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Julia Ridgley of the Vicenza Cougars goes up for a kill as Aviano’s Zurnia Dickerson tries to block during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.  Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24.
Julia Ridgley of the Vicenza Cougars goes up for a kill as Aviano’s Zurnia Dickerson tries to block during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

VICENZA, Italy – When the Vicenza Cougars and Aviano Saints met in pool play Friday in the DODEA-Europe Division II volleyball tournament, the object was to win the match and avoid playing unbeaten Naples in the semifinals.

Object accomplished for the Saints, who prevailed in three sets.

But that didn’t deter the Cougars, who knocked off the Wildcats in the semifinals early Saturday and then used that momentum to come back and defeat Aviano in the championship game 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24.

Gabriela Sanchez of the Vicenza Cougars goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II championship match in Vicenza, Italy, on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24.
Gabriela Sanchez of the Vicenza Cougars goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II championship match in Vicenza, Italy, on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Aviano's Zurnia Dickerson taps the ball over the net Satuday, Oct. 30, 2021, at the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy.  Vicenza won the championship 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24.
Aviano's Zurnia Dickerson taps the ball over the net Satuday, Oct. 30, 2021, at the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy. Vicenza won the championship 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

“Us beating Naples was a good surprise and a big upset,” Vicenza coach John Kohut said.

Aviano and Vicenza split during the regular season and ended up splitting during the tournament as well, with the Cougars getting the victory when it most mattered.

“My girls deserve it,” Kohut said. “I just kept motivating them and they responded by staying alert and playing well.”

Marissa Castillo of the Aviano Saints attempts to score on Gianna Barea and Sofia Pasion of the Vicenza Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy.
Marissa Castillo of the Aviano Saints attempts to score on Gianna Barea and Sofia Pasion of the Vicenza Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Vicenza's Shalom Dejardin goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II girls volleyball championship game played at Vicenza. Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24.
Vicenza's Shalom Dejardin goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II girls volleyball championship game played at Vicenza. Vicenza won 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

The Cougars’ strong serving gave the Saints problems in the final. Julia Ridgely – named the tournament’s most valuable player – and Shalom Dejardin did much of the damage in the opening set. Marley Denton got Vicenza off to a good start in the second set, but the Saints came back to tie it at 20-20. After a few points back and forth, Kylie Panek served out another Cougar win.

Before the third set started, most of the fans – which included players and coaches and fans from all the other teams - were told to leave the gym due to coronavirus protocols.

So they didn’t see the Saints stay alive by taking the third set. Vicenza – the last school to win the title in 2019 since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out all of last season – wasn’t to be stopped, though. In a back-and-forth contest, the Cougars prevailed in the final set.

Sigonella's Maykayla Angela Abad attempts to score on McKenzie Smith and Mallory Smith at the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy, where Naples took third place.
Sigonella's Maykayla Angela Abad attempts to score on McKenzie Smith and Mallory Smith at the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy, where Naples took third place. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Rota's Brianna Leiba goes up for a kill with Caitlin Duggan of American School of Rome trying to block during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy.
Rota's Brianna Leiba goes up for a kill with Caitlin Duggan of American School of Rome trying to block during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

Naples took third place by defeating Sigonella 25-11, 26-24. Audrey Villarreal’s serving in the final set gave the Wildcats just enough of an edge for the win.

“I’m happy with the result of this game,” coach Biannca Recoder said. “We had a great time and my girls showed great sportsmanship, I’m really proud of them.”

The Wildcats bounced back from a 25-14, 18-25, 15-4 defeat at the hands of Vicenza earlier in the day. Strong serving from Fiona Hein and Denton led the way for Vicenza.

Jaycee Spence of the Aviano Saints goes up for a kill with Fabiola Mercado-Rodriguez  of the Sigonella Jaguars trying to block Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy.
Jaycee Spence of the Aviano Saints goes up for a kill with Fabiola Mercado-Rodriguez of the Sigonella Jaguars trying to block Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

“It’s obviously not the outcome we expected, but Vicenza came ready to play today and they played well enough to take advantage of our mistakes, which gave them the win,” Recoder said.

In the other semifinal, Aviano defeated the Jaguars – who in normal years would have been playing with other Division III schools in a different tournament – 24-26, 25-12, 15-5.

Sigonella broke a 24-24 in the opening set with two great defensive plays before the Aviano trio of Zurnia Dickerson, Elaina Holsclaw and Marissa Castillo propelled the Saints in the second and third sets.

Josie Villarreal of the Naples Wildcats goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy, on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Vicenza knocked off the top-seeded Wildcats in the semifinals and went on to win the tournament.
Josie Villarreal of the Naples Wildcats goes up for a kill during the DODEA-Europe Division II tournament in Vicenza, Italy, on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Vicenza knocked off the top-seeded Wildcats in the semifinals and went on to win the tournament. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

Boys

Like the Vicenza girls, the American Overseas School of Rome boys team won the volleyball championship tournament the school hosted Friday and Saturday.

The Falcons, led by tournament MVP Matteo Hon, downed Sigonella in the final 25-17, 25-16, 25-20. Hon had seven kills, five aces and two blocks in that contest, but had plenty of help including contributions from Kevin Lin (nine kills, five aces, five blocks) and Parker Huber (three kills). Both Lin and Huber were named All-Tournament as were Sigonella’s CJ Davis, Jeremy Reardon and Riley Coffren.

Naples defeated Vicenza 25-16, 25-16 for third.

Boys volleyball is a traditional sport south of the Alps in Europe and not played by DODEA schools in Germany. AOSR, again like Vicenza, won the last tournament in 2019 before coronavirus protocols wiped out the 2020 season.

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Norman covers the U.S. military in Northern Italy and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. He was born in Guatemala and raised in Rhode Island. He has more than 10 years of experience as an Army photojournalist and has served as a photojournalism instructor at the Defense Information School.
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