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FUTENMA MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Okinawa — When the whistle blows on Seoul American’s last match in the Far East girls volleyball tournament, a stellar career will end.

Jio Bruce, who coach Denny Hilgar calls “the best setter I’ve ever had,” is finishing her high school career and she says she’s starting to miss it.

“There’s nothing like high school sports,” said Bruce, a senior who’s led her team to two conference titles in three seasons.

“I’ll probably never play ball in an organized group like this with girls who support one another.”

Bruce established incredible standards at Seoul American: 897 assists, including a school-record 412 last season, 220 service aces, 306 defensive digs and a .881 serve percentage.

But teammates say they’ll miss her leadership the most.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what she means to the team,” said senior middle blocker Sarah Bradford. “She’s everywhere on the court. She keeps us together emotionally and psycholgically and she gets things done.”

Even opposing coaches tip their hats.

“She broke our backs,” Osan American coach Brian Swenty said. “I can’t say enough about her.”

Bruce realizes her importance to the team.

“I’m kind of the motivation,” she said. “If I’m down, then the team is down. If a pass to me isn’t that good, I have to go the extra mile to get it. If one of the young players makes a mistake, I’m the one to tell them to shake it off.”

That includes Kim Lee, a sophomore who will likely inherit Bruce’s spot.

“She’s had a good teacher,” Hilgar said.

Two-phased round-robin system lauded in Class AA

Many coaches favored playing two types of round-robin formats on the first two days of the Class AA tournament.

Following Monday’s pool play, in which the 16 teams were drawn randomly into four pools, the winners of each pool entered the Gold Division, second-place teams were put in the Silver Division, third-place teams in the Bronze and fourth-place teams in the Copper Division.

The purpose was to give teams a day of competition against schools with similar ability levels, organizers said.

“It was the best day of volleyball we’ve had,” said Rachelle Smith, coach of the host Kadena Panthers, who became the first Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific team in the Gold Division since 1997.

“All the teams were evenly matched,” she said. “When everybody came to play, it was good volleyball; if a team didn’t come to play in a match, it was a rout.”

“It’s like a playoff before the playoff,” said coach Sarah Richardson of Robert D. Edgren, which went 3-0 in the Bronze Division. “You’re not playing the top or bottom teams, you play a variety of teams, you gain confidence, you get better and better so when you do play the top teams in the playoffs, you’re ready to play, you’re not intimidated.”

Stopping Faith a tough task in Class A

CAMP WALKER, South Korea — Who can stop Faith Academy?

That was the question at Camp Walker’s Kelly Sports and Fitness Center this week as the Vanguards continued their rampage to Friday’s championship match.

Through Tuesday, Osan came closest to beating Faith. Margaret Nurse’s five block points and sound defensive coverage pushed Faith, which prevailed 25-13, 25-19 in a crowd-pleasing match that provided some hope for the rest of the field.

“I talked to my girls before the game and told them to have fun and if we made it to 15 points, it was a win,” Osan coach Brian Swenty said. “I’ve not seen a team at this level play that well.”

Swenty praised senior middle blocker Jessica Nelson, a three-time All-Far East player.

“She’s amazing,” he said.

Other than trying to find “small creases” in Faith’s defense, mixing up passes and hitting to deep corners, Swenty, whose team won the 2001 tournament and finished third last year, said he had few answers.

“Their passes are on the money, their setter doesn’t have to work too hard and they’re the best-hitting team I’ve seen,” he said. “They’re relentless.”

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