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CAMP WALKER, South Korea — It’s one thing to reach the summit. It’s another thing to reach it again.

That’s the message coach Joanna Wyche is trying to get across to her defending Far East High School Girls Division II Volleyball Tournament champion Daegu American team, the core of which returns for another title shot.

Sure, the core of that championship group, headlined by two-time All-Far East spiker Kristina Bergman and fellow senior setters Angie Robinet and Gulee Kwon, return for a repeat attempt. This season, though, they also sport bull’s-eyes on front and back of their jerseys.

“The girls have to know, nothing comes easy, nothing is given,” said Wyche, whose Warriors last year became the unprecedented third straight DODDS Pacific team to win a Far East volleyball title.

“It starts all over again,” Wyche said during a break between sessions of a summer volleyball camp at Camp Carroll. “The higher you are, the harder you fall. There’s always somebody there to take the title.”

So, what does a coach do to ensure her team doesn’t get a bad case of “bigheaditis”?

“You have to work with the girls to not lose the edge and get overconfident,” said Wyche, in her third year as varsity coach.

A rejuvenated Matthew C. Perry squad in Japan, with veterans Kelli Clark and Bre’Onna Ray, which won its first two matches — on the road at Robert D. Edgren — could pose a challenge. So, too, could Osan American, another veteran unit which Daegu displaced last November as two-time Far East champions.

They carry a belly full of fire, as does Seoul American, which became the first team last November to earn the top seed into the Far East Division I playoffs, only to fall short and take third.

The Falcons hope to send out 31-year head coach Denny Hilgar as a champion for the first time, and just might have the tools in senior hitters Liz Gleaves and Destinee Harrison to do it. But like the Warriors, it’s now or never, Hilgar says.

“The core girls know where things went awry last year,” Hilgar said. “We just prepare to battle through that. We’ve been to the mountain. We haven’t quite gotten to the top yet.”

Now or never was the label seemingly applied to Nile C. Kinnick of Japan last season. Behind Mary Niemeyer, Camille Kawamoto and Shannon Jackson, the Red Devils won their first Kanto Plain and DODDS Japan titles in history, but lost in the Division I quarterfinals.

But coach Al Garrido feels he has enough left on the shelf in setter Marina Nakayama and hitters Emily Stith and Mashia McKinney and enough motivation to prove 2009 was no fluke.

“What we did last year was good for all DODDS schools,” Garrido said. “We all have great athletes, and we can compete with the international schools.”

As to whom he sees as the Division I champion, Garrido said: “I fully expect Seoul American to be in the 2010 finals.”


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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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