Top 10 Europe sports stories for 2015
December 23, 2015
The top 10 stories in Europe sports reported in 2015 by Stars and Stripes:
10. DODDS-Europe names the year’s most versatile, valuable athletes.
With small student populations and seasons designed to not overlap, DODDS-Europe sports is custom made for the multi-sport star. This summer, the organization identified two players who excelled in that system as its 2014-15 Athletes of the Year.
Hohenfels’ Shelby Atkinson starred in volleyball, basketball and soccer, earning MVP honors in the Division II European girls soccer tournament and All-Europe honors in soccer and basketball. Wiesbaden’s Hunter Lunasin was All-European in football, a European wrestling champion for the second straight year and a top-three finisher in two track and field events.
9. Fall all-star festivities expand to include volleyball.
Each fall, a few dozen of DODDS-Europe’s most talented football players have gathered in the Kaiserslautern Military Community for an all-star exhibition. This year, they had company.
Ramstein coach Erin Markus and Vilseck coach Brian Swenty saw years of effort come to fruition in November as Ramstein hosted the inaugural volleyball all-star game concurrent with the football classic at Kaiserslautern. A roster of 24 junior and senior stars from all over Europe gathered for the event, held just a week after the KMC hosted the European volleyball and football championships.
8. Prep sports scene continues to contract.
The closure of storied DODDS-Europe program Heidelberg nearly three years ago was a major milestone in the ongoing drawdown of overseas forces and, as a side effect, American high school sports programs.
The year 2015 didn’t hold any closures on that level, but the steady contraction continued unabated. Menwith Hill, a small Division III school in England, coaxed one last year of sports out of its dwindling ranks before shuttering over the summer. AFNORTH and Brussels responded to falling turnout by combining their football programs for the fall. Even Ansbach, in the midst of winning its second straight Division II football crown, dropped down to Division III in all other sports and could struggle to field teams in the coming seasons.
7. Stuttgart, Ramstein runners break track records.
The four members of Ramstein’s girls 400-meter relay team set a lofty goal at the beginning of the spring: breaking the 31-year-old DODDS-Europe record in the event. That’s exactly what they did.
Yhari Dupree, Brittany Highley, Sinoda Emanuel and Denee Lawrence replaced the 1984 group from Nuremberg in the record books with a time of 48.45 seconds, narrowly ahead of the 48.80 time that had held up for three decades.
Ramstein’s feat came a day after Julia Lockridge of Patch (now Stuttgart) set new DODDS-Europe records at 800 and 1,600 meters, the former a record that had stood since 1980.
6. Ramstein shines bright on the diamonds.
The Royal baseball and softball teams reached the same end by very different means.
The Ramstein baseball team won its third consecutive Division I baseball title in dominant fashion, recording runs at will in a 27-1 romp over a Vilseck team that had exhausted nearly all of its available pitchers just to reach the title game.
The school’s softball team also met Vilseck in the final, but found a Falcon team very much equipped to compete. It took a seventh-inning double by Royal shortstop Sarah Wilhite to deliver a 7-6 win and complete Ramstein’s Division I diamond sweep.
5. Small schools seize long-sought Division II titles.
The effects of 2014’s major divisional realignment continued to play out in 2015. Notably, the newly streamlined ranks of Division II produced several fresh contenders and new champions.
In February, American Overseas School of Rome took advantage of the opportunity presented by the absence of traditional powers Vicenza and Naples to win the program’s first boys basketball championship.
In May, Hohenfels supplanted Naples, the longstanding DII dynasty moved up to Division I, with its first-ever girls soccer championship. On the boys side of the pitch, Bahrain snatched its first title by directly overthrowing reigning champion Marymount in a thrilling title-match shootout.
On the diamond, meanwhile, Aviano broke through for its first Division II/III softball crown after years of bumping up against the Naples-Vicenza glass ceiling, joining the Rota baseball team as new small-school champions.
4. Ups and downs in Division I football season.
Stuttgart’s surprise run to its first European championship wasn’t the only development to shake up the large-school football scene. All six teams in the division experienced moments of triumph and adversity, producing one of the more competitive and unpredictable seasons in recent memory.
Defending champion Ramstein saw its undefeated season end suddenly in the semifinals. Wiesbaden clawed back to the title game but struggled there for the second straight year. Lakenheath snapped a playoff drought with a solid fall campaign. A tie against Ramstein was a promising start to Vilseck’s season, but a final-day loss against Ramstein ended it. Kaiserslautern fell out of the playoffs and into the Division I basement, but a season-ending win over Lakenheath saved the Raiders from outright despair.
3. Rota continues steady rise to prominence.
They didn’t all end with championships for the Division II program, but every season of 2015 offered evidence why Rota is an emerging powerhouse in DODDS-Europe sports. Aided by an influx of new personnel and accompanying high-school age dependents to the Spanish naval base, the Admirals were centrally involved in the title scenes in winter, spring and fall.
The winter saw coach Ben Anderson’s crisp-passing, sharpshooting group of mostly underclassmen deliver some of the more memorable moments of the European boys basketball tournament. The squad forced the issue all the way to an appearance in the Division II championship game.
In the spring, a resurgent Rota baseball squad cruised to the Division II/III championship just a year removed from failing to field a team at all.
The movement peaked in the fall, as Rota players and supporters stormed into the Kaiserslautern Military Community en masse for the volleyball and football championship games. The Admiral girls capped their undefeated volleyball season with a second straight championship, while the football squad took a 32-27 loss to Ansbach that nonetheless suggested future triumphs for the rising Admirals.
2. Panthers maintain dominance in other sports.
While the fall championships were a breakthrough for Stuttgart, the school’s more established programs continued to deliver hardware.
The Panthers’ twin winter dynasties of marksmanship and wrestling were in top form in 2015. Maggie Ehmann shot a stunning 302.7 points to lead the rifle program to another runaway title win, while Eli Spencer led a group of five individual European champions headlining the Panthers’ Division I team victory on the mats.
The fall saw two Stuttgart phenoms win repeat individual championships. Girls tennis star Marissa Encarnacion won her second straight European crown, while junior Jordan Holifield won his third boys golf title in as many seasons.
The Panthers’ success didn’t stop there. Stuttgart teams also won Division I titles in girls soccer, boys track, girls golf and boys cross country, that last led by European individual champion Hunter Ficenec. Meanwhile, girls doubles team Marina Fortun and Kendall Smith joined Encarnacion as European tennis champs.
1. New school spawns new era for Stuttgart.
The fall of 2015 was always going to be a memorable one in Stuttgart as a new high school opened to replace familiar Patch. But what the Panther football and volleyball teams accomplished turned the memorable into the magical.
Both Panther squads earned the first European championships in the history of their respective programs this fall, celebrating the opening of their new high school with a pair of shiny new titles for the trophy case.
The tale of the Panthers’ football title was the stuff of an inspiring sports movie. Stuttgart scratched its way into the fourth and final Division I playoff slot with a 2-3 divisional record and on a two-game losing streak. Its reward was a semifinal at Ramstein, the undefeated defending champion and annual Panther nemesis.
Trailing 8-7 in the game’s final minute, the Panthers pulled off a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder play that sent Sean Loeben sprinting alongside the stunned Royal sideline. Loeben came up a few yards short of the end zone, but left just enough time for kicker Kat Farrar to convert the game-winning field goal.
A similarly wild finish with Wiesbaden gave Farrar, the reigning Stars and Stripes girls soccer Athlete of the Year, a look at another game-winning kick, this one for the European crown. The kick sailed through the uprights, earning the Panthers a 10-7 victory and setting Stuttgart’s players, coaches and fans off on a long-deferred championship celebration.
The Panther volleyball team followed a far less dramatic path to its title. Stuttgart entered the tournament as a favorite with a 13-1 regular-season record and secured the crown with a steady 26-24, 25-22, 25-11 sweep of Vicenza in the Division I title match. Libero Janey Greenberg earned Stars and Stripes girls volleyball Athlete of the Year honors for her central role on the title squad.