Different, but still the same on the court
Stars and Stripes October 20, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Their best players from a season ago moved on, only to be replaced by new faces equally solid in their volleyball expertise.
As a result, Kubasaki and E.J. King haven’t changed much at all. The Dragons and Cobras have simply kept on doing what they’ve done the past couple of years: Win.
-- Madylyn O’Neill transferred to Washington, D.C., and Liz Turner chose to play Japanese club ball. But King found a new player in the middle, sophomore Mila Nishimura-Reed. The Cobras went 25-2 this season and took second in the Western Japan Athletic Association tournament.
-- Kubasaki lost its hitting threesome of Sophia Grubbs, Emma Leggio and Risha McGriff, but filled that need with senior Olivia Schaffeld and sophomore Yuri Biggins. The latter earned MVP honors in the American School In Japan YUJO tournament earlier this month, which Kubasaki won for the second straight year.
They’ll take on a different challenge starting Monday – the first DODEA-Pacific Far East tournaments since 2019. King plays in the Division II tournament at Yokota and Kubasaki the D-I at Humphreys. Each tournament runs through Wednesday.
“We have very different faces, but I’m so happy with how the girls have worked and come together as a team,” outgoing Dragons coach Kent Grubbs said.
The team lost its season opener to Kadena – the first time the Panthers had beaten the Dragons in 10 seasons. But Kubasaki won the next three against Kadena, went 7-0 in the YUJO tournament and all that after going 5-0 in a preseason tournament against Japanese teams in Nago.
After having gone 20-0 and 20-0 the previous two seasons with three tournament victories, the Dragons found themselves facing, and overcoming, adversity throughout this season.
Kubasaki had to come from behind in 10 sets, “and that only happened because they stayed together and supported each other,” Grubbs said.
A prime example was during the YUJO tournament when starting setter Nevaeh Gilbert came down with a fever and Jackie Mitchell was pressed into emergency duty and responded. “That’s the way it’s been the whole year,” Grubbs said.
Kubasaki will still get its share of challengers in the Far East, including YUJO runner-up Nile C. Kinnick, Guam private-school champion Academy of Our Lady and host Humphreys, which went unbeaten in the Korea league last season.
King’s prime challenge will likely come from Zama, which was the only DODEA-Japan team to beat the Cobras this season; King went 2-1 against the Trojans, who are led by middle Kierstyn Aumua.
“Zama is a very good team,” Cobras coach Ricky Andrew said. “But I think we’ll fare well. I think our girls will compete.”
Nishimura-Reed has plenty of experience around her in veteran teammates Maliwan Schinker, Sarah Goleman and Katelyn Mapa.
“The girls who are back have stepped up and shown great leadership to the new girls,” Andrew said. “It’s a different style, but we’re playing really well as a team. I would hope we have a chance.”