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Teams start off season by testing each other and themselves

Naples' Lena Dieryckx bumps the ball during the Wildcats' volleyball matchup with Kaiserslautern on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

KENT HARRIS/STARS AND STRIPES

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 14, 2018

VICENZA, Italy – The opening night of the 2018 DODEA-Europe volleyball season is a bit early to anoint the season-ending champion — but one of the four teams that took the court at Caserma Ederle on Friday night could very well earn that crown.

Still, each team will have their challenges to overcome first.

The Vicenza Cougars won only one of their four Division I contests last season before the tournament. With a limited schedule against large-school competition, Vicenza has to make the most of its opportunities.

The Cougars came close against perennial power Ramstein, eventually falling 25-15, 25-23, 15-25, 18-25, 15-6.

“I think they started believing in themselves,” coach John Kohut said of his team winning the second and third sets after blowing a very winnable second set. “We have to stay intense all the way until the end. We let up a little bit in the last set.”

The deciding set was the least competitive. The Royals scored four straight points — highlighted by a kill from Mia Johnson and an ace from Masaya Archbold to go up 6-3. Vicenza cut it to 8-6 eventually. But, Ramstein scored the final seven points with Ahmarie Young serving, and a kill apiece from Johnson and Tamiya Bruce during the run.

Ramstein won fairly comfortably in the opening set, but trailed 22-19 in the second. The Royals scored four straight to take the lead, but Vicenza tied it again. Two kills, including a set-clincher from Johnson, sealed the win.

Vicenza put together streaks of five straight, four straight, six straight and eight straight points to win the third, riding the net play of Julia Lombardi and Chenoa Gragg to even up the match in the fourth.

The Royals, with the largest talent pool to choose from in Europe, can still only put six players on the court at one time.

“We have a lot of really young talent,” coach Ashley Henriques said. “We’re trying to find out who plays well together and who should be in the starting lineup.”

Henriques acknowledged that having a deep bench is an asset. But figuring out who to play “can be also be a big problem.”

That’s a problem that cross-town rival Kaiserslautern would love to have.

Coach Aaron Scalise’s team did show some signs Friday of being more competitive this season, following a 3-10 overall mark last year (1-9 in D-I) after an 0-13 campaign the year before.

In fact, the Raiders took the opening set from Naples before bowing 25-27, 25-16. 25-20, 25-13.

“We just ran out of gas,” Scalise said.

The Raiders didn’t leave school until Friday morning and drove across the Alps, donned their uniforms and played.

“That’s not taking anything away from Naples,: he admitted. "They played well and deserved to win. But, we’re a bit tired and we’re not that deep.”

Naples led 24-18 in the opening set before the Raiders scored the final eight points to win. The Wildcats bounced back in the second and came out even stronger in the third, taking an 11-0 lead.

Kaiserslautern’s Angelina Popovic served her team back in the set with nine straight points. It was eventually tied at 20-20 before the Wildcats scored the final five points including a set-ending kill from Lena Dieryckx.

Naples scored six straight to forge an early lead in the fourth set. Kaiserslautern cut it to 9-6, but the Wildcats went on a 12-3 run before trading a few points to finish the match.

Ramstein takes on Naples and Vicenza plays Kaiserslautern in Saturday action.

harris.kent@stripes.com

Ramstein's Masaya Archbold watches Izzy Coddington set the ball in the Royals' 25-15, 25-23, 15-25, 18-25, 15-6 victory over Vicenza on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.
KENT HARRIS/STARS AND STRIPES

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