Panthers hand Royals first loss to regain title
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The Stuttgart Panthers regained their position on top DODEA-Europe Division I volleyball, handily beating the Ramstein Royals in three sets in Saturday’s championship match.
Stuttgart triumphed 25-23, 25-18, 25-10.
The win for the top-seeded Panthers restores the title to a program that’s been dominant all season and for most of the last four years. Stuttgart finished runner-up to Lakenheath in 2017 and won the championship in 2015 and 2016.
The only question mark going in to Saturday’s match against the second-seeded Royals was who was more dominant. Both the Panthers and Royals were undefeated going into the finals and had not faced each other this year.
The anticipation for the first meeting between the two powerhouses matched the decibel level in the new Kaiserslautern High School gym, with supporters yelling and cheering for both teams from the packed bleachers.
The first set only stoked the enthusiasm. It was nearly a draw, as the score kept locking up at 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 all, before Stuttgart put the set away.
And then, just like that, the Panthers became the more dominant team on the court. A match that at first looked like it might go five sets was over in three.
Junior outside hitter Karen Kosinski said Stuttgart played with “a crazy amount of energy.
“Ramstein started out with it but we kept it up,” she said. “We used that momentum to carry us through the game.”
Kosinski, along with fellow outside hitter Geneva Barriger, keyed the Panther victory with a barrage of kills from the outside corners of the net. Barriger, named the tournament’s most valuable player, especially shined on serve in the home stretch of the third set, racking up four aces on a 9-0 Panther run to close out the game.
“If there’s one thing that Stuttgart can do is, we can serve,” Barriger said. “We spend most of our practice time serving because that’s what wins most games.”
In addition to Barriger and Kosinski, Stuttgart coach Mike Rubino gave credit to senior libero Bella Brandt for her passing and senior Carly Sharp for her role as a middle hitter.
The first day of the tournament, Sharp “just really kept our hopes alive,” Rubino said. The Panthers on Thursday dropped sets to both Wiesbaden and Vilseck but ultimately prevailed.
Of the winning teams he’s coached, “this has to be one of my strongest teams ever,” Rubino said.
For Ramstein, senior middle hitter Masaya Archbold was a dominant playmaker with nine kills and four blocks. Senior Adelina Bonilla had five kills and two blocks, senior Paige Nielsen had five kills and eight digs, and sophomore Lydia Coddington had 12 digs.
“They have a great team,” Ramstein coach Ashley Henriques said of the Panthers. “They have all the hitters in DODDS. They’re a strong front row and our girls pushed. It just didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.”
Sophomore setter Sydney Gabriel said nerves may have got the best of the Royals in the end.
“We hadn’t played them all season, so we didn’t really know what it would be like to play them,” she said. “Once we started getting down, we started messing up more and getting more into our heads. Overall, we weren’t on our ‘A’ game the whole game.”