Royals ruin Panthers' drive for perfection with tight win
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The Saturday showdown between the Stuttgart Panthers and the Ramstein Royals for the 2019 DODEA-Europe Division I girls volleyball title was a match for the ages.
The No. 1 seed Panthers and the No. 2 seed Royals battled through five sets – and a bit beyond.
The deciding set kept the anxious fans packed into the Kaiserslautern High School gym on the edge of their seats, as the lead flip-flopped back and forth. The Panthers and Royals tied nine times before the Royals eked out a 21-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-23, 20-18 victory.
The hard-fought win released a torrent of emotions for the Royals, whom a year ago lost on the same court in the finals to Stuttgart.
“I’m so excited, I can’t believe it,” said senior setter Joselyn Rosado, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player in Division I. “I’m in shock right now.”
Rosado said the Royals were confident this year, trusted each other and saved their best game for their finals.
“We never played like this,” she said.
Key to Ramstein’s victory was at least blunting hard-hitting Karen Kosinski, a senior outside hitter who likely will play college ball. The Royals couldn’t stop her all of the time: Kosinski had 12 kills. But Ramstein found a way to keep many of her line drives in play, either blocking her shots from the net or digging them out in the backcourt.
Kosinski recorded some of her kills in the crucial fifth set, including a ball that hit inside the backcourt line to tie up the score at 17. The Panthers went up by one on the next play and it looked like victory was imminent. But then Lauryn Szczygiel blocked a Kosinski spike and Rosado aced her serve to put the Royals up 19-18. On the last play, Stuttgart hit the ball into the net, giving the Royals the win.
The Panthers, playing in their fifth-consecutive championship match and looking to defend their title after coasting undefeated through the season, started out shakily. Early on, Stuttgart let a few balls drop and hit a few serves into the net, but they eventually settled down and took the last five points of the first set.
Ramstein fought back in the second set with a balanced scoring attack from outside hitters Gigi Stake and Ahmarie Young and middle hitter Tamiya Bruce.
On the opposite side of the court, Kosinski and Skye DeSilva Mathis used a combination of hard and light strikes as they attacked the net, trying to keep Ramstein guessing where the ball was going to land.
Kosinski said she was disappointed to not win the title her senior year, “but, I put everything I had into it,” she said, “and I know my teammates did, too. It just didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.
“At the end of the day, if was kind of just our errors that brought us down.”
Kosinski added two aces and four digs. Junior setter Lindsey Sharp had an ace, three kills, seven digs and 15 assists for Stuttgart.
“I think Ramstein’s a really good team, but we could have done better,” a disappointed Sharp said after the game. “We missed a few of our serves and we weren’t covering. They deserved to win.”
Kandel Baxter, in her first year as varsity coach for Ramstein, said her team “has been working for this all year.”
When the Royals ceded the first set, Baxter gave them a pep talk. “I told them it’s now or never. They will always regret not leaving everything on the floor,” she told them.
Ramstein libero Lydia Coddington said she was worried when her team fell behind. “I was nervous, definitely the whole time, but our team, we work really well together and I’m really proud of us for coming together and beating them.”
Stuttgart coach Michael Rubino was gracious in defeat.
“I’m happy for Ramstein for winning,” he said. “You always hate to lose … but it’s good to see new blood come up and win and get into the top.”