Kubasaki rallies to dethrone ASIJ
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- For the first time in four years, the Far East Volleyball Division I Tournament has a new champion.
Tournament MVP Kelsey Rogers led the Kubasaki Dragons to a 13-25, 29-27, 27-25, 26-24 upset Thursday over reigning back-to-back-to-back champion American School In Japan.
Technically, Kubasaki was the visiting team. The roar of the crowd when the Dragons tied ASIJ 24-24 in the second set told a different story.
“We had a rough first set because of nerves,” said Rogers, who agreed her teammates were a little rattled by the home crowd-like support. “Once we lost the first one, we regrouped and told each other that we had nowhere to go but up and that they’re the ones with something to lose. We have nothing to lose, so we could just leave it all out there and still feel good.”
Coach Michael Hogen said Wednesday night his team needed to find a way to disrupt the Mustangs’ attack. While the crowd boosted the Dragons’ spirits, Wednesday’s tape review of ASIJ’s victory over Kubasaki in round-robin play showed the team what did go right.
“Big thing was timing our blocks. We usually block to take away angles, but you simply cannot take away space from ASIJ. We just don’t have the height and length to do that. I told the girls, ‘we had to either stop block or go home,’ ” Hogen said.
On trying to minimize the potential damage that last year’s MVP Mia Weinland could cause, Hogen said: “We also had to take advantage of the three rotations Mia was in the back row and we were able to capitalize on that.”
Digs were also key. Freshman libero Maiya Larry led the team by digging out seven of ASIJ’s hitters’ attacks, many of which turned into Kubasaki points.
“Great defense will wear down a great offense,” Hogen said. “That was something I think the team finally bought into following the first annihilation [against ASIJ]. Play for each point and don’t give their offense any free points. We also recognized a couple of mismatches. That was big time for us. With Maiya digging out their hits, we were able to move the ball to Kelsey to take advantage of the mismatch.”
For ASIJ, the loss becomes the only blemish on a perfect season.
“It was point-for-point,” coach Gail Lanier said. “It was a really tough match. They hustled. They covered the court extremely well. Sometimes the ball fell in our favor. And sometimes it fell in favor of Kubasaki. They played a beautiful ballgame.”
Weinland played hurt.
Despite making her trademark hits from the front line, she had an obvious limp that seemed to limit her effectiveness and range from the back row.
“Before the game, Mia was crying,” Lanier said. “Usually, that’s a good thing because she’s so emotional about the game, but the other girls told me she was hurt. Her knee has been bothering her for about a month now, but she has still been able to do what she normally does on the court. Hopefully, it’s just wear and tear.”
Lanier was quick to note that she didn’t feel Weinland’s injury takes anything away from Kubasaki’s title.
“They played so well today, they just may have beaten us no matter what,” she said.
It’s the first D-I volleyball title for Kubasaki in school history and just the seventh for a DODDS school in the sport in 38 years.