Ramstein co-captain Julia Atkins and Stuttgart senior Serenity Brown fight for the ball during a match April 27, 2024, at Stuttgart High School in Böblingen, Gemany.

Ramstein co-captain Julia Atkins and Stuttgart senior Serenity Brown fight for the ball during a match April 27, 2024, at Stuttgart High School in Böblingen, Gemany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

Longtime Ramstein girls soccer players can’t hide the bitterness in their voices when they recall their experiences this time of year.

In 2022, the Royals split the championship with Stuttgart when inclement weather canceled the final of the first tournament after the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, in 2023, the team went through the regular season unbeaten, only to fall to Lakenheath in the semifinals.

Those two results haunt the five players still wearing Ramstein’s royal blue and white from the co-title squad and a further seven who experienced last spring’s disappointment. Players such as junior co-captain Abby Belote.

“Having a co-championship sucked,” Belote said. “Having the loss last year sucked. I’m not going to sugarcoat it that it wasn’t (bad). It sucked.”

Heading into the 2024 DODEA European soccer championships Monday through Thursday in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, the Royals will be looking to put those demons behind them.

And as the top seed in the Division I tournament, Ramstein has as good a chance as any year to come out on top. The Royals (8-1, 6-1) would have gone unbeaten again this regular season if not for a forfeit erasing a 5-2 victory over Wiesbaden in the season opener.

Ramstein has outscored opponents 43-7 in its eight wins, with four of the seven allowed coming in a 7-4 away win at last season’s champion Stuttgart on April 26.

“I’ve been playing varsity since I was a freshman,” senior right winger Isabel Fischer said. “I would really like to win. It would mean a lot to me.”

It’s hard to find too many deficiencies in the 2024 roster.

The Ramstein backline consists of four players who have been together for three seasons. It begins with the center back pairing of Belote and fellow co-captain Jillian Buckley, a senior, while senior fullbacks Yazmin Martinez and Brianna Creamer handle the flanks.

In attack, Fischer continues to produce from her spot, and they picked up transfers in Claire Boynton, who has slotted into the No. 9 spot and can score at will, and Isabelle Donkin, who shares the attacking midfield role with returner Olivia Davis.

“We are a pretty balanced team,” said senior co-captain Julie Atkins, who has formed a steady partnership with fellow defensive midfielder Kyndra Brown. “There’s always things that all teams need to work on and we’re included in that group, but we have really experienced girls in all areas and I think we work really well together.”

The Royals understand their drive won’t be enough to get past the competition in Division I.

The Panthers are nipping at their heels, and while Lakenheath, last year’s runner-up, may not find the back of the net often, the Lancers still have proven tough to break down this campaign, allowing just nine goals.

All will be played out at Ramstein High School.

Division II

In her first two years in charge, Naples coach Alyson Parenteau pieced together her backline with athletes known for other sports, such as cheerleading or basketball.

Not that it didn’t work out, as the Wildcats won the DODEA Division II crown in 2023.

Yet when the players convened for tryouts this spring, the coaching staff noticed something different: The defense was going to have soccer players and not just athletes.

“(The coaches) said, ‘Well, we may not win, but we certainly aren’t going to lose because we are not going to get scored on,’” Parenteau said. “That sure enough proved to be true.”

The Wildcats enter the Division II European tournament, held in Reichenbach-Steegen, Germany, Monday through Wednesday before the championship game at Ramstein High School on Thursday, as the favorite to repeat. They went undefeated during the regular season and posted a goal differential of 28.

The defense played a major role in that. The Wildcats (8-0, 5-0) allowed just two goals all season – both in a 3-2 victory over Vicenza on April 27.

Parenteau credited the play of center back pairing of senior Amber Ozturkoglu, one of just four upperclassmen on the squad, and freshman Sonja Gottlieb. Their play has allowed fullbacks to make overlapping runs on the offensive wings.

That has added a dimension to an already potent offense. Forwards VaNae Filer, Emerson Shorey and Ava Williams returned and keep finding the back of the net. But joining them on the scoresheet are transfers Gracie Grannis and Jazmin Miranda and freshmen Avery Forbes and Kendall Detter.

“I know that yes, we do have superstars, but it’s a team effort,” Parenteau said. “You can’t play the game with one or two on the field. I need all 11 of them, I need them to support each other, I need them to assist each other.”

The Wildcats will need all those players – and more – during the tournament. Parenteau mentioned the team had just 11 available for Naples’ 7-0 win in the regular-season finale against Sigonella.

Looking to knock off Naples will be Black Forest Academy, which ended the season with three straight losses against D-I opponents; Vicenza, the only team to hold a lead against the Wildcats at any point this season; and Rota, which drew Vicenza 0-0 on April 6 and is 3-0-2 vs D-II opponents.

AFNORTH midfielder Rowan Moreno hits a short corner during a match against Black Forest Academy on April 20, 2024, at Ramstein High School on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

AFNORTH midfielder Rowan Moreno hits a short corner during a match against Black Forest Academy on April 20, 2024, at Ramstein High School on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

Division III

AFNORTH has struggled to rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to coach Christy Wise.

That’s what has made this season so special – and another reason why Wise expressed hope the 2024 squad can come out on top in the Division III tournament this week.

Monday through Wednesday will be played at Landstuhl, while Ramstein will host the championship match Thursday.

The Lions enter the tournament with a 5-2 record but, most importantly, are 4-0 against Division III opposition. The only team they haven’t seen is Sigonella, which has just one league match this season but has an overall record of 3-3-1.

“It would mean a lot to those players who really have been putting in the work so that when we step on the field, they’re ready,” Wise said. “They know they’ve done everything they can to be prepared, and we feel strongly that we have every chance to finally win the championship since returning from COVID.”

Wise pointed to the performances of seniors Rowan Moreno, Isabella Guest, Bella Benedetto, Selah Skariah and Finja Liebing, juniors Maggie Masse and Shannon O’Conner, and freshman Emery Koger as key contributions to the team’s success.

“Anytime our players are in a spot where they need some support, they need an open teammate, then they know they can always rely on somebody being there to help with a support position,” Wise said. “There aren’t too many players who just do it all. It’s a true team effort, it’s a true chemistry between all the players.”

author picture
Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now