DODEA-Europe all stars shine light on growth of volleyball, women’s sports
Stars and Stripes November 4, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — M.J. Davis entered Saturday’s DODEA-Europe all-star volleyball matches knowing they were her last.
It’s not just because the Ramstein player is a senior. The 5-foot-9 Monument, Colo., native already has suffered two severe concussions, and following a warning that a third could cause traumatic brain damage, Davis won’t play the sport again — be it club, intramural or in college.
So, at Ramstein High School, Davis wanted to return to her roots.
Instead of slotting in at right side hitter as she had done all season after transferring to Ramstein, the Royal got the go-ahead from Aviano coach Michael Gros to play both matches as the libero.
“This is my last hurrah to actually put my mark and have my stamp as a volleyball player,” Davis said. “This is who I am: I’m the lib. This is my mark.”
Davis was one of 20 girls selected to play in the all-star matches, which returned last year after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 20 players were chosen by a committee of coaches from all three divisions. Three players — American Overseas School of Rome senior Cristina Nespoli, Naples sophomore Gracie Grannis and Wiesbaden senior Elizabeth Troxel — were selected but couldn’t participate.
This year’s theme was “empowering women.” The players were separated into Red and White teams, an homage to the University of Nebraska volleyball team. The five-time NCAA champion Cornhuskers played against Omaha with 92,003 fans packing Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30, setting a record for the highest-attended women’s sporting match.
The previous mark of 91,648 was set on April 22, 2002, in Barcelona, Spain, for a Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Wolfsburg.
That Nebraska match left an imprint on many of the girls playing in Saturday’s all-star festivities.
“I think it’s really cool,” Lakenheath senior middle hitter A’Lydia McNeal said. “Women’s sports are finally getting the recognition that they deserve.”
Although they were exhibition matches, skill and intensity were on display Saturday. Players celebrated each point as if they were playing in the European championships.
The White Team won the morning match 25-18, 25-23, 20-25, 25-20, while the Red Team came back to win the afternoon match 14-25, 25-22, 18-25, 25-20, 15-13.
The Red Team trailed 2-1 in sets before taking the fourth set and was down late in the last before rallying.
“I know there were so many seniors on my team, and that was their last game,” said Vicenza junior defensive specialist Maya Fitch, who played for the Red Team. “We wanted to make their last game a good experience to end volleyball on a high note.”
The players had a couple days of practice before stepping onto the court Saturday. That led to some miscommunication and other errors that come with a lack of experience playing together.
Still, the teams built chemistry quickly, McNeal said. She said the biggest challenges were timing sets and building the setter-hitter relationship.
“I’m really honored to get to play with people that are of the high level,” McNeal said. “We’re able to have these rallies and build connections with one another.”
While being serious about the game play, the girls also had a bit of fun. Players danced between sets, laughed at some comical errors during the match and enjoyed blasting Taylor Swift music, among others, between the two matches.
“We talked about everything on the face of the planet,” Davis said. “I connected with them about boys, we connected about school, we connected about anything you can name.
“Some of these girls I will hold in my heart forever just because I have such a good relationship with them now, even though it’s only been two days.”
The match marked the end of the high school careers for 14 seniors. The others, meanwhile, will continue next year.
Fitch was one of the non-seniors and the only Vicenza athlete to make the trip. Between that and the Cougars finishing third in the Division II tournament the week prior, she has high hopes for her senior year.
“Being the only rep from Vicenza, it makes me feel excited going into the next season,” Fitch said. “It makes me feel hopeful and just gives me a confidence boost.”
Trinity Batin, senior, Ansbach; Mia Snyder, junior, Stuttgart; Jazmyn Hall, senior, Ramstein; Audrey Garrison, senior, Wiesbaden; Madison Bell, senior, Vilseck; Maya Fitch, junior, Vicenza; Marisa Branch, junior, Kaiserslautern; Jasmine Jones, senior, Ramstein; A’Lydia McNeal, senior, Lakenheath; Addison Krajicek, sophomore, Aviano.
Coaches: Deb Keller-Mitchell, Ansbach; Kim McKell, Black Forest Academy.
Ashley Tweedy, senior, BFA; Jessica Moon, senior, SHAPE; Jaycee Spence, senior, Aviano; Berea Bryan, senior, Stuttgart; Emma Boyle, senior, Vilseck; Kaitlyn Rex, senior, Ramstein; M.J. Davis, senior, Ramstein; Mariska Campbell, junior, Kaiserslautern; Kennedy Lange, sophomore, Ansbach; Selam Foery, senior, Kaiserslautern.
Coaches: Michael Gros, Aviano; Malia Taifi-Husseini, Wiesbaden.
Cristina Nespoli, senior, American Overseas School of Rome; Gracie Grannis, sophomore, Naples; Elizabeth Troxel, senior, Wiesbaden.