Returning stars could lead teams to glory again
Rota's Aspen Luna, right, hits the ball against Florence at the 2011 DODDS-Europe volleyball finals last November. Luna will be returning for the Admirals when the 2012 volleyball season gets under way. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
As illogical as it might seem in the most consummate of team games, star power should decide the girls’ races in the 2012 DODDS-Europe volleyball season that tips off in earnest for the vast majority of the schools next weekend.
That’s the opinion of no less an expert than Vilseck coach Brian Swenty, who derives his knowledge of the state of the game in Europe from his personal work at the DODDS-Europe volleyball camp he runs each year.
He predicts another banner season each for last year’s champs – Ramstein in Division I, Naples in D-II and Rota in D-III, basing his analysis of all three schools on the abilities of the individual stars they return.
“Ramstein will be incredibly talented,” he wrote citing the return of first team All-Europeans Sarah Szybist, who concentrated exclusively on volleyball this offseason, and Sarah Schiller, a teammate of Szybist’s on her German club team. Erin Markus’ champs also feature height and athleticism in Kelsey Freeman and 5-foot-11 freshman Chera Jensen, also a veteran of German club ball, according to Markus.
“Expect to see (the Royals) in the title game again,” Swenty concluded.
In Division II, he believes, the return if first-teamer Isabel Krause should make the Wildcats “tough again,” and in Division III, the situation’s even more cut-and-dried.
“Rota will repeat as DIII-champs as long as (two-time All-European and Stars and Stripes player of the year) Aspen Luna is wearing an Admirals’ uniform. She is the real deal and would not only start on a D-I team’s roster, she would excel in D-I.”
Star power fuels the teams that might challenge the champs.
In D-I, Patch, where Mike Rubino unveils his first edition of the Panthers, has a gem of its own in junior outside hitter Rachel Hess, whom Swenty expects to emerge as a star.
Swenty’s own Vilseck Falcons, led by seniors Alexandra Lopez and Cathleen Trevino and junior Beth Siatini aren’t to be taken lightly, according to Markus. Those two coaches also praised an experienced Wiesbaden team returning four of last year’s starters for coach Linnea Velsvaag.
Kaiserslautern will go as far as senior Grace Gonzalez can take them, Swenty said, but Heidelberg was riddled by graduation and the decline in enrollment, although the return of Emma Roberts and Aneli Whitford would bolster former Sigonella boys’ coach Ross Brand’s first Lions’ team.
In D-II, Krause, abetted by her sister, Victoria, and experienced setter Logan Percival, a transfer from New Mexico, should lead the totally rebuilt Wildcats, according to their coach, Julia Byler.
The loss of star power at SHAPE – All-Europeans Teresa Muldoon and Ashley Seiler are gone – hurts Tony Harris’ chances in his first year at the Spartans’ helm, but Swenty sees the return of All-Europe junior Tia Juliano putting Vicenza into the mix.
Swenty predicts the revival of two former powers as the division’s dark horses.
“My two sleepers are Ansbach and Hohenfels,” he wrote. “Ansbach sent 26 players to our volleyball camp here in Vilseck in August and they will be extremely athletic and scrappy. Aurora Alejos and Caprice Lockett will be standouts. I expect them to go very deep in Division II this year.”
The return of Kathy Clemmons to the sidelines at Hohenfels after an absence of several season is just one of the positives for Hohenfels, Swenty wrote. “…(The Tigers), with Tashia Golson and Kiana Glenn, who are the best overall athletes in DODDS-E right now, in my opinion, have a chance to be standing tall at the end.” As does Black Forest Academy.
Aviano, coached by Pam and Hans Hillestad, returns All-European Guilia Silvi and defensive ace Devin Franco and could challenge, too.
In D-III, Rota, which returns two All-Europe first-teamers in Luna and Natalia Rivera, is the prohibitive choice, although Sigonella might challenge, in the opinion of Aviano’s Hans Hillestad.
Vicky Westland’s perennial powerhouse at Brussels can call on just one returning starter, however, and another Brigands’ title would be quite a stretch.
This weekend, teams north of the Alps are scheduled for jamboree dates; the only for-the-record contests are Vicenza at American Overseas School of Rome and Sigonella at Naples.
The European championships are scheduled for the Kaisersautern Military Community Nov. 1-3 with the title games in Ramstein’s Southside gym.
Med champs rebuilding
In DODDS-Europe boys’ volleyball, played solely in the Mediterranean Region, Naples is the defending champion, although the Wildcats will be rebuilding this season according to coach Peter Nagafuchi.
The process should render October’s Med Tournament at Aviano, where the Italy schools will be joined by Ankara and Incirlik, wide open. The event will coincide with the girls’ European event.