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D-II girls final

Zama breaks through for program's first championship

Daegu's Bethani Newbold drives around Zama guards Chloe Sterling and Kirari Smith.

MARY OBSUNA/SPECIAL TO STRIPES

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2019

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Where Zama’s girls basketball team is concerned, the third time was the charm.

Freshman Chloe Sterling pumped in 24 of her 29 points in the first half as the Trojans, who struggled to get going in the first two periods, pulled away in the second half to win their first Far East Division II Tournament title, 58-43 over Daegu in a battle of underclass stars.

“She set the tone and saved us,” first-year Zama coach Daisy Whitaker-Hayes said of Sterling. “If it wasn’t for her in the first half, it could have gone a different way. She was pivotal.”

After trying and failing in two Far East tournament finals appearances in 1991 and 2016, the Trojans came away with the first girls Far East basketball tournament title in school history.

Zama had posted a pedestrian finish in the American School In Japan Kanto Classic last month in Tokyo, then survived an offensive slowdown in the DODEA-Japan tournament final three weeks ago against Yokota; the Trojans won that game 35-16.

“This was a completely different story” from the DODEA-Japan tournament, Whitaker-Hayes said.

Zama also worked a strategy against Warriors sophomore center Dai’Ja Turner, fronting her with Sterling and having center Jessica Atkinson guard her from behind.

Turner had eight of her 15 points in the third quarter – but that was when she fouled out, leaving Daegu without its inside presence.

Daegu finished the regular season unbeaten after suffering a 30-game losing streak for two seasons between 2015 and 2017, but the Warriors came up short in their first D-II final in six seasons.

“The girls fought hard,” coach Jonathan Van said. “They came up short, but they’re still champions in my eyes. I’m proud of my Warriors.”

Sophomore guard Bethani Newbold led the Warriors with 18 points.

Daegu's Dai'Ja Turner shoots between Zama's Jessica Atkinson and Kirari Smith.
MARY OBSUNA/SPECIAL TO STRIPES

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