Senior Malia Hutchins was named tournament MVP and to the All-Tournament team after leading Yokota to the Far East Division II Tournament title.

Senior Malia Hutchins was named tournament MVP and to the All-Tournament team after leading Yokota to the Far East Division II Tournament title. (Mayu Ono/Special to Stripes)

Stars and Stripes has selected an Athlete of the Year for each of the respective fall sports played across each of DODEA’s Europe and Pacific theaters. Check out our site this week to read profiles for golf (Tuesday), tennis (Wednesday), cross country (Thursday), volleyball (Friday) and football (Saturday).

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – It looked like the season opener was Yokota’s. Especially after the second set, which Malia Hutchins and the Panthers won by eight points. Spectators were leaving Capps Gym, as if believing Yokota had the volleyball match in the bag.

Then Matthew C. Perry won the third set, a see-saw affair. Then the Samurai took the fourth set. And the fifth, by eight points, which triggered a celebration at Perry’s bench – and surprise and sorrow at Yokota’s end.

“After that match, we were all saying that can’t happen again,” said Hutchins, a senior serving, setting and defensive specialist for the Panthers. “That was like a warning for us.”

It was a warning that anything the Panthers would achieve in the just-completed season would come with hard work, some successes and some disappointments along the way.

It was when the Far East Division II Tournament came along, a three-day event hosted by the Panthers, that everything fell into place for Hutchins and her teammates, following a pedestrian 9-10 regular season.

Yokota went 6-1 in the D-II tournament, including four straight victories to close, capped by a four-set comeback win over E.J. King in the championship match.

“I was amazed at how we improved from the first to the last match,” Hutchins said.

She was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and was selected All-Tournament along with her fellow returnees from last season, junior Erica Haas and senior Trinity Stegall.

Hutchins has also been named Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school girls volleyball Athlete of the Year.

It wasn’t so much match scores or how well they did in the American School In Japan YUJO Tournament in early October. It was more what the team set out to accomplish, the steps they took in each match, regardless of what the scoreboard said, Hutchins said.

“We made goals for each match,” Hutchins said, sort of like climbing a ladder, “one step at a time.” Did they pass better in this match? Did they hustle more on defense? Did they in general play as hard and as well as they could?

There were stumbles along the way. Yokota lost twice each in the regular season to Zama and King, the pre-Far East Tournament favorites to reach the final. And the Panthers dropped a D-II pool-play match to the Cobras in three sets on Oct. 24.

“I just wanted us to finish top three” behind Zama and King, Hutchins said. “I didn’t know about the other teams. We just wanted to finish the season on a high note.”

That they did. After losing to King, the Panthers did not lose again.

What really got the Panthers believing, Hutchins said, was the semifinal match Oct. 25, when they beat the Trojans in straight sets.

“It was like, ‘Wow, we’re actually here,’” Hutchins said. “We were on Cloud 9. We knew it would be a challenge. We were happy just to get to the final. But now, we have to take the next step.”

That came against King, which beat the Panthers 25-16 in the first set and led 12-10 in the second when Hutchins stepped to the serving line.

It all turned around from there. Hutchins finished with seven service aces and the Panthers swept the next three sets to win their third D-II title and first since 2017.

“One at a time. That was our motto for Far East,” Hutchins said. “I’m really proud of the team.”

Yokota athletics director Byron Wrenn said Hutchins is a good representative of the school. “She has high moral character, operates with integrity and humility,” Wrenn said. “She’s the ultimate team player, leader and supporter.”


Age — 17.

Place of birth — Louisville, Ky.

Sports played besides running — Cheerleading, track and field.

Favorite school subject — English.

Least favorite school subject — Math.

Athletes she looks up to — Zoe Fleck, libero, University of Texas-Austin.

Favorite music — Pop, R&B.

Favorite artist — Steve Lacy.

Favorite TV series — Gilmore Girls.

Favorite movie — Remember the Titans.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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