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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The Aviano girls volleyball team hasn’t lost a game on the peninsula in four seasons — a streak that coincides with senior outside hitter Ashley Mead’s time as a member of the Saints.

“Ashley is the best all-around player I’ve ever had,” coach Hans Hillestad said. “I keep lots of stats, but the big thing about Ashley is that she’s never lost an [American Schools in Italy League] game.”

Her progress toward that streak, Mead said, began when she was a very green eighth-grader.

“Hans recruited me and put me on an Italian club team,” said Mead, daughter of Aviano cross-country and tennis coach Greg Mead. “That’s where I learned the basics of volleyball.”

From there, she said, she honed her game at summer camps at the University of Florida.

The process worked to perfection.

“She’s a great offensive player — she gets the blocks and hits,” Hans Hillestad said, “but she also plays great defense. She’s a solid, all-around player.”

And Mead, who likes her present position better than all the others she has played, said there are things other than the power game that appeal to her.

“I like the rhythm of the game,” she said, “how everything flows together — how all six players come together to play the point.”

And individually?

“I like serving,” she said. “I also like digging and blocking.”

Hillestad is reluctant to cite regular-season statistics, saying he doesn’t believe they paint a true picture of his team’s abilities.

But Mead recalled a particular block two years ago that proved to her she was ready to run with the varsity.

“It was in the championship game of the ASIL regional,” she said. “I made my first block. Although I’ve made lots of them since, that gave me the confidence that I could be a starter.”

Aviano has won the past three Med Regionals, but the Saints won’t get a chance to defend their title this season: DODDS-Europe has scrubbed the regional torunaments, opting to send every school to the European tournaments Nov. 4-6 in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany.

“I’m a little disappointed that our little Mediterranean tournament was canceled,” Mead said. “We all played each other during the regular season and really got to know each other. It was like a family.”

That family got larger and tougher this season for Aviano, which has made the European finals twice and the semifinals once during Mead’s tenure.

This season, Aviano will play for the European Division II crown, and the Saints will get a taste of things to come this weekend when they host Vilseck, Patch and Naples of D-2.

Can the Saints do in Division II what they just missed in Division III the past three seasons?

“It’s hard to say,” Mead said, “but our team has a lot of talent.”

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