New faces put different spin on volleyball season
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Wherever Nile C. Kinnick girls volleyball has gone the last six seasons, wins haven’t been far behind. The Red Devils are 112-4 over the last four of those, have won six DODDS Japan and three of the last four Kanto Plain titles and have finished second at Far East Division I the last two years.
Tony San Nicolas, who a year ago assisted the architect of that dynasty, Al Garrido, now inherits the latter’s legacy, taking over as head coach, making him the second former Guam National Team coach to helm the Red Devils.
With a stable of returning players, four of whom played Far East last November, San Nicolas hopes to not only continue Kinnick’s unprecedented and consistent success, but take the last step to a Far East title. That’s a rarity for DODDS schools; only three have won D-I titles in the sport.
“Definitely,” San Nicolas said. “I hope to instill in them that they have to have that expectation. Our motto from last year is perfect practice makes perfect.”
San Nicolas had worked previously for Garrido. The latter was hired by DODDS in 2006 and San Nicolas had applied for DODDS for five years before getting hired last September.
The Guam footprint has now spread across the Kanto Plain to Yokota, where yet another former Guam National coach, John Lizama, takes over a Panthers team that hasn’t enjoyed the same success, last reaching the Far East D-I semifinals nine years ago.
“The wins will come as they learn,” said Lizama, a contractor at Yokota and another Garrido assistant from last year. “I’m here to teach. If I’m going to be here, some of these girls want to play collegiate, I want them to learn the game.”
Lizama and San Nicolas are emblematic of how much has changed in Divisions I and II volleyball since last season.
E.J. King gets its fourth coach in four years, Beth Palka-Sargent. Matthew C. Perry’s Patricia Swiderski is the fourth coach in five years. Scott Bittner takes over Seoul American’s girls. Robert Bevacqua joins Rhoda Bamba on the Guam High coaching staff. Former Taegu American star Ashley Gooch coaches the girls and boys at Humphreys in its inaugural season.
Among the early surprises, Zama American, under second-year coach Kelly Wigton, opened the season by winning its first three matches, including a four-set win over International School of the Sacred Heart.
“We were starting from scratch last year; now, we have a foundation. The girls have been working,” Wigton said.
Daegu also opened 3-0, led by a core of four seniors hungry for a return to the Division II championship it last won in 2009-10, coach Joanna Wyche said. “We have a good senior core coming back and a lot of younger players stepping up. We have a chance to get things done this year,” she said.
There will be a new D-II champion regardless; Morrison Academy, which has won it the last two years, has joined a new conference and will not return.