DODDS at disadvantage in Far East volleyball
Girls volleyball hasn’t been the most hospitable venue for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific teems seeking a Far East tournament title.
Since Far East tournaments began in 1976, Tokyo international schools and Guam teams have ruled.
Only two DODDS-Pacific teams have won the Class AA tournament, Zama American of Japan four times and Wagner High of the Philippines, which is no longer in existence, once.
The Class A event, in its sixth year, hasn’t been generous either. Osan American (2001) is the only DODDS team to win the title.
What makes Guam and Tokyo schools international powers? Why do they have 18 Class AA and five Class A titles between them?
Volleyball is considered Guam’s sport.
As such, their spikers “are playing constantly, year-round, and that is the only thing they do, [as opposed to] other athletes who may play other sports and not be so dedicated to volleyball,” Seoul American senior setter Jio Bruce said.
Guam teams comprise players from the same neighborhoods who stick together from middle school until graduation, much like stateside schools.
Tokyo’s powerhouses — Seisen International, American School in Japan and Christian Academy in Japan — also keep their teams together for years and invariably top the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools standings. They have a combined nine titles.
“Most of those girls have played together from a young age,” said senior middle blocker Lindsay Murchison of Robert D. Edgren of Japan.
As a result, “Their level of competition is much higher, so they are forced to be better,” Bruce said. “They have to get better to stay with the [other] local schools.”
The continuity is not so prevalent among DODDS schools.
Players come and go every couple of years, and their small enrollment means many play two or three sports per year.
“DODDS players are more transient, [and] therefore have less experience working with each other as a team,” Murchison said.
That lack of continuity leads to inconsistency and a lack of chemistry, with players having to get used to new faces almost every season.
“If you are playing with five other people who you aren’t used to playing with, you can break down,” said Bruce, who will play in her fourth Class AA tournament, which starts Monday at Kadena High School on Okinawa.
“It’s like, you don’t know how that person plays. A team with good chemistry knows each other and how each other plays. It’s easier to depend on one another, also.”
“These players transfer in and out and meet each other on the first day of practice,” Kadena second-year coach Rachelle Smith said. “It’s hard to earn that trust, that they’re always going to play to the best of their ability.”
Above all else, Guam and Tokyo schools are used to winning, Smith said.
“Look at Duke basketball. Look at China and Japan [in the volleyball World Cup],” Smith said. “A winning tradition will take you a lot farther than natural talent.”
Faced with those disadvantages, what chance does a DODDS team have of capturing the crown?
Smith, a Naval Academy graduate and a former All-Navy player, says controlling momentum has a lot to do with it.
“You have ups and downs on every single point,” she said, adding that a team can get on a five- or six-point run, “and lose it on one bad serve. If you can control the roller coaster, you will win the match.”
Attitude and togetherness can sometimes work wonders, Murchison said.
“Teams have to have a positive attitude,” she said. “It’s important that they work together, emphasize team unity and play to their strengths. The right combination of players will definitely have an effect on the level of play as well.”
“They have to have a lot of passion,” Bruce added. “They have to want to win, want to get better. They have to honestly get along well, too. Stay positive and work together.”
She added jokingly:
“It wouldn’t hurt to have some 6-footers.”
So is it realistic to think a DODDS team can win?
“If the girls I know and love show up to play, nobody’s going to beat them,” Smith said. “We just have to be sure they’re all here.”