Volleyball AOY

Bryant helped teammates finish what they started

Zama junior outside hitter Grace Bryant stood tall, getting 20 kills as the Trojans won their first Far East Division II volleyball tournament title and snapped a 22-year drought overall, bagging their first Far East title since winning the tournament in 1997, when schools of all levels played in one tournament.


By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 21, 2019

Talent and desire were never issues with Zama volleyball, coaches and players say; they had plenty of both over the years.

It was finishing, team leader Grace Bryant said, that always seemed to hang up the Trojans when it counted.

No longer. Not since Nov. 9, when Zama captured its first Far East Division II Tournament crown and ended a 22-year drought, winning its first Far East title of any kind since 1997.

Bryant, named the tournament’s best hitter and All-Tournament for the third time, finished with 20 kills as the Trojans swept Robert D. Edgren – making its first finals appearance in school history – 25-22, 25-17, 25-15 at Camp Humphreys.

It was how she and her veteran teammates would rally the younger players, spurring them on to bigger things as the Trojans got one point after another.

“That made us stronger as a team,” she said. “We trusted each other. In the (team) huddles we would say how we loved each other, believed in each other, kept reminding ourselves we were capable of doing anything.”

Thanks to that victory and Bryant’s performance in the match, and a regular season in which the Trojans even won a regular-season match over Division I champion Seisen I, Bryant has been named Stars and Stripes Pacific volleyball Athlete of the Year.

Bryant edged out a crowded field including libero and Division I tournament Most Valuable Player Momoka Umemiya and setter Grace Starr of Seisen, D-I runner-up Kubasaki’s Abigail Robinson and D-II MVP Emiry Ichijo of Edgren, among others.

Bryant earned D-II MVP honors on second-place Zama last year, but the Trojans lost in five sets, 21-25, 25-15, 25-18, 23-25, 15-10, to Christian Academy Japan.

Through this year’s championship, Bryant said she and the returners from 2018 reminded the newer players of what came before and what needed to happen then.

“We told them our stories about last year and how we couldn’t finish as we wanted to,” said Bryant, a junior outside hitter. “This season … there were a lot of situations where we had to have each other’s backs. We would stay humble, never getting too cocky. One point at a time.”

Every player on the Trojans played a crucial role in getting them to the championship, coach Veronica Jones said. Bryant, on the other hand, was vital in every sense.

“Grace never leaves the court,” Jones said of her hitting, receiving, serving and “especially leadership. We cannot win without her physical presence or leadership on the court.”

Now that the banner has been tacked onto the wall of Trojans Gym, next to the D-I banner won by Zama in 1997, Bryant says she’ll start conditioning for track and field season beginning in March.

Her father Chuck is a civilian assigned to Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Bryant is slated to graduate in June 2021, after her senior season of volleyball – by which time, Bryant said, maybe the idea that the Trojans won will have settled in.

“It doesn’t feel real at all,” Bryant said.

Twitter: @daveornauer