Volleyball Preview: Kubasaki tries to retain crown
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Now that the Kubasaki Dragons have taken that final leap and achieved the first Far East girls volleyball Division I Tournament title in school history, the question is, can they do it again?
On paper, the task might prove “very difficult,” as coach Mike Hogen said. Having to replace four departed key cogs in the Dragons’ wheel, Lianna Bourdony, Sara Frazier, Crystal Sieber and Far East MVP Kelsey Rogers might seem monumental enough.
“They were all very strong leaders and they had been in our system for so long, so it’s not going to be easy to replace that,” Hogen said.
But the Dragons do retain four players who were also key to their fortunes, including a sixth Okinawa district title on Hogen’s watch. Senior middles Kaelyn Francis and Josie Daffin return, as do senior setter Miranda Fino and sophomore defender Maiya Larry.
Fino and Larry will find their roles quite different this season as compared to last – they move to outside hitter, while senior Courtney Kait, a transfer from Kellam High in Virginia, comes in to set. She played the last seven years for the Beach Elite club program in Virginia.
“She can be a very strong leader,” Hogen said of Kait. “Miranda was awesome, but this girl is fantastic. Miranda can pass dimes, so it was an easy decision” to move Fino to outside and Kait to setter.
Most of Hogen’s charges either spent time at a summer camp or played and worked out as members of the Shisa Volleyball Club, the Okinawa-based year-round program which just finished its annual summer tour of the Philippines.
For her part, Kait says she’s excited to return to the court with a high school team after sitting her junior year to focus on academics; she didn’t stop playing club ball, though.
“I’m so excited to be involved with the Kubasaki team and go after that two-peat title,” Kait said. “I can’t wait to see what this season has in store.”
Kubasaki will likely find its main opposition once more in Tokyo’s Kanto Plain, mainly the American School In Japan, the team the Dragons dethroned after the Mustangs had won the three previous Far East D-I titles. ASIJ is playing its first season in five years without star hitter Mia Weinland.
On the Division II side of the house, defending champion Osan must get along without setter Haeley Deeney and outside hitter Jada Carnine, who transferred to the States, and outside hitter Andrea Carandang, who fractured a leg bone during a conditioning workout last month.
“It’s hard to adjust,” said Carandang, adding that she may be back for the Far East tournament. “We’re going to manage.”
One team that could be primed for a D-II title run is 2014 runner-up Robert D. Edgren. But the Eagles, too, must overcome the loss of key players, mainly Nicole Marquez, last season’s setter who’s now playing in California.
Kalean Middleton and Coko Magby, the team’s primary hitting options, return, but Edgren continues to face an age-old problem – lack of matches to prepare for Far East, coach Sarah Richardson said.
“We have the kids, we have the power, we have the skills, but nothing to look forward to” in the regular season, in which Edgren has two home weekends, Richardson said. “It’s hard to keep the kids motivated, hard to see the results because we don’t get the matches.”