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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Sometimes a team can be too excited when given a chance to go where it’s never been, supported by a home crowd.

That was the case Friday, coach Rachelle Smith said, when the Kadena Panthers tumbled in their first Far East High School Girls Class AA Volleyball Tournament semifinal, losing to Academy of Our Lady of Guam 25-21, 25-19, 17-25, 25-19.

“We were too keyed up,” Smith said of a Panthers team that “gave their all,” but at times seemed disorganized and out of synch, unlike in its straight-set quarterfinal victory Thursday over Seoul American.

“We made those nervous mistakes, missing hits, missing serves,” Smith said. “We were out of rhythm, we weren’t communicating. We played a good game. We just didn’t play our very best one.”

From the start, before about 600 roaring fans in the Panther Pit, the seven-time Class AA champion Cougars pressed the attack and controlled the tempo, repeatedly finding holes in the Kadena defense, digging doggedly and sending even the Panthers most solid hits back over the net.

Kadena cut a 21-12 deficit to 24-21 in the first set, but couldn’t complete the comeback. The script changed in the second set, as Kadena surged to a 7-2 lead, but Academy scored eight straight points.

The Cougars relaxed in the third set and the Panthers took charge, leading by as much as 19-10. But in the clinching set, Academy scored the first four points, led by as much as 18-9 and held off a late rally.

Despite the defeat, Kadena was already assured its best-ever Class AA finish when it met the American School In Japan for third place. The Panthers’ previous best finishes were sixth in 1983 and 2001.

Academy was to face defending champion Southern in an all-Guam final.

“They kept playing until the final point,” Smith said, praising senior middle blocker Katie LaGrave, who had 12 spike kills, 10 defensive digs and eight block points.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better game from my captain,” Smith said. “Academy played a solid game and kept the ball on our side. That’s the best I’ve seen them play yet. We just didn’t mesh as well as we did yesterday, but the effort from everyone was all there.”

Third-place finish gives Taegu hope for next year

CAMP WALKER, South Korea — Taegu American closed its season with a loss, falling 25-22, 25-11, 25-17 to 2002 Far East Class A Tournament champion Morrison Christian Academy of Taiwan.

But cheered on to the bitter end by their home fans, the Warriors finished third, their best since reaching the final in 1999.

“We’re pleased,” said sophomore Kelli Cox, who earned honorable mention All-Tournament honors. “We know we could have done better, but we gave it our all.”

Cox said she and her teammates knew they would be hard-pressed to be in the same category as Morrison, which lost to champion Faith Academy of the Philippines 25-15, 25-20, 25-15 in Friday’s final.

“They’re pretty impressive,” Cox said, adding she was very taken with tournament co-MVP Jessica Nelson.

“She’s an awesome player. If she gets a good hit on the ball, it’s a kill every time.”

Cox expressed optimism that Taegu could take the final step to a Class A title next season with eight of 10 players returning.

“We should have a very strong team,” Cox said. “Our hitting really improved this year and it’s going to get even better next year.”

— Kadena High School student-journalists Erika Aragon, Lindsay Harris and Kelly Helms and Class A tournament organizers Zachary Robinson and Jennifer Sharp contributed to this report.

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