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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — For the first time in school history, Sigonella walked out off the volleyball court Saturday as DODDS-Europe champions.

In a match that was among the closest of the three-day tournament, the Jaguars downed the Brussels Brigands 25-23, 27-25, 25-11, to take home the Division III title.

“It’s so great, because we’ve been working for this for so long,” Jaguars’ junior Rachel Vosler said. “My freshman year we got third place, my sophomore year we got second. My junior year, we finally took first. It’s just a great feeling.”

Winning the championship was particularly gratifying after a season in which Sigonella had largely played the role of punching bag for larger Division II schools in Italy.

“Our problem, when we were getting beat up on, was we weren’t playing like a family,” Sigonella junior Sydney Moore said. “We were playing as individual players. But when we came to tournament, we decided that we’re going to play together, as a team, as one. When we started playing like that, we couldn’t be stopped.”

In the two days of round-robin play, Sigonella dominated, winning every match on its way to the title showdown.

Still, even though they had proved themselves supreme among the D-III field, Vosler said they were nervous coming into the title match.

Coming into the day, though, she said she was thinking, “it doesn’t matter how nervous we are, if we beat them before in pool play, we still needed to bring the same intensity we brought to every other game.”

The first two sets were nail biters throughout, with Brussels taking an early lead, then losing it.

Vosler led a rally of five unanswered points in the first set to overcome the early deficit to put her Jaguars up 7-6.

Sigonella then built a lead of its own and held it long enough that it seemed the set was all but theirs. But Brussels went on a five-point tear of its own with senior Rebecca Harness on serve, evening things up at 21.

After a handful of defensive points for both sides, Vosler served up one more point to break the stalemate. A Brussels mishit out of bounds ended the set.

In the second, Brussels went up 6-1 early and didn’t relinquish the lead until Sigonella sophomore Leilani Wojtal served up a four-point run ending with an ace that put Sigonella on top 13-12.

The Brigands were in position to take the second set, up 24-23. Then a miscommunication allowed the ball to drop untouched between two Brussels players.

“I know Sigonella,” Brussels senior Ana-Marija Vasileva said. “If they feel that there’s a threat, they’re going to step up and they’re going to own the game.”

Seizing advantage afer the miscue, Sigonella rallied to take the set.

Sigonella dominated the third, only twice failing to earn points on serve. Wojtal served up another four-point spree that ended with the Jaguars up 15-8. Senior Allison Cruz and Moore together served up five more points before Vosler closed the game with two more.

“Even though we lost, I was really proud of my team,” Vasileva said. “We’ve come really, really far, and I think we played really, really good. We’ve never played better this season, so it was wonderful.”

“I’m in a happy kind of shock right now. I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” said Moore, who was named Most Valuable Player of the D-III tournament.

“We played as a family, and that’s how we won.”

Incirlik defeated Menwith Hill 25-19, 25-15 to capture third place.

millham.matthew@stripes.com

Twitter: @mattmillham

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