It'll be all Italy in medium school championships
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 21, 2020
The basketball championship games between DODEA-Europe’s medium-sized schools will come down to four teams that know each other very well.
In boys action, Naples takes on Aviano at 6 p.m. Saturday at Wiesbaden High School. The Saints emerged from a three-way tie with Vicenza and Rota to claim the second spot in the seven-team field and will try to even the season series with the Wildcats at 2-2 with a win in the title game. Naples clinched the top spot with a 47-45 overtime win over Bahrain in the final game of round-robin play.
The girls title game, set for 4:30 p.m. at Wiesbaden High School, features Naples against Vicenza. The two teams have also played each other three times this season.
Naples defeated Aviano 41-31 on Thursday to take the driver’s seat in the seven-team field with a 4-0 record. But the Wildcats then lost to surging Rota 34-23 on Friday and had to defeat Bahrain to avoid a four-way tie atop the field.
“It’s better than losing,” Naples coach Craig Lord said of the tight win. “You always want to go into the finals with a win.”
As it was, the Saints earned the tie-breaker with Rota and Vicenza – with all teams at 4-2 – by having beaten the other two schools head to head in round-robin play. That included a 43-29 win over Vicenza in a late round-robin game on Friday.
Aviano coach Kevin Lehde said five teams in the field – including American Overseas School of Rome, which was unbeaten entering the tournament – could have easily reached the finals.
He lauded the play of Aviano senior Gabriel Hodgson, “the heart of our team. He’s willed us to victory several times during his time here.”
Naples topped Aviano in 42-32 in overtime Jan. 31, the first time the two teams played. Aviano won 47-45 the next day.
“I do not anticipate [Naples] bringing anything other than their best game” on Saturday, Lehde said.
Aviano hasn’t won a basketball title since legendary coach Ken McNeely retired a decade ago.
“We know this is our opportunity,” Lehde said.
Lord said he thinks his team should have probably won at least a few more of its close games this season.
But “every loss we took it as a learning experience,” he said. “That’s true of the Rota game today as well.”
The series between the two teams this season has been lopsided – at least on paper - with Naples having won the first three.
No. 3 seed Vicenza needed to defeat No. 1 seed Aviano in its final round-robin game to reach the title game and did so, 21-18. The Cougars had lost both of their previous games to the Saints during the season. But they used a box-and-one defense on Aviano standout Mikyla Harkley to hamper the Aviano offense.
“We did a good job on her,” Vicenza coach Greg DeJardin said, citing the play of Olivia Martel and Hope Bello on defense.
As usual, Claire Troiano led the offense, finding other players for baskets and hitting key shots herself, DeJardin said.
That came after a 42-36 Cougars’ win over American Overseas School of Rome to begin Friday’s play.
The second-seeded Wildcats’ road Friday was much easier: a 32-8 rout of Rota was followed by a 38-22 win over AOSR.
Coach Tim Smith said his team needs to play better against the Cougars than they did against the Falcons.
“They just hung around,” he said of AOSR. “And we were kind of flat.”
Serena Alderson led Naples with nine points and Roxanne Sasse had eight points and six assists.
Sasse, an All-Europe selection a year ago, missed both of the team’s games against Aviano this year – the Wildcats’ only losses.
Not only is she the team’s point guard and leading scorer, but she’s the lead “1” on the team’s 1-3-1 zone defense.
“She’s very frustrating” to opponents, Smith said.
Naples defeated Vicenza 48-26 in a round-robin game on Wednesday, but Smith said he expects to see a different team in the finals.
“We know they have two very good players,” he said of Troiano and Brealin Redecker. “Size-wise, they’re bigger than we are and they’ll take advantage of that.”
Troiano was hurt in the teams’ first meeting of the year and missed the next game.
The two schools played each other for the Division II volleyball title in November, with Vicenza prevailing.