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Vicenza’s Larkin Blue, left, sets as a pair of teammates get into position during a match with Aviano at the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Vicenza’s Larkin Blue, left, sets as a pair of teammates get into position during a match with Aviano at the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Aviano coach Michael Gros joked he is glad he doesn’t have any hair left on his head.

If he did, he probably would pull it out any time his volleyball team faces Vicenza.

Less than a week after winning two five-set matches against the Cougars, the top-seeded Saints had to go the distance again, this time in the second Division II pool-play match of the DODEA European championships at Ramstein High School on Thursday afternoon. And just like a week ago, Aviano pulled off the win 24-26, 25-18, 15-13.

“We know we can win,” Aviano freshman Sophia Fisher said. “Coach told us at dinner last night, it’s will over skill, and I think we wanted it more.”

The Saints did get out to a fast start, holding leads of 8-3 and 10-6, but after a Vicenza 14-4 run, Aviano spent the rest of the first set chasing. While it managed to make the score 24-24, the Cougars scored the last two points to clinch it.

The Saints struggled until midway through the second set, trailing 16-15 at one point. But that’s when Aviano turned it on. The Saints finished the set on a 10-2 run to even the match.

“We had to leave it,” Fisher said. “The girls on our team, we get in our heads, and I think we generally had to leave the first set and move on completely.”

In the third set, Fisher helped Aviano punch its ticket to the semifinals by recording four kills, including the last point.

Her coach had nothing but praise for the 5-foot-10 middle blocker from San Antonio, Texas.

“She’s something else,” Gros said of Fisher. “She’s the real deal, and she has more heart than she knows what to do with.”

Aviano players celebrate after clinching a three-set win over the Vicenza Cougars on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

Aviano players celebrate after clinching a three-set win over the Vicenza Cougars on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

Bahrain's Isabella Garza serves during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

Bahrain's Isabella Garza serves during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

Black Forest Academy's Diaz Gonzalez Lynnea, right, spikes the ball while, from left, Bahrain's Jillian Brown and Gabriella Vargas go for the block during pool play on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

Black Forest Academy's Diaz Gonzalez Lynnea, right, spikes the ball while, from left, Bahrain's Jillian Brown and Gabriella Vargas go for the block during pool play on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

Rota's Zoey Lee, right, goes up for the ball as Jourdan Timmons watches during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

Rota's Zoey Lee, right, goes up for the ball as Jourdan Timmons watches during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

That match wasn’t the only three-set thriller at Ramstein.

Bahrain and Rota also went the distance, and just like Aviano earlier, Bahrain recovered from a set disadvantage to win 15-25, 25-17, 15-13.

For the Falcons, the win meant more than just staying alive in the tournament. It also marked the first time they had defeated DODEA opponents this season. Bahrain faces mostly local competition, as traveling to take on other DODEA schools isn’t always possible.

“The level that we play when we’re playing at home, we’re playing locals, and it’s not as important to them as a sport,” first-year Bahrain coach Kesi Carter said. “So to actually win while we’re away with people that practice every week, we’re really excited. They really worked hard for it.”

Holding a 5-3 lead in the second set, the Falcons’ Isabella Garza stepped up to serve. The 5-11 junior outside hitter recorded three straight aces and four service points to extend the lead to 9-4.

Outside of a 2-0 Admiral advantage at the beginning of the third set, the Falcons didn’t trail the rest of the match.

“That was probably the happiest I’ve ever been,” said Garza, who totaled six aces in the match. “It took a while to get my serve down, so it paid off and I’m really proud of that.”

American Overseas School of Rome's Clara Clayton, right, goes for a spike as Annika Kravetsky watches during a pool-play match against Vicenza on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

American Overseas School of Rome's Clara Clayton, right, goes for a spike as Annika Kravetsky watches during a pool-play match against Vicenza on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

Naples' Aiyana Godfrey, top, blocks an attack from Black Forest Academy's Madeline Svanda during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes

Naples' Aiyana Godfrey, top, blocks an attack from Black Forest Academy's Madeline Svanda during pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday at Ramstein High School at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes ()

The Falcons will play for a chance at a semifinal appearance Friday with a matchup against the No. 2 seed Naples at 10:15 a.m. at Southside Gym. The Wildcats are 2-0 in pool play, while Black Forest Academy is 1-1, losing to Naples and beating Bahrain.

“I’m really proud of them, and we’re going to continue to grow and do better,” Carter said.

As for the Saints, they won’t have to worry about seeing Vicenza again. The Cougars dropped another three-set match later in the day, this time to American Overseas School of Rome 25-22, 19-25, 15-13.

author picture
Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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