It’s not always pretty, but Wildcats keep winning
Stars and Stripes October 26, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Naples coach Biannca Recoder admitted it was wishful thinking the Wildcats would make things easy during the first day of the DODEA European volleyball championships on Thursday.
She knew her charges too well to believe it to be true when they stepped onto the floor at Ramstein High School.
Recoder’s premonition proved correct. The Wildcats survived upset-minded Rota 17-25, 26-24, 15-8 in their first match of the day and followed it with a three-set victory over third-seeded Vicenza 25-23, 24-26, 15-8.
“I was hoping they would make it easier for me, but today has been really stressful,” Recoder said. “When they want to play, they play, and sometimes they let up a little bit. That’s when things get stressful.”
In the first match, Naples (13-2) found itself in deep trouble early, dropping the first set and trailing midway through the second set. The Wildcats managed to get back into it, and after trading points back and forth with the Admirals, they closed it out before pulling away in the decisive set.
Then, against the Cougars (11-4), Naples held a seven-point advantage midway through the second set before it evaporated thanks to a Vicenza run. The Wildcats still had a chance to seal the match while leading 24-23, but a mishit gave the Cougars life.
Vicenza scored the final three points to force a third set, in which Naples once again pulled away.
Despite the drama, Naples displayed the resiliency its coach said they had worked on throughout the season just in preparation for the tournament.
“We’re a little short tempered,” senior libero Ella Grace said. “We’re trying to work on that little by little, but we’re able to come back with a little push from everybody. We’re able to help each other out, readjust and come back stronger than we were before.”
Still, the Wildcats showed off their potential in the third set against Vicenza. Trailing 6-5, they strung together seven straight points and finished the match on a 10-2 run.
When her players get like that, Recoder said they are tough to vanquish.
“When they get on a roll, they start having fun,” she said. “You can see them smiling, you can see them getting really hyped, and when they get that, I feel like they’re unbeatable. They can do whatever they want.”
Naples avoided two setbacks on a day when near upsets were afoot.
Fourth-seeded Black Forest Academy came back to beat fifth-seeded Bahrain 15-25, 25-21, 17-15, and American Overseas School of Rome pushed Vicenza to three sets before losing 25-15, 19-25, 15-8.
The Admirals, meanwhile, did get the upset they sought with a 25-16, 25-17 over sixth-seed BFA.
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – When Patricia Rullan was a sophomore and coach Courtney Slack took over the reins of the Brussels volleyball program three years ago, things looked bleak.
Just one player ever had touched a volleyball. It led to a rough season in which the Brigands didn’t win a single set, let alone a match.
Fast forward to 2023, and Brussels is a completely different team. During Division III pool play of the DODEA European volleyball championships at Kaiserslautern High School, the fourth-seeded Brigands defeated fifth-seeded Spangdahlem 25-21, 26-24.
It marked the first time the Brigands (7-5) had beaten the Sentinels (3-7) under Slack, according to Rullan.
“It’s like we’ve come full circle,” said the 5-foot-10 outside hitter, who only could play in the back row on Thursday due to an injury. “We played amazing. It was really high stress, but I think we all handled it really well.”
The stress of the second match came after an opening loss to the top seed in Ansbach 25-11, 25-15. Coupled with Spangdahlem’s 25-10, 25-12 win over Baumholder earlier, the Brigands were staring down elimination with a loss.
Having not played in the regular season, Slack said Brussels didn’t know what to expect from the Sentinels. Despite winning in straight sets, she said Spangdahlem gave the Brigands a run for their money.
“We knew we were going to start the day with maybe a disappointment,” Slack said. “We didn’t know how (Spangdahlem) played, and man, their blocker is top notch. But I’m so glad we pulled it out.”
The victory puts Brussels in the driver’s seat for a ticket in Friday’s semifinal round. All the Brigands need is a win over the Buccaneers, and they are set.
It’s a far shot from where Slack picked up the program three years ago.
“It’s just exponential growth,” she said. “It’s not even building the program – the girls have just exponentially grown.”
Ansbach, Sigonella and AFNORTH all are 2-0 in pool play, with the latter two already clinching a spot in the semifinals.