Familiar faces hope to be back in familiar places
December 2, 2015
While attrition has rocked DODDS-Europe boys basketball, the organization’s girls teams exhibit a relatively high degree of continuity.
With one very notable exception.
The two-time defending champion Wiesbaden Warriors, the team that has dominated DODDS-Europe girls hoops in recent memory, might have descended from the stratosphere and landed squarely in the middle of the pack. The Warriors’ almost entirely new group of players now find themselves trading elbows with the same hungry programs their school has routinely roughed up over the last two years.
While Wiesbaden’s title is up for grabs, fellow reigning champions Bitburg and Baumholder are poised to launch sturdy defenses of their respective Division II and III crowns. All three quests for European glory begin this weekend as the 2015-16 DODDS-Europe girls basketball season opens.
Division I While there’s no guarantee that Wiesbaden’s title reign will end when the school hosts the European tournament Feb. 24-27, a lot will have to go very right for the Warriors to lift a third straight trophy.
Coach Jim Campbell welcomes back just one varsity player, junior forward Rosette Gray, from last year’s 13-1 juggernaut. Campbell allows that the Warriors “are in the midst of a rebuilding year.”
That’s welcome news for the rest of Division I, notably 2014-15 runner-up Ramstein and semifinalists Stuttgart and Vicenza.
The Royals return four starters in guards Desiree Palacios and Ashley Mateo and posts Lindsey Breton and Amethyst Rorie. That strong foundation would represent a threat to even the peak Warriors, much less this year’s developing Wiesbaden squad, with a challenging mix of shot-making and defensive aptitude.
Stuttgart, meanwhile, does the Royals one better in returning all five members of their starting lineup, headlined by high-scoring senior forward Jaxen Godfrey. Coach Melody Green calls the Panthers “hard-working, intelligent, unselfish players.”
Vicenza will send out many of the key players from the school’s run to the fall volleyball championship game, and the group could be similarly successful on the basketball court. The team has a new pair of coaches in Menwith Hill veteran Greg DeJardin and former championship-winning Vicenza boys coach Eric Wakefield; they’ll inherit a perennially successful program with six returning players, including scoring phenom Emma Knapp.
If a new champion is to emerge from outside of last season’s final four, it might come from Kaiserslautern. The Raiders boast an interchangeable squad of two-way weapons, including junior standout Althea Honan, and have the potential to build on last year’s solid 9-4 showing.
Lakenheath has half of its roster back from a year ago, while returning starting point guard Charity Hollingsworth is a capable hand at the helm of a dangerous Naples offense.
Vilseck and SHAPE will look to correct course after winless Division I seasons.
Division II There’s no weakened champion to be found at the Division II level, as reigning champ Bitburg returns standout players at every spot on the court.
Alexa Landenberger returns to run the point guard spot, from which she led the Barons in scoring last year. Elise Rasmussen is back as one of DODDS-Europe’s most physical and productive post presences. All-around contributor Victoria Porras will again patrol the wing, collecting momentum-swinging rebounds, steals and defensive stops while tossing in the occasional bucket. Meanwhile, four returning reserves are back to fill in the two vacant starting spots and round out the rotation.
If the Barons have a weakness, it’s their schedule. A shift from Region II to Region I removed large-school powerhouses such as Kaiserslautern, Ramstein and Wiesbaden from Bitburg’s slate, a move that should improve the team’s winning percentage but deny it the chance to test itself against bigger and badder opponents.
“I know I will miss facing off against the bigger schools,” coach Chris Howard said. “They tend to be deeper and push the smaller schools like us to their limits.”
Still, Bitburg will find plenty of worthy foes come tournament time. That list starts with Black Forest Academy, the team it held off for last year’s title. New coach Cynthia Kennedy inherits a solid team with four returning starters, including guard and key defender Anna Kragt, and the Falcons will play the kind of rigorous regular-season slate denied Bitburg this year.
Semifinalists AFNORTH and Hohenfels lurk as threats to Bitburg and BFA, while Aviano has a stellar backcourt in senior duo Jazmine Bell and Ashley Mills.
Division III Bringing back arguably the best player in DODDS-Europe girls basketball is a great way to launch a title defense.
That’s the plan from which the Baumholder Bucs are working this winter. Forward Eliyah Tillman, the reigning Stars and Stripes girls basketball Athlete of the Year, breakout star of the 2014-15 European tournament and centerpiece of the Bucs’ championship team, is back in Baumholder for her junior season.
While Tillman tends to dominate attention on the court, Baumholder is not without capable reinforcements. Senior guards Karina Inchauregui and Claudia Seal and sophomore post Imaya Sharpe are back as the Bucs return four starters from their title-winning roster.
Familiar adversaries Alconbury, Brussels and Sigonella each return their own key players in hopes of wresting the title away.