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OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A year after Osan American became just the second DODDS-Pacific school to win more than one Far East High School Girls Volleyball Tournament title, the question now is, can the Cougars do it again?

On paper, the answer might seem to be no. Six of 10 players graduated or transferred, and coach Brian Swenty has moved to Germany.

But three of the four returners — do-everything seniors Celine Baldevia and Laura Vega, and junior defensive specialist Nicole Sparks — were critical to the Cougars’ fortunes last season. And Osan’s new coach, Cari Pease, has extensive playing and coaching experience.

"I’m excited," said Pease, who played at Texas-San Antonio and coached clubs for six years and a 3-A Bandera (Texas) high school team for one.

She refers to Baldevia and Vega as "my two firecrackers" who provide important on-court leadership. "They’re out for blood. And we have some new players who I think will improve and contribute quite a bit."

Perhaps least surprised by Osan’s 2007 success were the Cougars themselves, who beat Faith Academy twice in one day Nov. 9, the second time for the championship.

It was Osan’s second Class A title. Only Zama American, at the Class AA level, has won more than one.

Osan is small potatoes compared to where Pease matriculated as a player and coach. Osan’s enrollment is around 240; 3-A schools customarily have 150 to 200 students per grade and volleyballers play club ball year-round.

Still, Pease seems pleased with the abilities of the core of three, two of whom, Vega and Sparks, traveled from New Jersey to Puerto Rico and points in between attending camps to sharpen their game. Sparks worked on hitting, while Vega worked on setting, Pease said.

"I’m confident," Pease said. "With my experience and their experience, we’ll just put it together and pick up where we left off last year."

That won’t be possible for South Korea’s other spiking success last year, Seoul American, which 29th-year coach Denny Hilgar said is starting at "ground zero, square one" after graduating most of its lineup following its third-place Class AA tournament finish.

The departures of key cogs Avianca Manning (walked on at Florida A&M), Gabriella Matautia (high school in Hawaii) and Kristina Queen (high school in Colorado) have left Hilgar’s cupboard bare.

"I think we have the talent," Hilgar said of the likes of sophomore Liz Gleaves and senior Vanessa Bruce, but setting is an issue. "The kids are working hard, but they don’t know what they’re working toward. They don’t have that Far East tournament experience."

Team capsulesClass AA

South Korea

Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison Coach: Denny Hilgar, 29th seasonKey performers: Liz Gleaves, So., OH; Vanessa Bruce, Sr., OH; Megan Chase, Jr., MB (transfer from Battlefield High in Haymarket, Va.); Hannah Swafford, Fr., setter (transfer from Enterprise, Ala.).Overview: What Hilgar calls the "mother of all rebuilding jobs." Last season may have been the last big chance for Hilgar, due to retire in two years; Falcons came within a semifinal defeat of reaching Center Court at Far East. Now, the Falcons begin anew from rock bottom. Must work on developing a setter. Lacking experience and depth.

Guam

Guam High Panthers, Asan Coach: Vaughn Mesa, first season (has coached many years at other Guam schools)Key performers: Estella Diaz, Sr., def.; Sanna Sullivan, Sr., MB; Emily Hoyle, Jr., WH; Korrine Brown, Jr., MB; Aubree Blend, Jr., setter; A.J. Charfauros, So., setter.Overview: Reloading-contending. A year older, a year wiser, the Panthers have already finished second in the preseason Shieh Tournament after going a paltry 1-15 last season. Could make a deep run in Far East tournament the Panthers will host in November.

Okinawa

Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base Coach: Greg Rosenberger, second seasonKey performers: Emily Tate, Sr., OH; Aja’ Walker, Jr., MB-OH; Abbi Shapiro-Kinghorn, Jr., OH; Riley Witschen, Jr., OH; Alexis Youngerin, So., setter; Sierra Douglas, So., MB-OH; Sophia Duplon, So., def.-setter (transfer from Yokota); Carolin Robles-Graham, Fr., WH.Overview: Contending. Solid core of experienced veterans and youth with potential; must improve consistency in doing the little things (serving, passing) before taking the leap back into the Final Four Kadena last reached in 2003.

Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster Coach: Chris Kelly, third seasonKey performers: Rina Ihu, Sr., OH; Gabby Falco, Jr., MB; Carrie Thompson-Davis, Sr., OH-MB; Ku’uleialoha Ampong, So., setter.Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. Good veteran core, but without some move-ins, may be a good middle-of-the-road team, but no better.

Japan

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base Coach: Avelino Garrido, second seasonKey performers: Mary Niemeyer, Jr., OH; Chelsea Kahoonei, Sr., setter; Marina Nakayama, So., setter (transfer from Zama American); Camille Kawamoto, Sr., OH-WH-MB (transfer from Hawaii); Mika Taylor, Jr.; Victoria Hollingshead, Jr.; Jala Wourman, Jr.; Zanetra Gordon, So.; Yasmin Espree, So.Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. Could be a darkhorse, at least within DODDS-Japan, and possibly place high at Class AA, too. Will be strong defensively, but will also be one of the shorter teams in the league.

Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base Coach: Jill Miller, first seasonKey performers: Mina Edenfield, Sr., def.; Corina Coleman, Jr., setter; Elise Chang, So.; Lauren Miller, Sr.; Sherry Moss, So., Momo Sahara, Jr. (last four move up from junior varsity).Overview: Rebuilding. New coach Miller has a scant few days to get acquainted with a relatively inexperienced team and make it competitive.

Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama Coach: Veronica Tipton-Jones, first seasonKey performers: Kristen Dulay, Jr.; Julia Kreag, Sr.; Alexis Okumura, Jr.; Alyssa Prather, So.; Yuri Fisher, So.; Yurie Tanaka, So. (last three move up from junior varsity).Overview: Rebuilding. Plenty of promise and potential, as the JVs took first place in DODDS-Japan and second in an invitational tournament at Yokohama, but only four varsity players return.

Class A

Japan

E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval Base Coach: Michael Seitz, 10th seasonKey performers: Nina Navarro, Jr., MB; Sophia Man, So., MB-OH; Sarina Renick, So., setter; Kaelum Messer, Jr., setter.Overview: Rebuilding. May be the shortest team Seitz has ever had, if that’s possible. Only seven players out so far. May have to deal with attrition as season wears on.

Matthew C. Perry Samurai, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Coach: Jewell Weiss, fourth seasonKey performers: Jocelyn Shulock, Sr., setter; Bria Raines, So., OH; Miranda Croom, Jr., MB; Kristen Leikwold, So., MB; Arianna Mocarski, So., libero; Nora Abbas, So., OH; Heather Hyson, Jr., setter; Kelli Clark, So., MB; Liz Silva, Sr.; Kelsey Peterson, Jr.; Amanda Gaddis, So.; Victoria Pelletier, Fr.Overview: Reloading. Goodly number of experienced and returning players; just looking for the right court chemistry.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air Base Coach: Sarah Richardson, 17th seasonKey performers: Renita Jones, Sr.; Sarah Zedeker, Sr.; Shamaya Stewart, So. (junior varsity move-up); Dominique Davis, So. (junior varsity move-up); Jessica Bergman, Jr. (transfer from Virginia).Overview: Rebuilding. Bergman may be Richardson’s most promising player, one who can smack the ball inside the 10-foot border; biggest worry is getting the ball to her. A setter is Richardson’s most pressing need.

South Korea

Osan American Cougars, Osan Air Base Coach: Cari Pease, first seasonKey performers: Celine Baldevia, Sr., setter-MB; Laura Vega, Sr., setter-MB; Nicole Sparks, Jr., libero; Angela Thompson, So.Overview: Reloading in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference, contending for second straight Class A title. New coach played at Texas-San Antonio and has extensive club and high school coaching experience. Will make a deep run at Class A repeat.

Daegu American Warriors, Camp George Coach: Joanna Wyche, first seasonKey performers: Rebekah Wyche, Sr.; Kristina Bergman, So.Overview: Rebuilding. Only two other players with varsity experience, coming off the bench last season; otherwise, almost an entirely new team. "We have our work cut out for us," coach Wyche said.

Key dates

Saturday, Oct. 18-Saturday, Oct. 25Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam playoffs

Thursday, Oct. 30-Friday, Oct. 31KAIAC Girls Division I Tournament, Seoul American High School, South Post, Yongsan GarrisonKAIAC Girls Division II Tournament, Gyeonggi Suwon International School

Monday, Nov. 3-Friday, Nov. 7DODDS-Pacific Far East High School Girls Class A Tournament, Daegu American School and Kelly Fitness & Sports Center, Camp Walker, South Korea

Monday, Nov. 3-Saturday, Nov. 8DODDS-Pacific Far East High School Girls Class AA Tournament, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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