged 19 points in the weekend’s wins over Heidelberg and Vilseck, while Joseph and Stern each posted double-doubles in points and rebounds against the defending champion Lions.
“I’ve got such a great positive atmosphere with these guys,” Tryon said. “That’s probably our biggest strength this year. They work and keep their heads up at all times.”
In a similarly humble and hopeful vein, K-town girls head coach Corey Sullivan is cautiously optimistic after his team’s own 2-0 start.
“It’s always better to win the first two than lose them,” Sullivan said. “It’s a good starting point.”
The balanced Red Raiders enjoyed production from all over their roster, a healthy mix of new and incumbent rotation players including All-Europe Patch transfer Johanna Quinn, stateside senior transplant Teranda Dunlap and returning upperclassmen Angie Powell and Alana Dickerson. Five players scored between five and eight points in Friday’s win over Heidelberg, while seven players combined for K-town’s 33 points in a Saturday rout of Vilseck.
The Raider defense was equally impressive, holding its two opponents to a total of 31 points in 64 minutes. That’s a function of the Red Raiders’ midseason form in the hustle department.
“Kids were willing to get out there and get after the ball. Their effort was excellent,” Sullivan said. “Everyone made a contribution to us winning.”
2. Ramstein wrestlers are well-equipped for a run at Patch.
While four-time defending champion Patch was predictably strong in dominating the five-school meet it hosted Saturday, Ramstein sent its own early-season message with an impressive showing at Wiesbaden.
The Royals placed first in 10 of 14 weight classes and ranked second in three of the other four. That’s the kind of depth that could make a dent in the Panthers’ long-standing dominance.
We’ll find out soon enough. Ramstein hosts Patch and four other programs Saturday; the winner will enjoy a month’s worth of bragging rights as the grapplers break for the holidays until Jan. 12.
3. Girls still rule on the shooting range.
The ladies hold the upper hand in one of the few DODDS sports where both genders compete among each other. Girls were the top two overall finishers at both marksmanship meets Saturday; Patch girls comprised three of the top five spots at Baumholder, while Vilseck placed four girls among the top five at Ansbach.
Explanations for this vary, but the upshot for fans is a looming showdown between the two programs. Patch’s Western Conference dominance appears secure, while Vilseck is the prohibitive Eastern Conference favorite. The schools won’t share a facility until the European championships Jan. 26 at Baumholder.
4. The title is up for grabs in Division II girls hoops.
Before the season, AFNORTH coach D.C. McDonald forecasted a multi-team scrum in Division II girls’ basketball. McDonald’s team was centrally involved in bearing that prediction out last weekend.
AFNORTH played Alconbury to a pair of classic finishes Friday and Saturday, with each team taking a victory and absorbing a heartbreaking loss. Alconbury won 24-23 Friday before late-game Lions heroics forced overtime and earned a win Saturday.
Defending champion SHAPE and contenders Black Forest Academy and Hohenfels each won a pair of games. And the scene will only get more crowded when Naples, Aviano and the rest of the Italian schools begin play next weekend.
5. Menwith Hill’s Schuyler Backlar remains king of the stat sheet.
Long an eye-popping fixture of Stars and Stripes hoops roundups, Backlar opened his senior season at Division III Menwith Hill last weekend with numbers that were gaudy even by his elevated standards.
In three Mustang wins against non-DODDS international schools over Friday and Saturday, the sharpshooting guard tallied 43 points, 26 rebounds, nine steals and five assists in a full-length Friday tilt, then scored a symmetrical 24 points apiece in each of Saturday’s 24-minute games.
Backlar and his squad play only in the U.K. until Jan. 11-12, when the Mustangs visit SHAPE. That two-day doubleheader will go a long way toward determining the team’s status among its DODDS competition.