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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — He began his tenure in 2007 with a three-year plan, a plan to turn Nile C. Kinnick’s long-downtrodden girls volleyball team into a Far East Class AA Tournament title contender.

Well, now is Year 3 of the plan. And Al Garrido feels his team has the physical tools to make a huge dent, perhaps bring home the first banner in school history.

"Mentally is where they have to prove it," Garrido said of his Red Devils’ having to overcome their past; the best they’ve ever done is fourth place in a Class AA tournament, and that was 26 years ago.

"We’ve had losing seasons," said Garrido, who coached Southern High of Guam to a Class A title in 2000 and Class AA in 2002.

Kinnick got off to a flying start last season, winning its first eight matches before running into a brick wall in eventual Class AA champion American School In Japan and superstar Gwen Thornton. Kinnick went on to take seventh in the Class AA tournament on Guam.

"You can’t beat experience," Garrido said. "She (Thornton) really changes the game."

It’s that attitude, become game changers and winners, that Garrido hopes his Red Devils can adopt this season.

No question, the talent is there, he said.

"Physically, this is the best team I’ve ever had. The tallest. Jumps the highest. Mary (Niemeyer), in all my years of coaching, ranks among the best of high school girls I’ve ever seen."

Niemeyer, for one, feels if the pieces all fall together, anything is possible.

"I think we work really hard and Coach is coaching us the right way," she said. "If we work hard and are dedicated enough, we have a chance."

Another coach and team on a year plan is Seoul American, with high-flying junior outside hitter Liz Gleaves and four other returners from a team that finished one notch below Kinnick at Class AA.

Denny Hilgar, the dean of Far East coaches in his 30th season, is in the second year of what he calls a four-year cycle of building, rising, contending then building. His Falcons, too, have finished only as high as third at Class AA.

"Last year, the kids worked hard but didn’t know what they were working toward," Hilgar said. "They didn’t have that Far East experience. To get where they’re going, they have to go through ASIJ, Faith, George Washington — they have that reference point now."

After taking a Pacific record two straight Class A titles, Osan American could be viewed as rebuilding, having lost stars Celine Baldevia and Laura Vega.

But the four returners and a group of newbies have worked hard over the summer with Osan Air Base varsity players Manny Miguel and Tim Kim, sometimes as much as 2 ½ hours a day.

"I think they have a good chance to do it again. It comes down to when they play the game," Miguel said.

Team capsulesGirls Class AASouth Korea

Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan GarrisonCoach—Denny Hilgar, 30th season.Key performers—Liz Gleaves, Jr., OH; Megan Chase, Sr., MB; Hannah Swafford, So., OH; Destinee Harrison, Jr., MB; Brittany Grandy, Sr., setter.Overview—Reloading/contending. Year 2 of what Hilgar refers to as the "four-year cycle." Having placed eighth at Far East Class AA a year ago, Hilgar says his players have that "reference point" they need to leap into contender status.

Guam

Guam High Panthers, AsanCoach—Steve Hollister, first season.Key performers—Tessha Unsiog, Sr. hitter; Kara Guerrero, So., hitter; Emily Hoyle, Sr., MB; Carmina Sheaks, Sr., MB; Kristianna Santos, Jr., libero; Christy Mendiola, So.; Sabrina Rivo, So.Overview—Reloading. Hollister is new to volleyball. Plenty of holdover talent and new faces to fill the roster of 13. Solid, lot of fight in them, hungry, Hollister says.

Okinawa

Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air BaseCoach—Greg Rosenberger, third season.Key performers—Mary Schweers, Sr., setter; Taylor Gomez, junior, MB/MH; Shandi Korte, Jr., libero; Jenniphyere Soderlund, Fr., setter (move-up from Kadena Middle School), Brittney Erickson, Fr., OH (move-up from Kadena Middle School); Shari Moss, Jr., OH (transfer from Yokota), Chelsey Warner, Jr., MB/MH (transfer from RAF Lakenheath, England).Overview—Rebuilding-reloading. Youthful and inexperienced, but solid core returns to help that development, which Rosenberger hopes will make the Panthers a contender come November.

Kubasaki Dragons, Camp FosterCoach—Mike Hogen, first season.Key performers—Gabby Falco, Sr., MB; Ku’uleialoha Ampong, Jr., setter.; Vanessa Ellis, Sr., OH; Brytani Hinson, Sr., OPP (transfer from California); Shadah Stansel, So., Libero (transfer from Seoul American).Overview—Reloading/contending. Hogen knows the game, having led Osan American boys to second in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference. Falco remains a solid middle force; Ampong remains the fulcrum at setter. Consistency will be the key.

Japan

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval BaseCoach—Avelino Garrido, third season.Key performers—Mary Niemeyer, Sr., OH; Marina Nakayama, Jo., setter; Camille Kawamoto, Sr., OH-WH-MB; Shannon Jackson, Jr., MB; Vicki Hollingshead, Jr., OH; Dusty Keolanui-Wilson, Jr.; Akemi Allen, So.; Hannah Chicowlas, Jr.; Audrey Parker, Jr.Overview—Contending. Garrido’s third year of his "three-year plan" to build the Red Devils into a winner. Mental toughness will be key to better their seventh-place Class AA finish of last year.

Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air BaseCoach—Bonnie Seeley, fifth season.Key performers—Karina Coleman, Sr., setter; Elyse Chang, Jo.; Momo Sahara, Sr.; Khayla DeCaires, So.; Ayanna Thomas, So.; Adrienne Nelson, Jr.; Kathryn White, So.Overview—Rebuilding. Seeley begins anew after taking last season off. Panthers have heart, she says; if they can master the basic skills, they can contend.

Zama American Trojans, Camp ZamaCoach—Veronica Tipton-Jones, second season.Key performers—Kristen Dulay, Sr.; Mei Okumura, Sr.; Alysa Prather, Jr.; Yuri Fisher, Jr.; Yurie Tanaka, Jr.; Selina Quallio, Jr.; Lucy Diaz, So.; Kelsey Oshiro, Sr.Overview—Reloading. The most returners that "T.J." had fielded in any sport. Plenty of potential; it’s mostly up to how well the players develop and mold into a team.

Girls Class AJapan

E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval BaseCoach—Steve Casner, first season.Key performers—Nina Navarro, Sr., MB; Sophia Man, Jr., MB-OH; Sarina Renick, Jr., setter; Kaelum Messer, Sr., setter; Mika Taylor, Sr., OH (transfer from Nile C. Kinnick).Overview—Reloading. Still short on size, but enough experience to continue tradition of hustle and solid defense. The presence of Taylor should be a big help.

Matthew C. Perry Samurai, Marine Corps Air Station IwakuniCoach—Suzette Lopez, first season.Key performers—Bria Raines, Jr., hitter; Miranda Croom, Sr., hitter; Arianna Mocarski, Jr. setter; Kelli Clark, Jr., backcourt; Kelsey Peterson, Sr., backcourt/hittter; Victoria Pelletier, Fr., backcourt; Bre’Onna Ray, Jr., setter; Danielle Shoebrook, Fr.; Shavonte Wade, Sr., hitter.Outlook—Reloading. Lost four starters from last year, but other girls have stepped up. Lopez feels it will be an "interesting" season.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air BaseCoach—Sarah Richardson, 18th season.Key performers—Dominique Davis, Jr.; Jessica Bergman, Sr.; Da’Pree Davis, Sr.; Venita Jones, Sr.,; Marissa Goodwin, Jr.; Marjorie Entrolezo, Sr.; Caitlin Carnall, Sr.Overview—Rebuilding. Must replace departed middle blockers Imani Wimbush, Liz Kiefer. Bergman will fit that role, but Richardson must develop a setter at all cost.

South Korea

Osan American Cougars, Osan Air BaseCoach—Kevin Peterson, first season.Key performers—Nicole Sparks, Sr., backcourt/hitter; Angela Thompson, Sr., backcourt/hitter; Lydia Kim, Jr.; Alina Hauter, Jr.Overview—Reloading. Replacing stalwarts Celine Baldevia and Laura Vega will be a tough chore. Peterson has help from Osan base players Manny Miguel (former All-Air Force) and Tim Kim, and Miguel’s wife Kelly (former Division I player). Still, a run at a record third straight Far East Class A title for one DODEA Pacific team may be a bit of a reach.

Daegu American Warriors, Camp GeorgeCoach—Joanna Wyche, second season.Key performers—Kristina Bergman, So., MB; Angie Robinet, Jr., setter; Leanne Quizon, So.; Gulee Kwon, Jr.; Tia Rosenstein, Sr.Overview—Reloading. May be Warriors’ best team since the Class A champions of 2005. Wyche, whose Warriors took third at last year’s Class A tournament, has an abundance of setters to work with, so the passing should be solid. A matter of jelling as a team and finding a complementary hitter for Bergman.

Boys Class AASouth Korea

Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan GarrisonCoach—Lori Rogers, ninth season.Key performers—Eric Tarikas, Jr., setter; Colton Heckerl, Jr., OH; Josh Edwards, Sr., MB; Darryl Craig, Jr.; Deion Craig, So.Overview—Rebuilding. Rogers starting over after taking last season off. Team features a handful of basketball players converting into volleyball players.

Boys Class ASouth Korea

Daegu American Warriors, Camp GeorgeCoach—Joseph Laurenzi, third season.Key performers—Nico Nunes, So., OH; Takayuki McDougal, Sr., setter; Chris Swain, Sr., MB; Khiry Loyd, Sr., OH.Overview—Reloading. Like Seoul American, Warriors feature a handful of tall guys looking to stay in shape for basketball. Nunes will surprise people, Laurenzi says.

Osan American Cougars, Osan Air BaseCoach—Rick Mitchell, first season.Key performers—Juniors Nate Baldevia, Jason Geiss, William Bortscheller, Joel Marcellus.Overview—Reloading from last year’s KAIAC runners-up. Plenty of youth here. Newcomers catching up quickly, thanks to working with Miguel and Kim over the summer.

Significant dates

Friday, Oct. 9-Saturday, Oct. 17

Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam playoffs.

Friday, Oct. 30-Saturday, Oct. 31

Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Boys Division I (large schools) Volleyball Tournament, Seoul Foreign School.

Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Girls Division I (large schools) Volleyball Tournament, Yongsan International School-Seoul.

Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Boys Division II (small schools) Volleyball Tournament, Gyeonggi Suwon International School.

Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Girls Division II (small schools) Volleyball Tournament, Asia-Pacific International School.

Monday, Nov. 9-Friday, Nov. 13

2008 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific Far East High School Girls Class A (small schools) Volleyball Tournament, Daegu American School and Kelly Fitness & Sports Center, Camp Walker, South Korea.

Monday, Nov. 9-Saturday, Nov. 14

2008 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific Far East High School Girls Class AA (large schools) Volleyball Tournament, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Migrated
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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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