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European edition, Thursday, September 13, 2007

The opening day of the 2007 high school volleyball season could tell a lot about how the season will go — at least for defending Division IV champ Brussels.

Brussels, with an enrollment of some 90 students, will be one of six teams playing at Ramstein, enrollment 1,050, during Saturday’s season-opening jamboree.

Ramstein is going after its third straight Division I title, while the Lady Brigands will be trying to extend an astounding streak of five straight girls European championships, going back to the 2006 D-IV basketball title.

Since then, Brussels won the soccer and volleyball crowns in 2006, and the basketball and soccer titles in 2007. If they can repeat as volleyball champions, the Lady Brigands will collect an unprecedented six straight championship plaques.

According to European volleyball tournament MVP Caitlin Quinn, who along with fellow senior and All-Europe second-teamer Lizz McVicker has been a large part of all five title-winners, the streak helps keep the Lady Brigands sharp.

“We know other teams are gunning for us,” she said by telephone last week. “It makes us work harder.”

The opening weekend will help them find out how much that work has paid off.

“Playing at Ramstein will show what our team can do,” said McVicker, who, like Quinn, is a three-year, three-sport letterman and honor student.

“It’s a boost playing against a team which forces you to do what you’re supposed to do and not just bump it over the net.”

The D-IV at D-I schedule is indicative of the changes DODDS-Europe sports have undergone in a time of transformation and reduction. Rather than playing mostly divisional games as in the past, matchups will be made regardless of school size.

That’s fine with Kathy Clemmons, who coaches Hohenfels, Division III runner-up to Rota last year.

“With closures and declining enrollments, we have more opportunity during the season to play more teams who are not in our division … this better prepares us for the European tournament,” Clemmons wrote in an e-mail.

Ramstein begins its quest for another European title without four All-Europeans who have fueled its previous two titles.

Vilseck, the fourth defending champ, will seek to repeat in D-II at this year’s Europeans, scheduled for Nov. 1-3 in the Kaiserslautern military community.

The season opens with 22 teams playing in jamborees at Frankfurt International School, Lakenheath and Vilseck as well as Ramstein.

DODDS-Europe schools fielding boys teams are confined to Italy and Turkey. Black Forest Academy won the Mediterranean boys title in 2006 by surprising previously unbeaten Naples.

The 2007 season opens Saturday with matches at four sites and winds up Nov. 1-3 in a season-ending tournament at Aviano.

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