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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – On and on the two teams played last Saturday in a knockout game at the DODDS Japan volleyball tournament, Zama American and Matthew C. Perry combined for 221 points in just more than two hours before the Samurai came out on top.

Perry eventually came out on the short end of the championship match, falling in three sets to Nile C. Kinnick. But what the Samurai and Trojans provided in the penultimate match was perhaps a preview of the championship of next week’s Far East Division II Tournament at Camp Zama.

“It’s going to be better than that, I already know,” Zama senior setter Kristina Baldwin said.

“Zama is definitely a contender this year, they’re not rebuilding any more and neither are we,” Samurai senior middle blocker Courtney Beall said. “We’re both forces to be reckoned with, and there can only be one champion. This was a foreshadowing.”

With two-time defending champion Morrison Academy not returning to Far East, that the tournament will likely be a three-way battle between the Trojans, Samurai and three-time D-II champion Daegu, which finished second last year.

The combined pool-play and double-elimination event begins Monday at Zama’s Yano Fitness & Sports Center. Meanwhile, American School In Japan seeks its third straight Division I tournament title at Naval Base Guam’s Charles King Fitness & Sports Center.

For years the doormats of DODDS Japan, Zama and Perry have ridden a crest of veteran blood to success, winning more than half of their matches, but developing unity and belief that anything’s possible, Beall and Baldwin said.

“They (Trojans) hustle, and you can’t teach a team how to hustle,” Beall said. “They always come out and want to play their hardest. It says a lot.”

As for her own team, “We’re solid,” Beall said. “We have every asset we need. There’s not one star on our team; everyone’s a star on our team.”

Baldwin feels chemistry aided Zama’s success. “We love each other so much, we don’t have cliques, we’re together all the time, we care so much about each other during the games and we work so much harder than last year,” she said.

All that promises a highly competitive tournament, Daegu coach Joanna Wyche said. Her Warriors shared the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division regular-season title and will tune up for Far East in the KAIAC tournament Thursday and Friday at Yongsan International School-Seoul.

“If it’s easy, it often becomes a disadvantage,” Wyche said. “Complacence takes you off your game if you’re not challenged. You can’t assume anything going into a tournament.”

It could be easy to view ASIJ as a prohibitive favorite on Guam. But Kinnick, D-I runner-up the last two years, became the only team to take a set off the Mustangs this season in a four-set loss Tuesday.

“I believe we’re talented at every position; now, it’s a matter of applying ourselves and turn up our skill and match the level of intensity they (Mustangs) bring to the court,” Red Devils coach Tony San Nicolas said.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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