If only for one day, it looked like 1999 all over again for coach Denny Hilgar and Seoul American.
Avianca Manning, Gabriella Matautia and the Falcons soared into their first Far East High School Girls Class AA Volleyball Tournament semifinal in eight years on Thursday. They rallied past Notre Dame of Guam 16-25, 25-16, 16-14 at University of Guam Field House.
The last time the Falcons reached such lofty heights also came in the UOG facility, when Seoul American lost the 1999 final to Academy of Our Lady of Guam — a fact that Hilgar, in his 28th year of coaching the team, reminded his team before Thursday’s match.
“We last reached the Final Four and we last reached the finals in this very gym,” Hilgar said after the first of Thursday’s quarterfinals. “This was pretty good for them. They’re excited.”
It was a goal that Hilgar said the team had been eyeing all season, although there were some times when things were “touch and go,” he said. Three times, the Falcons fell to Seoul Foreign during the regular season, but Hilgar said all that’s behind them now.
“I just told them to leave it all out there on the floor, or we would be playing for fifth place,” Hilgar said.
While the Falcons’ M&M girls, Manning and Matautia, have been the “lynchpins” of the team this season, the entire roster stepped up against Notre Dame.
The teams split their pool-play sets on Monday by 25-24 scores, but Thursday’s rematch started off one-sided in favor of the Royals. “We weren’t covering, we couldn’t get the passes” to setter Kristina Queen, Hilgar said.
The second and third sets were markedly different. “They picked it up, they started covering, getting the passes right. Nos. 14 and 15 (Manning and Matautia) put the team on their shoulders, but everybody else hustled.”
The Falcons faced 2005 tournament champion Christian Academy In Japan in Friday’s semifinals. The Knights earned their berth by getting past scrappy Nile C. Kinnick in the second quarterfinal match 25-10, 25-19.
Hours before, Kinnick coach Al Garrido celebrated a homecoming when his Red Devils — thought to be rebuilding with just one returning player — shocked his old team, John F. Kennedy of Guam, 25-21, 12-15, 17-15.
“That was our biggest victory for us this season,” Garrido said, adding that the victory was “bittersweet, coming against my former team, but it was more sweet than bitter.”
Kinnick has never finished higher than fourth in this tournament, and can’t do better than fifth this time. But Garrido feels his team is well on its way to matching and exceeding such efforts in the future.
Aside from beating JFK, the Red Devils took a set for the first time in school history off nine-time tournament champion Academy of Our Lady of Guam. Kinnick missed playing in the Gold Division, and earning one of the top four playoff seeds, by two points.
“We did quite a few things that were landmark,” Garrido said. “This team is making history as we speak. This shows that four months of hard training can overcome teams like that.”
The tournament will crown a new champion on Saturday afternoon; Guam champion George Washington dethroned defending champion American School In Japan 16-25, 25-20, 15-8.
Overtime served as a prevailing theme for the Class A tournament in Daegu, South Korea, where four teams played four matches in 12 hours in Thursday’s playoffs.
For the second time in the tournament, Osan American played a five-set thriller and beat International School of the Sacred Heart of Tokyo, 16-25, 25-21, 15-25, 25-15, 15-6.
“Total roller coaster,” coach Brian Swenty said of the back-and-forth contest, in which libero Nicole Sparks played a key role defensively and the Cougars served 100 percent in the fifth set.
“That was the difference,” Swenty said, adding that the Cougars wanted to attack the Symbas’ serve-receive. “We found a couple of weaknesses there and exploited them. That was our gameplan.”
The victory put Osan in Friday’s winner’s bracket final against Faith Academy. And it came after Osan had played two earlier matches Thursday; the Cougars on Friday needed to beat Faith, then win once more in the championship match to capture their first title since 2001.
While Osan played three times on Thursday, host Taegu American was one of the unlucky ones who played four.
The 2005 champion Warriors beat Matthew C. Perry of Japan in straight sets, lost to Faith in four, then ousted International Christian-Pyongtaek and Korea International — whom the Warriors faced for the fifth time in two weeks.
“We have a tough road, but anything’s possible. We have to dig deep,” coach Jennifer Sharp said. “But if you had asked me three weeks ago if they could compete against teams like this, I’d have said no way.”
Osan escaped a four-match grind, having earned the No. 2 playoff seed. The top four seeds each earned first-round byes.
But even playing one less match, teams vying for berths in Friday’s championship match still had a rough road to hoe, Swenty said.
“It’s a nightmare” if a team doesn’t remain in the winner’s bracket, he said. “The team that wins out (in the winner’s bracket) will usually win the whole thing.”
Class AKelly Fitness & Sports Center, Camp WalkerTaegu American School, Camp George Daegu, South KoreaDouble-elimination playoffsThursday’s matchesMatch A-Taegu American, South Korea, def. Matthew C. Perry, Japan, 25-9, 25-16, 25-15Match B-Korea Int’l def. Global Visions Christian, South Korea, 25-20, 25-12, 25-17Match C-Yongsan Int’l-Seoul def. ICS-Pyongtaek, South Korea, 25-6, 25-15, 25-20Match D-E.J. King, Japan, def. Kyoto International University Academy, Japan, 25-18, 13-25, 25-13, 25-23Match E-Faith Academy, Philippines, def. Taegu American 26-24, 24-26, 25-20, 25-6Match F-Morrison Christian Academy, Taiwan, def. Korea Int’l 25-17, 25-8, 25-15Match G-Osan American, South Korea, def. Yongsan Int’l-Seoul 25-20, 25-5, 25-21Match H-Sacred Heart, Tokyo, def. E.J. King 25-21, 25-11, 25-18Match I-Taegu def. ICS-Pyongtaek 25-13, 25-23, 25-13; ICS-Pyongtaek eliminatedMatch J-Korea Int’l def. Kyoto Int’l University Academy 25-20, 25-10, 25-21; Kyoto Int’l University Academy eliminatedMatch K-Yongsan Int’l-Seoul def. M.C. Perry 25-9, 25-22, 25-15; M.C. Perry eliminatedMatch L-E.J. King def. Global Visions Christian 25-18, 25-20, 15-25, 25-27, 15-13; Global Visions Christian eliminatedMatch M-Faith Academy def. Morrison Christian Academy 25-23, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23Match N-Osan American def. Sacred Heart, 16-25, 25-21, 15-25, 25-15, 15-6Match O-Taegu American def. Korea Int’l 25-13, 25-23, 25-21; Korea Int’l eliminatedMatch P-E.J. King def. Yongsan Int’l-Seoul 19-25, 25-9, 25-19, 15-25, 15-13; Yongsan Int’l-Seoul eliminatedFriday’s matchesMatch Q-Morrison Christian Academy vs. Taegu American, 9 a.m.Match R-Sacred Heart vs. E.J. King, 10:30 a.m.Match S-Faith Academy vs. Osan American, noonMatch T-Match Q winner vs. Match R winner, 1:30 p.m.Match U-Match S loser vs. Match T winner, 3 p.m.Match V-Match S winner vs. Match U winner, 5 p.m.Match W-Match S winner vs. Match U winner, if Match S winner loses Match V, 6:30 p.m.
Class AAUniversity of Guam Field House Mangilao, GuamSingle-elimination playoffsThursday’s matchesMatch 1-St. John’s, Guam, def. Zama American, Japan, 22-25, 25-12, 15-9Match 2-Kubasaki, Okinawa, def. Hong Kong International 25-10, 25-20Match 3-Yokota, Japan, def. Edgren, Japan, 25-13, 25-23Match 4-Kinnick, Japan, def. John F. Kennedy, Guam, 25-21, 12-25, 17-15Match 5-Seoul American def. Guam High 25-14, 25-17Match 6-Notre Dame, Guam, def. Simon Sanchez, Guam, 25-19, 25-13Match 7-George Washington, Guam, def. Kadena, Okinawa, 25-15, 25-15Match 8-Southern, Guam, def. Seisen International, Tokyo, 24-25, 25-12, 15-12Match 9-Christian Academy in Japan def. St. John’s 25-14, 25-11Match 10-American School in Japan def. Kubasaki 25-23, 25-11Match 11-Academy of Our Lady of Guam def. Yokota 25-22, 25-17Match 12-Seoul American def. Notre Dame 16-25, 25-16, 16-14Match 13-Christian Academy in Japan def. Kinnick 25-10, 25-19Match 14-George Washington def. American School in Japan 16-25, 25-20, 15-8Match 15-Academy of Our Lady of Guam def. Southern 23-25, 25-23, 15-13Friday’s matches Match 16-Zama vs. Kubasaki, 8 a.m.Match 17-Edgren vs. St. John’s, 8 a.m.Match 18-Hong Kong International vs. Yokota, 9:30 a.m.Match 19-Seisen vs. Match 16 winner, 9:30 a.m.Match 20-Simon Sanchez vs. Match 17 winner, 11 a.m.Match 21-John F. Kennedy vs. Kadena, 11 a.m.Match 22-Guam High vs. Match 18 winner, 12:30 p.m.Match 23-Notre Dame vs. Match 19 winner, 12:30 p.m.Match 24-ASIJ vs. Match 20 winner, 2 p.m.Match 25-Kinnick vs. Match 21 winner, 2 p.m.Match 26-Southern vs. Match 22 winner, 3:30 p.m.Match 27-Match 23 winner vs. Match 24 winner, 3:30 p.m.Match 28-Match 25 winner vs. Match 26 winner, 5 p.m.Match 29-Seoul American vs. Christian Academy In Japan, 6:30 p.m.Match 30-George Washington vs. Academy of Our Lady of Guam, 8:30 p.m.Saturday’s matchesMatch 31-Match 27 loser vs. Match 28 loser, 9 a.m., seventh and eighth placeMatch 32-Match 27 winner vs. Match 28 winner, 11 a.m., fifth and sixth placeMatch 33-Match 29 loser vs. Match 30 loser, 2 p.m., third and fourth placeMatch 34-Match 29 winner vs. Match 30 winner, 4 p.m., championship and second place