New Dragons, same result at ASIJ tourney
Stars and Stripes October 7, 2023
TOKYO – Jackie Mitchell awoke to disturbing news Friday morning. Kubasaki’s regular setter, Nevaeh Gilbert, was running a fever and Mitchell would have to take over.
So the junior stepped into Gilbert’s spot on the floor and helped keep the Dragons together the last two days of the 9th American School In Japan YUJO Volleyball Tournament.
In Saturday’s final, Mitchell recorded 21 assists, while new hitters Yuri Biggins and Isabella Garza combined for 12 kills. Senior Olivia Schaffeld added seven kills as the Dragons repeated their YUJO title, beating Nile C. Kinnick 25-13, 25-21.
“I was a little nervous,” Mitchell said following the final, adding, however, that she was “very excited and I felt we had to carry on our legacy.”
The Dragons did just that, winning their fourth title in six finals appearances.
They beat a Red Devils team making its first appearance in the YUJO final. Saturday was the first time that two DODEA-Pacific teams played in the final match.
Biggins, a sophomore, is one of a handful of players following in the footsteps of graduated players who helped Kubasaki win last year’s title. She served four straight aces in the second set to help turn a 9-5 deficit into a 14-10 lead and earned YUJO tournament MVP honors.
“I was nervous,” Biggins said. “But I knew we were still going to be good.”
Garza, a senior who also had three block points in the first set, was playing in Bahrain last season and had traveled and played throughout Europe before transferring to Okinawa in August.
She said she was excited about making her first trip to Tokyo. “And now, we have a tournament title under our belts,” Garza said.
Despite having lost that cadre of 2022 stars, “one thing that never changes is, no matter the outcome, they support each other, they know they’re doing the best they can and they always have each other’s backs,” Dragons coach Kent Grubbs said.
Kubasaki led comfortably throughout the first set, and though falling behind by four points in the second set, the Dragons rallied quickly and were never in serious trouble. Libero Annabelle Alvarado was named All-Tournament for Kubasaki.
Leona Turner led the Red Devils with five kills. All-Tournament setter Sophia Laron had 12 assists for Kinnick.
Just to get to the final, Kinnick had to beat host ASIJ in Saturday’s quarterfinals, then survived a three-set semifinal against last year’s runner-up Seisen International.
“They stepped up their game coming into this tournament,” said Red Devils coach Tony San Nicolas. “They found themselves, and hopefully, they can do it again” at the Far East Division I Tournament later this month at Humphreys.