Three titles for the taking in wide-open tournaments
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 1, 2017
The 2017 DODEA-Europe girls volleyball championship tournament takes place Thursday through Saturday at sites around the Kaiserslautern Military Community, culminating in a slate of three championship matches starting at 10 a.m. CET at Vogelweh Fitness Center.
All three divisional tournament brackets feature multiple potential champions and are without a prohibitive favorite, giving a majority of the 23 teams participating in the event a very realistic shot at celebrating a title Saturday.
If the regular season is any indication, this year’s large-school tournament might be the most competitive in years. No less than five schools come into the bracket with a championship-caliber body of work, while a few dark-horse challengers lurk deeper in the field with designs on a bracket-flipping upset.
The Stuttgart Panthers are the defending champion and the No. 1 seed, but they’re not invulnerable. They took a four-set loss to Lakenheath on Oct. 14 and were pushed to five epic sets by Ramstein on the last day of the regular season Saturday.
Ramstein might have seized this tournament’s top seed had it earned that win against Stuttgart, but the Royals are fully capable of reversing that result this week. The No. 2 seed will be looking to avenge a three-set loss to Stuttgart in last year’s title match as well.
Lakenheath finds itself in the unusual position of owning signature victories over both of the teams seeded above it, including the only blemish on Stuttgart’s regular season. While losses to Ramstein and Wiesbaden knocked them down a peg in the bracket, opposing coaches are very aware of what the Lancers are capable of this week.
Wiesbaden came up short of the elimination round last season and took consecutive losses in October to slip to the fourth seed. But the Warriors proved their championship potential Oct. 14 with a convincing three-set sweep of Lakenheath.
Fifth-seeded Naples matched top seed Stuttgart with an 11-1 regular-season record, but had limited opportunity to prove its Division I mettle. The Wildcats lost their head-to-head matchup with Stuttgart, and wins over sub-.500 squads Vicenza and Vilseck only went so far in improving their tournament standing. But Naples is a consistent threat in the tournament, including in last year’s third-place showing.
SHAPE and tournament host Kaiserslautern round out the deep nine-team field.
If the Division I bracket is unpredictable because most of its top teams have beaten each other already, the Division II bracket is equally unpredictable because its top teams have not played each other.
Schools from four corners of DODEA-Europe’s considerable footprint make up the disparate headliners in Division II, each bringing impressive regular-season resumes along with a dearth of high-level competition within its division.
American Overseas School of Rome is the team to beat out of Italy, having dispatched local divisional rivals Aviano, Florence and Marymount over the course of the fall. But AOSR has yet to face any competition outside of its home country.
Rota played its usual light DODEA-Europe schedule this fall, sweeping Aviano and Marymount on Sept. 23 to complete its 2-0 regular season. The Admirals missed the elimination round in 2016 after claiming the previous three Division II crowns.
Black Forest Academy lost to Spangdahlem, then known as Bitburg, in last year’s European title match, but is a more realistic title contender this fall than the rebuilding reigning champs. BFA dispatched Spangdahlem in three sets and recorded a solid win over Division II rival AFNORTH in the season’s final weekend to round out its divisional slate.
Bahrain, meanwhile, will see its first DODEA-Europe action of the season in this week’s tournament. The team is consistently competitive in the postseason, including a strong third-place showing last fall.
The small-school bracket includes six teams, each with a valid path to celebrating a championship Saturday.
Sigonella is the defending champion and has spent the fall girding up for the postseason with one of Division III’s toughest regular-season schedules.
Alconbury and Brussels have produced winning overall regular-season records this fall while matching Sigonella’s mark of just one Division III loss.
Hohenfels and returning runner-up Baumholder have hovered close to .500 through rigorous divisional schedules.
And last-place Ansbach gathered some last-minute momentum Oct. 28 with a gritty five-set defeat of Hohenfels.