Kinnick sets sights on ASIJ's crown
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – They’ve won seven straight DODDS Japan championships. They’ve finished in the top eight of the Far East Division I Tournament the past six seasons, including runner-up finishes the last three straight years.
And there lies the rub. For all their successes since 2007, Nile C. Kinnick girls volleyball simply hasn’t overcome their biggest nemesis, the American School In Japan.
The Mustang Express isn’t showing any signs of slowing, if their roster is an indicator. ASIJ lost two seniors last year, brings back three quality hitters, including Far East MVP Mia Weinland.
“With two teams which are that skilled, especially ASIJ, it becomes a mental competition,” Red Devils coach Tony San Nicolas said. “Whichever team is the better prepared and the one that can overcome challenges in the game will be the successful one.”
It’s easier said than done, San Nicolas said, although he does possess what he feels are the necessary components for at least an eighth straight DODDS Japan title and another deep run at Far East.
Middle blockers Audri Salter and Noblae Wainwright, each seniors, return as do senior outside hitters Shakita Samuels and Rhyssa Hizon. Charla Johnson, younger sister of former Kinnick star Kaile Johnson, will set.
And the Red Devils got lucky in the transfer round, as former Zama middle blocker Katrina Reid joined the team for her senior season.
“I’m excited,” Reid said. “It’s a bit different, a different division, different to be on the other side.”
Still, they have to climb the last rung of that ladder. Defense, two of the players say, is key, as well as hard serving.
“They’re an offensive team,” Hizon said. “If we work defense and serves, we’ll be OK.”
“Be annoyingly defensive. Don’t let it hit the ground,” Reid added.
Kinnick might not be alone among DODDS teams chasing the D-I prize.
Kubasaki of Okinawa brings back six solid starters and a strong bench, on what coach Michael Hogen says is the best team he’s coached in his six seasons on Okinawa.
“All we’re thinking about is ASIJ,” said Hogen. Kubasaki hasn’t been to the D-I Final Four in nine years.
At Division II, the teams that played for the Far East title last year have been virtually cleaned out. Champion Daegu lost its coach, Joanna Wyche, and her volleyball-playing daughters Rheagan and Ramsey, to transfer, while all of runner-up Zama’s players left.
“Very excited to put our skills to the test,” new Warriors coach Fari Mendez said.
Japan-based teams that may challenge for the D-II grail include Matthew C. Perry, which brings back its sister hitting tandem of Ani and Lebet Erhart and has handed the setting keys to freshman Angel Cadavos, younger sister of Samurai soccer stars Sam and Jon Cadavos.
Robert D. Edgren is also breaking in a new setter, Nicole Marquez, but has enough components, including sisters Kalean and Sanae Middleton, to contend, like Perry and Zama, for a school-first D-II banner.