AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — About 90 female volleyball players representing more than half the DODDS high schools in Europe are attending the school system’s annual camp this week, getting in a lot of work before the season begins.

"November 7, we start playing for real," Aviano coach and camp host Hans Hillestad said. "But in a lot of cases, this is a lot more fun."

Hillestad’s teams always seem to be in the playoffs. But Aviano never seems to have the most athletes entered in the weeklong camp, which ends Friday. This year, that honor goes to Vilseck, which has 13. Hillestad said the camp initially limits each school to three entrants and opens up slots later if those from some schools can’t participate.

Sammi Dozier, who will start her senior year in the fall at Naples, has attended for four years.

"I came here as a freshman and I didn’t know anything about volleyball," she said. Last year, she was selected for the All-Europe second team, and she enters the season as one of the better players in Europe.

"I pretty much owe everything to this camp," she said.

Such a comment would likely bring a smile to Hillestad’s face, even though Dozier’s team helped keep Aviano from winning a title last year.

"It’s not about teams, not at this point," he said. "It’s about making everyone better. We’re here because we love the sport."

Cole Tallman, who has coached teams to more than 700 victories at the collegiate level, was one of 18 coaches at the camp this year. He brought several of his players from Mount Olive College in North Carolina to help out.

Tallman said players at the camp obviously had varying levels of skills and experience.

"But that’s how it is in everything we do," he said. "In that way, volleyball’s just like life."

For Dozier and the others this week, volleyball and life are pretty much synonymous. The players took part in three sessions a day, working on individual skills and scrimmaging. They’re also all sleeping together in the school cafeteria.

Dozier said mixing with competitors from other schools has its ups and downs.

"It’s good because when you see them in the playoffs, it’s like meeting friends again," she said.

"It can be bad, because you see how good some of the other players are."

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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 almost 38 years.

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