Edgren hopeful of growth on journey to title

Education
Capturing that elusive Far East Division II Tournament banner would be nice -- coach Sarah Richardson has come up short in her four times at center court -- but as long as her Robert D. Edgren Eagles can take something with them that can help them succeed in life, "that's just as good as a banner," she said. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Capturing that elusive Far East Division II Tournament banner would be nice -- coach Sarah Richardson has come up short in her four times at center court -- but as long as her Robert D. Edgren Eagles can take something with them that can help them succeed in life, "that's just as good as a banner," she said. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

Edgren hopeful of growth on journey to title

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: October 01, 2015

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Kalean Middleton went cold inside, a scowl etched on her face and a raging tide of anger welling up as she gazed at the other side of the net, where Osan’s celebration of its Far East Division II girls volleyball tournament title had just begun.

Middleton’s Robert D. Edgren Eagles had come up just short, losing 25-19, 25-23, 26-24 to the Cougars in the final last Nov. 6 at Camp Zama, Japan, after entering the event as one of the favorites. And Middleton, then as now Edgren’s team captain, recalls it vividly.

“I still have flashbacks about that last point,” she said. “It was awful. It was dreadful.”

So dreadful, she said, that she couldn’t find it in her to cry. Partly due to that anger, but also because “I knew my team needed me to be strong for them while they were sad,” Middleton said. “So, I kept it in. I couldn’t grieve, for myself or my teammates. It was extremely hard.”

Only three days later, in the minutes before the team banquet Nov. 9 at the Grid, the old airmans’ club on Misawa, did she give in to sadness.

She walked past the school, and the gym, knowing it would be nine months before the road to attempted redemption. In solitude in a darkened hallway, a cascade of emotion coursed down her cheeks.

Like a mother trying to be strong for her children, Middleton said she ascribes to the thought that while a parent’s offspring go to her when they’re feeling sad, who does the parent turn to? Middleton’s teammates and coaches do view her as a coach on the court and an extension of team mom.

“I could have gone to my mom (Edgren assistant coach Sanae Middleton), but I didn’t want her to see how badly it affected me,” Middleton said.

In that dark cloud of sadness, a silver lining shimmered, however dimly last November. Middleton does have her senior year left.

So one of her responsibilities as team captain was getting those who remain to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

But it’s hardly just the banners that Middleton, her mom, and longtime Eagles coach Sarah Richardson say they’re chasing. Because even if they again come up short of the ultimate goal, it’s what players can take with them into life, college or the work force that are more important than banners.

“You have to work together to succeed,” Middleton said. “You have to be a family. We have to stay together as a team. Team means you can’t be an individual. That’s basically what we’re trying to become this season, not just on the court or in class, but even out of school.”

Middleton does it all on the court, equally skilled defensively and setting as she is blocking in the middle and hitting outside. She passes along those skills during practice and in matches; Edgren started 4-0 this season, having beaten Kanto Plain power Kinnick in two matches last weekend.

Off the court, the team spends much time bonding in locales that involve shopping, dining, even little things like singing on the team bus to songs by Taylor Swift and Drake while Richardson and the elder Middleton are checking the team into quarters after a long ride from Misawa.

“We start singing and rapping, just trying to hype ourselves,” she said. “It keeps us close as a team.”

Middleton is the senior class president, carries a weighted 4.50 GPA thanks to three Advanced Placement courses, statistics, government and literature.

Her strong suits, she says, are mathematics and the sciences. She’s looking at the University of California-Berkeley, Hawaii-Manoa, UCLA and State University of New York campuses at Stony Brook and Plattsburgh as possible college destinations.

Richardson, who has taken three Edgren basketball teams to center court in addition to the volleyball finals appearance – losing each time – feels Middleton can succeed going forward from high school in anything she does.

“She’s a phenomenal leader, she’s a motivator, she’s a hard worker,” said Richardson, who’s coached at Edgren since 1990. “The kids will follow her to the ends of the Earth. They work for her. They look up to her. They need her guidance and leadership. She’s just a big plus for Edgren High School.”

Likewise, Richardson gives her players the tools they need to take with them from Edgren when they face the world, Middleton said.

“She’s given me the ability to grow, not just as a player but also as a young adult,” she said. “And I’m maturing into a young lady, as she calls it.”

“I love what I do, and so if I win one, that’s great,” Richardson said. “I would love to have one. But if I don’t, as long as there is something I can give the girls to take on as they get older, take whatever they learn here and take it on as adults, to me, that’s just as good as a banner.”

Nothing, Middleton said, would represent thanks to Richardson than to exit as a champion both in DODDS Japan – which would unseat eight-time champion Kinnick – and Far East D-II.

“It would make me feel honored to finally give her that banner that she’s always wanted,” Middleton said. “I’d cry again. Tears of joy. I’d be so happy. I couldn’t contain my emotions. I will have a box of tissues and make sure my teammates have those, too.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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