Defending champs facing different prospects
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 6, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – A one-of-a-kind run that produced three straight Far East Division I Tournament titles might be at an end for Kubasaki.
A wave of graduations, injuries and transfers have decimated the first DODEA-Pacific team ever to win three straight Far East girls volleyball tournament titles.
For the first time since Mike Hogen assumed the Dragons’ helm nine years ago, he undertakes a mass rebuilding job.
“I guess it comes like an avalanche,” Hogen said.
Two starters who have been with the program since they were freshmen and were counted on to be cogs in the Dragons’ wheels, Chloe’ Stevens (torn knee ACL) and Maiya Larry (shoulder) are out for the season. Three others graduated and three more transferred.
“A lot has happened,” Hogen said. “It’s going to be different.”
Two Dragons from 2016’s lineup return, middle blocker Donatella Barone and setter Mimi Larry – and even Larry is facing injury issues entering the season, which began with the Dragons losing Tuesday in four sets at Kadena. Larry expects to be back next week.
In place of the departed is a gaggle of new players – not necessarily new to volleyball, but new to Kubasaki’s lineup, including sophomores Linda Ross and Abby Robinson, joining Barone in the middle.
Other newcomers include Anya Andrade, a 4-foot-11 backliner who could set or play libero. Zoey Weidley is an incoming freshman who is “going to get better,” Hogen said.
There is plenty of room for his youngsters to grow, Hogen said, and they likely shall as the Dragons are penciled in for the Okinawa-American district volleyball festival over Columbus Day weekend and the American School In Japan YUJO tournament a week later.
“We’ll see. We’ll get better. We have a young group that will get better every day,” Hogen said.
“We have an uphill battle. We don’t have power, strength or experience, but they’ll be competitive girls. We’ll see what kind of development we get” by Far East, scheduled for late October at Kadena.
While Kubasaki won’t have to leave the island for Far East for the first time in more than a decade, defending Far East Division II champion Yokota must hit the road, but not very far; the small-schools tournament is scheduled to be hosted at Zama.
And while the Dragons are rebuilding, the Panthers return the core of a team that won the first volleyball banner in Yokota’s 44-year history, and has the needed parts to replace the departed outside hitting the Panthers so valued last season.
Byron Wrenn takes over coaching, and brings back the core four responsible for the D-II title: Middle blockers Adrianna Diaz and Britney Bailey, defensive specialist Jamia Bailey (not related) and reigning D-II Most Valuable Player Kyra Anderson, a junior setter.
“I’m glad to come to a program in which the main hitters are middles,” Wrenn said. “But we also have some ladies who’ve come in who can be outside hitters.”
Those should include junior Caleigh Garcia and freshmen Haley Singleton and Alli Eastburn. Garcia is showing “a lot of promise to be a versatile player,” Singleton has shown herself to be a “pretty good defender” with “passing and outside hitting ability” and Eastburn can be a “strong future outside hitter,” Wrenn said.
“We want to grow a program, not just a team,” Wrenn said. “We want to maintain a consistent run for championships, but also building of character.”