Defending champs face challenges to repeat
Stars and Stripes September 5, 2023
Change always is the name of the game when it comes to DODEA athletics. Yet, this European girls volleyball season, things seem more in flux than usual.
Division I champion Wiesbaden lost DODEA European athlete of the year Lyndsey Urick, Division II winner Aviano has just four players returning and Division III titlist Ansbach graduated five.
The movement isn’t felt just by the defending champions, either. Runners-up in Kaiserslautern (Division I) and American Overseas School of Rome (Division II) also face much turnover.
“I believe it’s a wide-open race,” AFNORTH coach Christopher Guest said of Division III. “All the teams are well coached, and I think it’s anybody’s tournament this year.”
One of the few teams that have some stability is Ramstein.
The Royals, who took third place in 2022, return seven seniors. That should be an advantage heading into the campaign.
“It always is nice for the girls that have already played together because they know what the other people are doing,” Ramstein coach Kandel Baxter said. “So, there’s a sense of familiarity, but that also means the teams we play against know what to expect.”
Here’s a look at teams across Europe, based on coaches’ responses:
The Dragons are looking to build off their fifth-place finish in 2022, and they bring back plenty of experience.
Aspen Williams, Jamie Goenen, Sofia Politis, Heather Meadows, Brooke Barbee, Avery Monohan, Elizabeth Schroeder and Kahlila Te’o return.
New to the team are Mireya Hernandez, Abigail Hudson, Isabella Minjarez, Maya Nachawati, Isabella Palomino, Lana Reyes, Georgia Brown, Paige Sander, Evangeline Cummings and Jaiden Ruth.
The Lions are two years removed from winning the Division III crown. They went 13-2 in the regular season before finishing fourth in the 2022 tournament.
Four are left from that championship squad in senior captains Isabella Guest, Sophia Mier and Bella Benedetto, who made the 2022 all-tournament team, and junior Selah Skariah. They are looking for another shot at a championship.
Juniors Richele Reyes and Hannah Chastain and sophomores Adelle Bown, Kaydence Ashwood and Annabel Olmsted bring back experience from last fall.
The Cougars are banking on a new crop of athletes to fill in for the five title-winning players who graduated.
Coach Deborah Keller-Mitchell said the team’s middles are big and move well and the team’s serving will be a strength.
Ansbach does have some experience back. Kennedy Lange earned first-team all-tournament and second-team all-European honors. The sophomore middle also paced the team in kills and blocks last fall.
Senior outside Trinity Batin led the team in digs and passing, and junior settle Natalie Ritter posted the best serving percentage for the Cougars. Also returning are senior middle Laila McIntyre and senior outside Kya Tuazon.
New to the team are junior right sides Emily Jones and Tamira Riley, freshman defensive specialist Marga Marazan and junior outside Abbi Ackles.
The Falcons aim to place high at the European tournament once again, as they have finished in fourth place or better four times during coach Claudio Olivieri’s eight years in charge.
That includes last year’s run to the final.
Leading the way for the young team are senior outside hitter Cristina Nespoli, senior opposite hitter Lana Djuraskovic, junior outside hitter Noya Lashevsky, junior middle blocker Opemipo Makinwa and sophomore setter and outside hitter Giulia Castellaneta.
New to the team are sophomore middle blocker Anastasiia Litochenko, freshman setter Gloria Rose Olivieri, freshman libero Rhyanna Rispoli and freshman outside hitter and libero Rosalyn Flowers.
The 2022 campaign seemed like it had to be the Saints’ year, with a high number of seniors and athletes on the way out. They made it count with a Division II European championship.
Now, the Saints enter either a rebuild or reload year. Just four players – setter Mayci Salmon, outside hitters Jaycee Spence and Stella Beckwith-Wolf and defensive specialist/outside hitter Kaleiana Alonzo – return.
Middle blocker Addison Krajicek transferred to Aviano in time for this campaign. Also new to the squad are juniors Emma Foulsham (outside hitter), Sophia Scavo (opposite hitter) and Nevaeh Zamora (defensive specialist) and sophomores Abigail Desporte (libero) and Clara Young (opposite hitter/setter).
The Falcons are looking to build off their 2022 campaign, which saw them get a win over DODEA competition during the tournament.
Coming back are Krystal Gray, Hannah Lamb, outside Brooklyn Barrett and setter Janessa Brown. Transfers are senior Elsie Williams, Aryianna Payton, Evelyn Jensen and Jayda Miller. Senior Haya Al-Nusuf joins the team, as do Jazmyn Goble and freshmen Jade Courts and Mitali Madan.
The Buccaneers are excited about the 2023 season and have a relatiely large squad.
Returning are seniors Aisis Jarmon (outside hitter), Adrianne Anku (right side) and Janet Phillips (middle) and sophomores Arlene Coronel (middle), Anylah Hughes (setter), Bella Anku (middle), Krisida Fejaeran (outside hitter) and Aaliyah Mikkelson (outside hitter).
New to the squad are sophomore transfer Dari Luna, who plays as an outside hitter, and junior middle Fredericka Danso.
The Brigands lost five to graduation and have eight freshmen with no prior volleyball experience.
Still, their lineup is full of returners. Senior outside hitter Patricia Rullan, junior setter Nora Gibbons, junior middle hitter Lucia Martinez, sophomore outside hitter Kathleen Rullan and sophomore libero Tessa Wedekind will play key roles. Freshman setter Taegan Muller joins from Wisconsin and sophomore middle blocker Grace Mamikonian will have an impact.
The Tigers struggled in 2022, and they will hope turnover can turn it around this fall.
Four varsity players return. They are complemented by three transfers and seven freshmen.
The Raiders lost much talent from their runner-up squad to graduation, but coach Zac Robinson said he believes they have reloaded with transfers and returners. Kaiserslautern also has more than height than in 2022.
Returners include senior middle Moriah Deane, senior setter Caren Mayorga, middle junior Mariska Campbell, senior outside Selam Foery, senior outside Libbie Bergeron and junior defensive specialist Kiana Zielske.
Junior libero Marisa Branch is coming off an injury, while junior outside Bianca Ocampo, sophomore middle Mia Hahn and senior defensive specialists Bevanie Cleark and Zoe Hudzikiewicz are moving up from the JV squad.
Sophomore outside Kelzey Kai, junior setter Kelisalani Yandall and sophomore middle Rozlynn Onnen transferred in.
The Lancers have nine players returning from their fourth-place finish in Division I.
A’Lydia McNeal should play a major role, coming off an all-star appearance. Also coming back are setter Olivia Bouchard, Joraika Rodriguez, Arianna Christian, Victoria Pina, Ashley Claire Christensen, Skye Flynn, Emma Wallace and Jaydn Jones.
New to the team are Jayla Ashley, Zoe Bovastro, Jaylee Bradshaw, Haedyn Hicks, Giuliana Marquez, Kaleigh Nix, Victoria Pina, Lilyonna Sheridan, Kera Tomassi and Audrey Young.
The Wildcats are seeking to replicate their 13-2 season that ended with a fourth-place finish at the European tournament.
To do so, they will rely on the experience of six returners. They include senior libero Ella Grace, junior middle Anna Gose, junior defensive specialist Ariyana Pablo, sophomore outside Blythe Averill, sophomore setter Emma Heavey and sophomore outside Emma Garcia.
Looking to break into the team are junior middle Mackinzi Dudley, junior defensive specialist Faith Lucero, sophomore setter Gracie Grannis, sophomore middle Chloe Williams, freshman defensive specialist Ariana Lopez, freshman outsides Eliana Hicks and Clair Olsen and freshman middle Guliyana Pablo.
The Royals enter this campaign with a mission to end their championship drought, with the last title coming in 2019.
Ramstein can turn to a group of seven returning seniors to reach that goal. Middle hitter Jasmine Jones earned first-team all-European and Division I all-tournament team honors. Defensive specialist Kayla Kim, setter Jazmyn Hall and outside hitter Sophia Schluth all played in the European all-star game last fall, with Schluth also being named a second-team all-European player.
Other returners include senior outside hitters Jillian Buckley and Kaitlyn Rex, senior defensive specialist Brooklyn Vaovasa and junior libero Emma Inthavixay.
Junior defensive specialist Norah Leastman and sophomore left hitter Amayah Payton join the varsity squad, while right hitter/libero M.J. Davis transferred from Palmer Ridge, Colo.
The Spartans want to turn heads under new coach Kate Maxson.
They will do so with a mostly new roster. Returning are senior outside hitter Jessica Moon, junior outside hitter Bella Smith and sophomore setter/right side Laura Casado.
New to the team are senior middle blocker Kayla Mckinney, junior outside hitters Ayse and Zeynep Telefoncu, junior setter/right side Juliette Laforest, junior middle blocker Sofia Tryon, junior left/defensive specialist Lily Tjeltveit and sophomore middle blocker/right side Andjela Vuksanovic.
The Sentinels are seeking to pick up right where they left off, which was a third-place finish last fall.
Setter Kaylee Lauer and right side Riley Lombardo return for their senior year. The rest of the roster will be made up of JV players jumping up to the varsity team. Also, middle hitter Maxine Diaz transferred into the school last spring and is entering her first season with the Sentinels.
The Panthers will look to bounce back from a down season and bring back plenty of experience to do so.
Stuttgart, though, must rebuild its middle-hitter position, as its taller players all graduated or transferred out.
Seven Panthers are back, beginning with all-European selections in setter Berea Bryan and defensive specialist/outside hitter Ayana Gomez. Also returning are outside hitter Charity Clements, libero Isabella Whaley, outside hitter Sara Houghton, hitter Laura Boom and defensive specialist/setter Katie Dollins.
New to the squad are defensive specialist/outside hitter Mia Synder, defensive specialist/opposite hitter Taryn Lockhart and middle hitter Hannah Holmes.
The Falcons are banking on a group of five seniors, headed by second-team all-European selection and all-star outside hitter Madison Bell and setter Emma Boyle. Also back for their senior campaigns are middle blocker Zabria Fakeye, libero/defensive specialist Kaylani Sandoval and right side Sarah Barrios.
Outside of the seniors, junior outside hitter Jayslin Santellano has varsity experience.
Moving up from the JV are sophomore defensive specialist/libero Ava Bentley, junior middle blocker/right side Emaline Overton, junior middle blocker/right side Kaitlyn Brewer, junior defensive specialist/libero Markayla Hill, junior setter/defensive specialist Julissa Neal and sophomore outside hitter Logan Riggan.