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DODEA-Europe volleyball - Day 2

Three rematches for three season-ending titles

Naples' Natalia Woznicka tries to hit the ball through Lakenheath's Reese Estus, left, and Jayden Thormann during the DODEA-Europe semifinals at Vogelweh, Germany, on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 3, 2017

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The super six of DODEA-Europe is set.

The second day of the 2017 DODEA-Europe girls volleyball tournament produced finalists in all three divisions Friday evening via Division I and II semifinal matches and the conclusion of Division III round-robin play.

Defending champion Stuttgart will face Division I challenger Lakenheath, American Overseas School of Rome will face Bahrain for the Division II crown and Brussels will face reigning champion Sigonella for the Division III title. The three title matchups run consecutively, beginning with Division III, starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Vogelweh Fitness Center.

Division I

Lakenheath def. Naples 25-23, 23-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-9: The Lancers beat Stuttgart when the two teams met in the regular season. If they can do it again, they’ll be champions.

To arrange that rematch, the third-seeded Lancers had to survive a worthy challenge from the fifth-seeded Wildcats. The veteran Lakenheath team was motivated by the idea of extending its final run as a group.

“I think it’s just heart, honestly,” Lancer standout Maya Hagander said. “Most of our team is leaving. That was our one shot.”

The Lancers were the only team to beat the Panthers in the regular season, a 23-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22 victory on Oct. 14. Hagander said the team is “avoiding overconfidence” based on that victory, but isn’t intimidated by the reigning champs either.

“We know what we have to do and we do believe that we can do it,” Hagander said. “We just have to be able to do it (Saturday), when it counts.”

Stuttgart def. Ramstein 25-20, 25-20, 13-25, 25-17: The Panthers edged the Royals in an intense five-set marathon match on the last day of the regular season. The archrivals' inevitable postseason meeting seemed likely to be similarly competitive.

It wasn’t.

The anticipated semifinal fizzled into a mismatch as the top-seeded two-time defending champion Panthers dispatched the second-seeded Royals with relative ease.

Rather than this fall’s classic regular-season finale, Friday’s match had more in common with the Panthers’ three-set sweep of the Royals in last year’s European championship match. The Panthers faltered briefly in a disastrous third-set swoon, but otherwise claimed every set by a sizeable margin.

Stuttgart’s stomping of Ramstein came hours after it lost soundly to Naples in a pool-play match, albeit after the Panthers had already clinched their spot in the semifinals. Panther star Meadau Cunningham said Stuttgart took that setback as a “wake-up call” entering the elimination round.

“We used the pain from the loss to kick it up a notch,” Cunningham said.

The Panthers can draw on another loss in Saturday’s final - their regular-season defeat against Lakenheath.

“They are a good team,” Cunningham said of the Lancers. “But I have faith in my team that we can do this if we really, really fight for it.”

Division II

AOSR def. Marymount 12-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-18: DODEA-Europe’s two Roman programs brought their rivalry to the main stage Saturday, with the top-seeded Falcons getting the better of their sixth-seeded neighbor.

“It is interesting,” AOSR senior Mailea Huber said. “We go from playing in both of our hometowns to coming all the way to Germany just to play each other again.”

That familiarity produced equal parts confidence and trepidation for AOSR. 

The Falcons were confident they could recreate the success they’d enjoyed against Marymount in the regular season. But they’d seen enough of the Royals to know it wouldn’t come easily. Indeed, the Royals dominated the opening set before AOSR settled in. 

“We wanted to win, but we knew there was a possibility that if we didn’t do our best that we would lose,” Huber said. “It did help that we had played them before.”

Bahrain def. Black Forest 20-25, 25-18, 26-24, 24-26, 15-10: Two sets of Falcons turned in a high-flying classic of a Division II semifinal, sending the Bahrain Falcons on to a match with the AOSR Falcons.

Bahrain needed multiple attempts to subdue a Black Forest team that wouldn’t stay beaten. Bahrain won two straight sets after dropping the opener and were on the verge of closing out the semifinal in four when BFA stormed back to force a final showdown to 15. Bahrain took an early 6-1 lead in that one before BFA again staved off defeat. A final flurry including a key block by Tofunmi Sodeinde and the decisive ace by Farah Elashawy finally sent Bahrain to the final.

As per usual, Bahrain didn’t see any DODEA-Europe opposition in the regular season, but they’re a growing presence on the Division II scene. Bahrain reached last year’s semifinal round, has already improved on that showing this year and has a chance to reach the European pinnacle Saturday.

Division III

Sigonella has set the standard for small-school volleyball in recent years. This year, the Jaguars are meeting it all over again. The Jaguars completed an undefeated five-match run through pool play with three victories Friday to return to their familiar spot in the Division III championship match.

Sigonella will play on Saturday for its third straight European championship and its fourth in the last five years. Sigonella has played in every Division III championship match since 2012 and has won titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Brussels came the closest to knocking off the Jaguars in round-robin play, and will now get another shot at the reigning champs. Sigonella edged the Brigands 25-21, 22-25, 15-13 to hand Brussels a preliminary loss.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

Sigonella's Kristiana Wyrick, right, hits the ball over Brussels' Evin Harper during the DODEA-Europe volleyball championships at Vogelweh, Germany, on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.
MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

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