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From doormat to contender in less than two years, Nile C. Kinnick’s girls volleyball program has risen from the ashes under the guiding hand of coach Al Garrido, who guided Guam’s Southern to two Far East tournament titles.

The Red Devils finished 14-8 last year, their first winning record in 11 years. Then, behind a core of middle hitters Camille Kawamoto and Mary Niemeyer and first-year setter Marina Nakayama, they went a school-best 22-3 entering next week’s Class AA tournament on Guam.

Yet to hear Garrido tell it, there are more glass ceilings to break.

"I actually expected better," said Garrido, a self-described driving type of coach. "If you give me a piece of charcoal, I’m going to squeeze it hard enough to get a diamond out of it, and I’ll keep trying until I do."

That philosophy helped his Southern teams win a Class A crown in 2000 and a Class AA title in 2002. The former Guam National Team player and coach two years ago entered the DODDS-Pacific system at Kinnick and hasn’t looked back.

"Usually, give me three years to turn a program around. But why wait three years?" he said. "If we can do it this year, let’s go for it. Let’s do it."

As Kinnick aims for its first Class AA title, Osan American of South Korea is vying to do what no DODDS-Pacific or DDESS-Guam school has done – repeat a Far East tournament title.

Kinnick takes on 17 other schools in the Class AA tournament Monday-Saturday at Guam High and Andersen Air Force Base. Osan goes for its second straight Class A crown Monday-Friday at Daegu, South Korea.

This season, Kinnick scored its first victories since the late 1990s over defending Class AA champion Christian Academy In Japan and four-time Far East champion Seisen International.

Garrido says he’s been most surprised by the play of Nakayama and middle blocker Shannon Jackson, both sophomores.

"She has more than surpassed my expectations. She’s starting to own that position and the upper classmen respect her," Garrido said of Nakayama, who’s averaged 21 set assists per match.

Jackson recorded 15 blocks, four for points, in a losing effort at CAJ on Tuesday. "You won’t find a more humble person on the court," Garrido said. "She’s fine playing in [others’] shadows as long as she can contribute."

So what are the Devils hoping for this week?

"I know Far East. I know what it takes to get there. I have 10 girls who’ve never been in the Far East hunt. Realistically, we’re a top four team. We want to come back [with] an awesome memory."

Awesome was the memory that Osan players say they enjoyed when they took center court and beat Morrison Christian Academy of Taiwan in just the Cougars’ second trip to the finals. The Cougars won the 2001 title.

"I was nervous," said Celine Baldevia, a senior who earned tournament MVP honors. "Part of me couldn’t believe it, but we were there. When that last point was scored, it felt good. I had goose bumps."

Cari Pease, a former college player and club coach in her first year at the Cougars’ helm, feels Osan is primed for a back-to-back title run.

"We expect nothing less than a repeat," Pease said, adding that her core of Baldevia, Angela Thompson, Laura Vega and Nicole Sparks "have set the bar high again. They know how to win. They learned how to win last year. They’re fired up."

Aside from the "Little Big Four," Pease said she was also pleased with the net play of Ieva Bytautaite, who had seven blocks in Osan’s regular season-ending four-set victory over Daegu American.

"I feel confident with my coaching experience, and the girls, how much heart they have, we’ll be fine," Pease said.

"We’re going to try our best (and) execute our game plan," Baldevia said.

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