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Count on good things coming in threes when the streamlined DODDS-Europe girls volleyball championships open Thursday morning at three sites in the Kaiserslautern military community.

Thirty-two teams will spend three days deciding who is best in Divisions I, II and III. Last year’s four-division event has been reduced to three groups, still based on enrollment, concentrating the action and magnifying the achievement of the teams that walk away with titles Saturday.

"I believe reducing the number of divisions from four to three was very wise," Vilseck coach Brian Swenty said Monday. "Many teams from various divisions have proved that they can compete with larger schools. Championships are worth more when you must compete against more teams."

Nine D-I and nine D-III teams are vying for those crowns; 14 schools will battle for the D-II title. Pool-play begins at 8 a.m. Thursday in each division, with championships to be played consecutively beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Ramstein Southside gym.

Here’s a division-by-division look at the three fields:

Division I: Races should be tight in all classes, but most of the big stars and two unbeaten teams are in the big-schools event.

The unbeatens are runners-up from 2008, Ramstein, top-seeded and chasing its fourth D-I title since 2005, and D-II runner-up SHAPE, seeded behind Ramstein and No. 2 Patch after being elevated to D-I earlier in the season.

Ramstein and SHAPE each bring double shots of All-Europe firepower onto the court. Seniors Charnel Austin, a setter-outside hitter, and Makenzie Bannister, an outside hitter, lead the Lady Royals; Latvian sisters Liene and Edite Bauska, both setters/outside hitters, have SHAPE’s back.

Patch slipped between the unbeatens in the seedings largely on the strength of the Lady Panthers’ season-ending 7-1 run, with the loss against Ramstein.

The Ramstein-SHAPE duos aren’t the only 2008 All-Europe selections who’ll be leading their teams in D-I. Fourth-seeded Vilseck can coalesce behind its All-Star, Anna Muzzy, while Tatjana Gainey leads No. 8 Kaiserslasutern. That puts two-thirds of the returning 2008 All-Europe players in the D-I field.

Heidelberg is the defending champion, but graduation and players lost from family moves have relegated the Lady Lions to a No. 5 seed.

Division II: Defending champion Black Forest Academy drew the top seed among the midsize schools. Last year’s D-III runner-up, Marymount International School of Rome, led by All-European sophomore Niki Gombar, earned the No. 2 seed by beating previously unbeaten Naples last weekend. The Lady Wildcats, who field their own All-European, Sammi Dozier, are third in a 14-team field that leaves acres of room for surprises.

Capable of pulling them are Nos. 4 and 5, AFNORTH and Aviano, respectively, or No. 6 Bamberg, finally over a season-long rash of injuries and illnesses and led by net ace Raquel Davis and setter Jenna Cepe.

The large field makes for a long day for the D-II teams, four games each on Day 1, for example.

"I think it’s going to be crazy," Aviano coach Pam Hillestad said Monday. "If we make it out of pool play, we will be playing more matches in two days than in our entire season."

Mitigating the workload is the best-of-three format in pool play. The regular-season best-of-five matches come into play only in the quarterfinals, semis and finals.

Moreover, added Vilseck’s Swenty, "Four matches in one day for pool play is a lot, but we relish every opportunity to compete. You will see teams get better and better with every match they play."

Division III: Brussels, the 2008 D-IV champion propelled by the play of All-Europe middle blocker Kathleen Anderson, drew the top seed in the small schools division, with old rival Alconbury at No. 2 and Menwith Hill No. 3.

As a rule, however, the small schools are among the most difficult to handicap, since few know much about the group’s remote schools — Lajes, unbeaten Ankara, Incirlik and Rota.

Nonetheless, Sigonella’s Shawn McCarthy on Monday said Brussels is the team to beat.

"Any team getting the first ball high in the net can expect to see a block or kill by Anderson," he said. "Anderson and her teammates will be helped tremendously by Bria Yazzie, who continues to chalk up the assists. With Brussels battling toe-to-toe with teams such as SHAPE, it is clear that the Brigands are talented."

Playing in its first European event will be the International School of Florence, which will have a chance to mix with big-schools players they don’t often see. It’s the tourney’s biggest plus, according to Swenty.

"I love the fact that all the divisions are playing in one location," he said. "The fact that all championship matches and third-place matches will be played on Saturday is a great addition."

DODDS-Europe girls volleyball championships

What’s at stake: European championships in Divisions I, II and III

When: Thursday-Saturday

Where: Kaiserslautern High School and Vogelweh and Ramstein Southside gyms. Saturday’s championship and third-place matches begin at 8:30 a.m. at Ramstein Southside.

Format: Best-of-three pool-play matches with best-of-five crossover quarterfinals, semis and championship matches

The seedingsDivision IPool A

1. Ramstein 2. Patch

4. Vilseck 3. SHAPE

5. Heidelberg 6. Wiesbaden

8. Kaiserslautern 7. FIS

9. Lakenheath

Pool B

2. Patch

3. SHAPE

6. Wiesbaden

7. FIS

Division IIPool A

1. Black Forest Academy

4. AFNORTH

5. Aviano

7. Milan

9. Vicenza

11. Bitburg

14. Ansbach

Pool B

2. Marymount

3. Naples

6. Bamberg

8. Mannheim

10. Hohenfels

12. Baumholder

13. AOSR

Division IIIPool A

1. Brussels

4. Sigonella

5. Rota

8. Incirlik

9. Florence

Pool B

2. Alconbury

3. Menwith Hill

6. Ankara

7. Lajes

9. Florence


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