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Going into the three-day European Division II girls volleyball tournament — which begins Thursday in the Kaiserslautern Military Community — things are unfolding exactly as planned for defending champion Aviano.

“We prepare for this tournament from Day 1,” Aviano coach Hans Hillestad said by telephone Monday. “That’s what we work toward.”

The work is paying off. The Saints are riding a 34-game winning streak over this season and last, and an astounding 92-game streak over the last five seasons against opponents from the American Schools in Italy League.

This season, Aviano has played just two opponents from outside Italy, one of them second-seeded Vilseck. Even so, Hillestad is familiar with the players his team will be facing, if not their teams.

“We see all the players at summer camp,” Hillestad said of the event he created and hosts each August at Aviano.

Despite their isolation from the main body of D-II schools, the Saints’ unquestioned success has them top-seeded and heavily favored in this three-day event, which will award championships in four divisions on Saturday.

Unbeaten Ramstein, the defending D-I champs, earned the top spot in the big schools category. III-South conference champion Hohenfels received the No. 1 in D-III, and Brussels the No. 1 in D-IV, a category won by Alconbury in the two years it has been in existence.

Experience will be the key for the No. 1s in D-I, III and IV, according to their coaches.

“We have six seniors on our team,” said Hohenfels coach Kathy Clemmons, whose team will be chasing a vacant throne after 2005 champion Baumholder moved to D-II this season.

“Most of them have played together the last three years. It’s the kind of team which reads each other well and communicates well.”

Ramstein’s Hia Sebastian also has a half-dozen seniors who have grown up in the comprehensive Ramstein program, which extends into the middle school.

Brussels, runner-up to Alconbury last year, also expects to benefit from longtime relationships, according to coach Vicky Westland, even though the Lady Brigands have no seniors.

“Our juniors, Lizz McVicker, Caitlin Quinn and Christine Exner, have played together for the last two to three years,” she said Tuesday.

Games are being played at Vogelweh, Kaiserslautern High School, Miesau and Ramstein Southside. First serves are scheduled for 10 a.m. at three sites, with a full schedule for all four from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday’s games begin at 9 a.m. at all sites, while Saturday’s championships and third-place games are to take place at Vogelweh from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There is no admission charge at any venue.

Meanwhile at Aviano, 11 boys volleyball teams, led by unbeaten defending champion Naples, will be vying for the DODDS-Europe Mediterranean Regional championship. That three-day tournament also begins Thursday.

Despite his team’s success, Naples coach Peter Nagafuchi isn’t ready to claim the trophy.

“Black Forest Academy is very tough,” he said by telephone of the only non-Mediterranean team in the tournament.

“They don’t play in our league, but last year they took Aviano to a fifth game in the semifinals. They made our job (a straight-set win over Aviano in the final) easier.”

In addition to BFA, which is making its second appearance here after finishing third last year, the field includes the eight members of the American Schools in Italy League and the Turkey-based schools in Ankara and Incirlik. Three of the Italy schools, like BFA, are private schools, and Nagafuchi sees two of them as major players in this year’s event.

“AOSR (American Overseas School of Rome) and Milan are really coming on,” he said. “They’re really good.”

The sentimental favorite, however, has to be tiny Livorno, scheduled to close forever in June.

“This is the last time for Livorno,” Nagafuchci said. “[Livorno coach] Jim Bartlett has really put a team together.”

European volleyball seedings

Division I—Ramstein, Lakenheath, Heidelberg, Patch, Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt International School

Division II—Aviano, Vilseck, Baumholder, Bitburg, Würzburg, Naples, Black Forest Academy, SHAPE, AFNORTH, Mannheim

Division III—Hohenfels, Marymount International of Rome, Hanau, Rota, London Central, Giessen, Sigonella, Ansbach, Vicenza, American Overseas School of Rome

Division IV—Brussels, Alconbury, Lajes, Milan, Incirlik, Ankara, Bamberg, Menwith Hill


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