Ansbach ends Brussels’ storybook run to cap perfect season
Stars and Stripes October 28, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — After an epic semifinal battle Friday night, it would have been understandable if No. 4 seed Brussels faltered in the finals against defending-champ Ansbach on Saturday.
The Brigands went the distance against Sigonella, playing what had been up until then their best volleyball of the year to beat the Jaguars in five sets.
But rather than run out of gas, Brussels stepped on the pedal in the DODEA-Europe Division III volleyball finals on Saturday, taking a set from the No. 1 seed Cougars, who sailed into the finals without dropping a single set.
In the end, Ansbach prevailed 25-17, 17-25, 25-20, 25-20 to earn its second consecutive title.
“It was gritty not pretty,” said a relieved Cougars coach Deb Keller-Mitchell. “I love how mentally strong they were to get things done.”
Brussels seemed energized after winning the second set and gave Ansbach all it could handle the rest of the way.
The Brigands jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the third set on the steady serve from freshman Taegan Muller, who landed two aces in the early going. The Cougars clawed their way back to even it up at eight apiece, one of seven times the score was locked in a tie during the set.
Ansbach sophomore Kennedy Lange broke the last tie, at 19-19, with three consecutive points on serve. Brussels tried to stage one more comeback, pulling within two, 22-20. But Ansbach got the ball back after Brussels hit the ball into the net. A net violation made the score 24-20. Ansbach freshman Marga Marzan then finished the set off with an ace.
In the fourth set, the two teams battled back and forth, tying up the score at 11 each. Ansbach then began to pull away, at one point going up 21-16. Brussels closed the gap to three, 23-20, but, after Brussels couldn’t get the ball back over the net on a volley, Ansbach’s Kylah Tuazon closed out the set and the game with an ace.
Brussels’ junior middle blocker Lucia Martinez had the match of her life with eight kills, six blocks, and 11 digs.
“Lucia, she blocks like a champ,” Brussels coach Courtney Slack said. “She makes it really hard to hit at the net.”
Martinez tried to target Lange, a 6-foot middle blocker, who was named to last year’s all-tournament team.
Martinez said she tried to jump higher than Lange to get the ball over her. “It was the only way or else she’ll block it right down,” she said. She also looked for gaps in coverage. “They almost always had a hole,” she said. “So if I felt I couldn’t hit it (past Lange) I just pushed it right into the hole.”
But Lange was difficult to contain. She had 17 kills, four aces and 23 digs. Laila McIntyre, a senior middle blocker, also had a knack for finding holes on Brussels’ court, landing six kills to go along with three blocks and 21 digs.
Ansbach junior setter Natalie Ritter said the match turned into a mental battle for the Cougars after they uncharacteristically dropped the second set.
“Our passing, compared to what it was in the second match yesterday, was just a little bit off,” Ritter said, who recorded 19 assists and nine digs on the day. “We had to dig ourselves out.”
After struggling early on, “they just kept pushing and pushing,” Keller Mitchell said.
“We run a pretty complex offense for a pretty young and small team,” she said. “Learning to figure it out and the timing and sometimes our passes weren’t right there, but I love that they hung together, and they did exactly what they needed to do.”
Ansbach senior Trinity Batin, an outside hitter, keeps the offense humming, the coach said. “She’s my passer; my do-all. Her passes have just been phenomenal,” the coach said, noting that Batin gets the first hit on about 60% of serves throughout the season.
Batin was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after finishing with 31 digs in the finals.
Keller-Mitchell credited Brussels’ game as well: “We have seen them three times this season and they have just really grown as a team.”
A win would have been the cherry on top of an amazing run for the Brigands, who finished eighth in last year’s tournament. But they’re still pretty happy, Brigands junior setter Nora Gibbons said.
“We got a set out of Ansbach,” she said. “Which was one of our main goals. We really brought it today.”