Saints will get a chance to defend their title
Stars and Stripes October 27, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Most teams struggle when they lose as players as Aviano did from last fall’s DODEA-Europe Division II championship squad.
The Saints brought back just four – setter Mayci Salmon, outside hitters Jaycee Spence and Stella Beckwith-Wolf and defensive specialist/outside hitter Kaleiana Alonzo.
Yet with that experience and the new girls on the team, the Saints keep rolling their way through Division II at the DODEA European volleyball championships at Ramstein High School. They went undefeated in pool play and defeated Vicenza 26-28, 25-22, 25-11, 25-22 in the semifinal round.
“I’ve been working on the culture of this team for about six years,” Aviano coach Michael Gros said. “Last year’s culture was phenomenal; this year’s culture is even better.”
Spence, who started for the Saints (16-2) in 2022, said the continued success doesn’t surprise her. In fact, the 5-foot-8 senior said new additions such as sophomore transfer Addison Krajicek filled the holes seamlessly.
“I felt like we could get back here,” Spence said. “Losing (the others) was hard, but I feel like everyone on this team is equally as good.”
The Cougars (12-5) got the better of the Saints early in their match on Friday. Vicenza staved off two set points at 24-23 and 25-24 and scored the final three points to seal the win.
Aviano jumped out to leads of 9-3 and 17-7 before taking the second game. Then, in the third set, the Saints led 9-1 and strung together runs of seven, six and five to take a commanding lead in the match.
The Cougars did hold a five-point advantage midway through the fourth set, but a 9-2 Aviano run gave the top seed a 22-20 lead before the Saints clinched the match.
“Our team is good about shaking things off and moving on,” Spence said of recovering from the first-game loss. “We’re just always there for each other and never get mad at each other.”
Spence and Krajicek played key roles in that bounce back.
Krajicek had five of her match-high 15 kills in the second set. All but one of her kills in the match were slams at or near the net, and her power seemed unstoppable at times.
Spence, meanwhile, spread out her 13 kills throughout the match, although four came as the Saints came back from an 18-13 deficit in the final set.
“Both of them are phenomenal players,” Gros said. “There’s always an opening, and somehow someway, they have the vision to find a hole and just put it there.”
With the win, the Saints move on to face fourth-seeded Black Forest Academy (5-10). The Falcons upset second-seeded Naples in a five-set thriller 22-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-17, 15-9.
Things seemed bleak for the Falcons early in the fourth set, as the Wildcats (13-4) led 14-8 and needed just one more set to seal the victory.
BFA responded with two runs of eight consecutive points to take the game. It then pulled away in the middle of the fifth set to take an 11-6 advantage and never look back.
“We’ve been trying to come back all season,” BFA coach Kim McKell said. “To be able to sustain a level of play that we could even compete with a team like Naples was very encouraging to our team. The fact that we were able to overcome that and get a victory was really special.”
The match really was all over the place, as the Falcons bounced back from dropping the opening set to smother the Wildcats in the second. They scored 15 of the first 17 points and cruised to a victory, thanks to nine aces. Senior setter Emma Gibson opened the game with four aces on her own, while senior outside hitter Anna Penner added two.
Then, in the third set, Naples jumped out to a 17-11 advantage and held on before the Falcons managed their late-match rally.
“It was back and forth tonight,” McKell said. “They’re a great team, so I was really thankful that we could come out on top.”
The Saints and Falcons, who met in pool play on Thursday in a 25-18, 25-21 victory for Aviano, will compete for the title 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Southside Fitness Center.