Yokota makes it close, but Kinnick spikers extend reign

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Yokota's Britany Bailey finds an open lane to score in the first set of the DODEA-Japan Volleyball Tournament Championship on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 at Naval Base Yokosuka, Japan.  James Kimber/Stars and Stripes
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Yokota's Britany Bailey finds an open lane to score in the first set of the DODEA-Japan Volleyball Tournament Championship on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 at Naval Base Yokosuka, Japan. James Kimber/Stars and Stripes

Yokota makes it close, but Kinnick spikers extend reign

by: James Kimber | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: October 31, 2016

NAVAL BASE YOKOSUKA, Japan -- For the 10th straight year, Nile C. Kinnick won the DODEA-Japan volleyball tournament after rallying Saturday to defeat Yokota 16-25, 25-14, 17-25, 25-18, 15-12.

The Red Devils’ found themselves on the ropes early after not losing a set before the championship of the three-day tournament.

The Panthers took two of the first three sets and forced Kinnick to play a decisive fifth set.

As the fifth set kicked off, Yokota jumped to an early lead thanks to Ashlyn Yevchak’s  knuckleball-like looping serves.

“We just had to regroup, get our thoughts together and focus on winning each point,” Kinnick’s team captain Stephanie Stockman said. “We needed to put it all on the floor and leave it there.”

Though the scorebook may not reflect it, Stockman credited Kinnick’s Jade McGinnis and Shanice Sueda’s scrapping that led the Devils to tie the set at eight. The unheralded pair redirected Yokota’s hitters to taking bad shots and sacrificed their bodies to keep the ball in play. 

The home crowd began to shake the gym chanting for their Devils. Kinnick’s Exotica Hall, an outside hitter whose high-flying offense had been all but neutralized by the Yokota defense all afternoon, stepped in to serve. Her four consecutive service points put Kinnick up 12-9 in the first to 15 final set. That was all Kinnick needed to hold on.

Yokota, defeated Zama just minutes earlier for the right to play for the title, and came in warmed up and in rhythm. The well-rested Devils started slow and had communication problems right from the opening serve.

Yevchak’s unconventional approach at the service line took control almost immediately as the Panthers leapt to a 12-2 lead in the first set. The lead proved insurmountable and gave Yokota a quick one set lead in the best of five match.

“I have a lot of admiration for their team,” Kinnick’s coach Tony SanNicolas said. “They came out stronger and faster than us and forced us to find another level of intensity that would match theirs and then dig deeper to surpass their energy. They exposed our weaknesses and showed us how to persevere. I couldn’t be prouder of how our girls handled it.”

Once the mood was set, both teams maintained an overly aggressive style of play throughout the match. Stingy defense highlighted the rest of the match while sloppy passing plagued both sides.

“I think we were just in our own heads for a lot of the game,” Kinnick’s Taylor Cobb said after the match. “[Yokota] knew where to attack us and I think we tried to force too much early on, but once we got out of our heads and played our game, we were able to step up as a team again.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Yokota head coach Dennis McKibben says this tournament sets up his team to make a long run in Far East later this month.

“They gave everything, which is all any coach can ask,” McKibben said. “We’ll hopefully be getting our big hitter and captain back [in Irene Diaz] later this month and we’re going to make a lot of noise at Far East. We have a lot of faith in that after seeing how we did here.”

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