Saints cap perfect tourney to stay on throne
Stars and Stripes October 28, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany –Aviano’s Mayci Salmon understands a thing or two about championship squads.
The senior setter played a role in the Saints’ DODEA-Europe Division II title-winning squad in 2022. She was one of four players coming back from that team.
Despite the turnover, it didn’t take much for the 5-foot-7 Salmon to see the 2023 roster could be just as dominant.
“Even when we started working in the summer, there was a special connection, there was always that family connection,” Salmon said. “I knew from the start that we could get back-to-back championships.”
On Saturday at Southside Fitness Center on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the Saints did just that.
Aviano took care of a pesky Black Forest Academy team in four sets 25-19, 25-21, 24-26, 25-23 to win the Division II crown once again.
The chemistry within the team was seamless, even for those who just joined like Addison Krajicek. The sophomore moved to Italy from the Phoenix area, and she earned all-tournament honors and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“The culture at Aviano is so great,” said Krajicek, who had nine kills and five blocks in Saturday’s final. “There’s never been drama and there never will be drama. The goal isn’t always winning – it’s doing it for each other. I think that’s what sets us apart.”
Against the Falcons (5-11), the Saints (17-2) used their serves to put BFA on the backfoot.
Aviano recorded 18 aces throughout the match, with sophomore Abigail Desporte, junior Stella Beckwith-Wolf and senior Jayce Spence (seven kills) each recording four.
It was fitting the match ended with an ace from the libero Desporte.
“We’ve been practicing being aggressive on serves,” Aviano coach Michael Gros said. “We always tell them if you can’t serve, you can’t win, so we got to get the balls in play.”
BFA gave Aviano all it could handle and extended the match with a win in the third set. The Saints had match point at 24-23, but a kill by senior middle hitter Danielle Cherry, a block-point by senior opposite hitter Kalista White and a kill by senior outside hitter Anna Penner sealed the game for the Falcons.
Even in the fourth set, BFA led 23-22 following an ace from junior Xofia Pineda-Wood, but the Saints sealed it with the last three points. That stretch included a kill by Krajicek and the ace by Desporte.
“I always love playing BFA because they’re a good team,” Salmon said. “They bring out the best in us. We really put up a fight and so did they.”
Falcon coach Kim McKell said her team rued the mistakes they made, pointing out how most of those errors were cleaned up in the third set. A big reason the Falcons were able to claim it.
Still, McKell expressed pride in her players growing throughout the season, saying they were behind the rest of the teams in DODEA by a week because of when school starts for them. To make the finals – the first time for these athletes – was a great end.
“I’m super proud of the way the girls continuously improved,” McKell said. “Aviano’s a good team, and I was super happy we could get a set from them.”
As for Aviano, they lose just two seniors in Salmon and outside hitter Spence. Gros said seven players will be returning, and one of the girls on the team has a sister in eighth grade, for whom Gros already has high hopes.
Still, replacing the two graduating could prove tough in the quest for a three-peat.
“I think we have a chance, but they are two of the most vital players,” Krajicek said. “So, it will be hard without them.”