Youth being served on Daegu girls volleyball team
Success wasn’t supposed to come this quickly, not for a team this young, with just two seniors and a whole gaggle of underclassmen who only began to come into their own at the tail end of, at best, a pedestrian 2008 season.
Yet there they are, at 8-2 overall and in third place in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference at 7-2. And for a team whose stars are mainly juniors, the good stuff may only be starting for Daegu American’s girls volleyball team, coach Joanna Wyche said.
Kristina Bergman (100 spike kills) and the setting tandem of Tia Rosenstein, Angie Robinet and Gulee Kwon (201 assists) have helped the Warriors beat Seoul American for the first time since 2005. Daegu also got a school-first season sweep of Seoul Foreign.
But it’s more than having star players and improving numbers. The Warriors have begun to mature, have better chemistry than last year and base most everything on accentuating the positive, Wyche said.
“Last year … a lot of them didn’t take it seriously. They weren’t used to winning. They didn’t truly desire to win,” said Wyche, in her third year as varsity coach.
“Gradually, it has started to click for them. They’re seeing the seriousness of it and they’re finally allowing themselves to be coachable. They’ve acclimated to my coaching style and to volleyball. They’ve assimilated.”
And they’ve realized that they may be on to something special, perhaps joining the 2005 Warriors as Far East Class A Tournament champions. DODEA teams have won the tournament three of the last four years.
“We know that we have a strong team,” Bergman said. “We’d be wrong to abuse that. I think we have a chance to take KAIAC and … Far East.”
Toward that end, many Warriors attended camps, either in the States or the two held in Korea over the summer. When not in camp, the players said, they worked on their games on their own over the summer.
Improvement this season began with little things such as passing and defense, both of which have done a 180-degree turnaround, Wyche said.
“We could hardly get sets up because setters were all over the court keeping the ball in play,” Wyche said of 2008. “This year, they’re anticipating where the ball’s going to be. Watching the hitter. Mental mapping. Telling themselves to be ready.”
“The people playing defense have more experience,” said Kwon, a junior. “We have more control in our passing, which gives the setters better opportunities to set the hitters.”
Then, there’s serving. A season ago, the Warriors would hit an average of 23 serves per match into the net or out of bounds. That number has decreased to just three or four per match.
“That’s a significant improvement,” Wyche said. “Add to that their maturity, their work on the court. Team chemistry. How they’ve merged together, how they’ve left the negative off the court. They realize that individuals score points, but teams win championships.”
“I feel more chemistry with the team on the court,” Kwon said.
Even the new people, such as Rosenstein, who transferred from Milan, Italy, have fit in. “They incorporated me into the team,” Rosenstein said. “They get along really well together.”
It would be easy, players and coach say, to view the 6-foot-1 spiking machine Bergman as the team’s go-to player.
“The reason I hit is because of my setters, and the reason my setters set is because of the passers,” Bergman said.
Bergman had played well, but in spots in years past, to where Wyche said she “couldn’t count on her,” at times benching her. This year, she has “not only taken care of it but has excelled. She’s now coachable. She listens. She takes direction. She wants to try things new.”
And it’s not just Bergman pounding the ball — she’s killed only 100 of those combined 201 sets. The rest of the team has taken turns, even diminutive Leanne Quizon, a 5-foot-2 sprite who’s a leaper, Wyche said.
“She looks like a small player, but if you set her well, she’ll hit the ball well,” Rosenstein said.
Still, it’s Bergman who remains the Warriors’ chief wrecking ball. “She’s obviously the piece of the puzzle they count on,” said coach Denny Hilgar of Seoul American, whose Falcons lost to Daegu 25-16, 19-25, 28-26, 25-16 on Sept. 5. “If she’s dominating at the net, they’re going to be tough.”
Daegu got a small taste of success during last year’s playoffs, taking fourth in the KAIAC tournament before capturing the Class A bronze medal on their home floor — the same place this year’s Class A tournament will be.
Friday the 13th is usually associated with bad luck, but Nov. 13 is the day the tournament ends. “That’s one of our goals is to win that day,” Rosenstein said. “We hope to.”
And Wyche will still have those underclassmen for one more year at least. “The best may be yet to come. I do believe it,” she said.