Story by Greg Mitchell, FLEACT, Yokosuka Public Affairs
With the season coming to a close upon the conclusion of the Far East Division I Girls Championship Tournament held in Guam Nov. 4-7, Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka’s Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils high school volleyball team finished in second place to rival American School in Japan (ASIJ). In all, the Lady Red Devils finished the regular season at 20-5, while going 8-5 to win the Kanto Plain Championship, then closing out the year during Far East at 8-2.
During a recent sit down on the school campus, senior players Kelly Osterbrink, Courtney Bacon, Maria Montepio, Megan Stith and Kaile Johnson spoke about not only the future of the Red Devils volleyball team, but also what the future may hold for themselves as soon to be graduated high school seniors.
From the standpoint of the team as a complete unit, the 2013 season was one where the players felt that there was definitely a bond that was created amongst the entire group.
“I think one of the best parts was that we were a family throughout the season,” said Bacon. “From the bus rides to on the court, I think it was all intertwined; how we treated each other. We were playful with each other and we created a bond and a trust and I think the younger girls trusted us as well. We expected much from them; we held them to certain requirements and I think that made our bond stronger throughout the season and I think that grew into something that was one really cool thing to be a part of.”
Johnson agreed with Bacons’ assessment of the team.
“I think that’s true,” said Johnson. “We are like really playful and honest with each other about everything and I think that’s good. When we came to the court we weren’t being nice to each other and saying things like, ‘nice try’. With us it’s more like, ‘dude come on! Get that!’ We would maintain that mentality of being straight up with each other – we didn’t need to sugarcoat things with each other.”
When asked about the future of the Lady Red Devils, each player felt that the pieces were in place to contend for the next season.
“I think a few of them are pretty experienced and now that they have played at the varsity level for the first time, they know what to expect so they just got to work really hard next year,” said Osterbrink.
Each of the players feel the sky is the limit for the current crop being left over for next season.
“This team still has the potential to be successful,” said Montepio. “Each year Kinnick gains more players but the group that is already there still has the opportunity to win a championship.”
2013 was the beginning of head coach Anthony San Nicolas’ tenure with the varsity, and each of the players felt that he had left an ever-lasting impression on them all.
“I think important to note that with coach we began to understand how to play with our hearts and how to push ourselves more rather than just being yelled at,” said Johnson. “That is how our previous coach was to us but, Coach San Nicolas kind of worked more on developing us into players who can play for ourselves and not because someone is yelling at us. I think at first that was hard to adapt to because we weren’t used to it but, as the season went on we understood and I think it showed most during the Far East tournament,” said Johnson.
For some, San Nicolas presented another dimension of a person that they had never encountered before, uniqueness that is only found in a selected group of people.
“We certainly had our battles, our disagreements,” said Montepio. “But, I found him to be very intriguing with his sense of humor and personality; he’s the type of individual that you can definitely connect with.”
The seniors felt that San Nicolas focused more on breeding a strong mentality within that seemed to them to work with the entire team.
“He gave us two quotes, but one stuck with me,” said Bacon. “Don’t compare yourselves to others, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.” That helped me mentally because I may not be as strong in my abilities on the court, but I am comparing myself to my last season and my practice even the day before and I saw improvement there. I think I applied that to a lot of different places in my life and I think that was really cool he showed us that to us too.”
San Nicolas in their eyes was purely a great coach who wanted the best for each individual player on the team.
“I was injured last year, but he did not cut me,” said Stith. “He believed in me and helped me to become a better player, a better teammate and I really appreciate that.”
Looking back on the Far East Tournament in Guam, each player felt the team as a whole could have done a better job but were still proud of their accomplishments.
“Well, when we first started off it wasn’t easy and we definitely had to push ourselves,” said Johnson. “The previous season, we just flew by during the tournament. We beat ASIJ (last year during the tournament) and it was like, alright, we got this. But this time, when it came time to play, I guess we as a team were not there but I also think that was good for us because we had to push ourselves due to the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Aside from ASIJ, the players felt that Seisen International was as tough a match up but, they also felt that the teams’ best game was against them while also feeling it was their best game of the year.
Then came the championship match against rival ASIJ.
“Unfortunately we didn’t show up to play,” said Beacon. “I think it was a little embarrassing because I felt that we could play better than that. I was frustrated with my own playing and also because we didn’t come together like we could.”
The Lady Red Devils were swept 25-16, 25-10, 25-19 in the finals at Naval Station’s Charles King Fitness Center, resulting in the Mustangs’ fifth championship since 2006 and eighth in school history. ASIJ has beat Kinnick three straight times; four sets in the 2012 final which was also held in the center and in three sets in 2011 at Seoul American High School.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” San Nicolas said of a third-straight runner-up finish. “You have to commend that ASIJ program. We have to be more prepared and step up our game when we face somebody like that. We just lacked the energy (against ASIJ) that we had against Seisen. We were focused, but we just didn’t have that energy.”
“I think a lot of our players were scared too,” said Johnson. “ASIJ has pretty good hitters and they would smash the ball down a lot. I think we as a whole were asking ourselves, ‘was I really supposed to get that? It was as if we were second-guessing ourselves and I think that did us in.”
Despite not winning the championship, the Lady Red Devils time spent in Guam was particularly special for the team not only because they had the opportunity as girls to go shopping in an American mall for the first time since moving to Japan, but also because they all had the chance to meet San Nicolas’ family. San Nicolas is a natural-born native of Guam and also of Chamorro descent, so the girls had the chance to enjoy Chamorro culture up close and personal.
“It was nice to see coach with his family and he was really happy, especially when his dad came out to support us as well as his sister too,” said Osterbrink. “This being his first time coaching us on the varsity and all, it was a really nice experience. Plus it was really cool that there were people there who were actually cheering for us and I think that had a lot to do with who coach was.”
San Nicolas interaction with his family also gave players some insight on who their coach really was and also where he got his funny sense of humor from.
“It was cool to see him and his family come together because prior to the season, we didn’t really know much about coach,” said Bacon. “Of course he was here last year but, he was kind of like unexpectedly thrown into the varsity head coaching position. I got a good picture of what coach is really like,” said Beacon. “Going to Guam and seeing everything – the way his father was so funny – and how beautiful and sweet his mother is – it all makes more sense to me now.”
As senior classmen, all three know the inevitable is coming; they will graduate and leave the school to pursue their own future life goals. Osterbrink is working towards being accepted at the University of Hawaii to play women’s softball, while majoring in sports medicine.
After doing internships in the pediatrics department of USNH Yokosuka as a part of the schools’ Career Practicum Program, Bacon hopes to be accepted by Duke University and to major in the medical field, while obtaining a minor in Spanish. Johnson’s road may lead her to several different routes, one of which may lead to her defending her country.
“I am hoping to get a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) scholarship,” said Johnson. “But unfortunately with JROTC, you really don’t have the opportunity to play sports at the same time. If I get it, then I will go to the University of San Francisco. But if I don’t get that then I would like to go to the University of Hawaii and play soccer or volleyball because I have family there. My major would be in Kinesiology, and hopefully I can go on to be a physical therapist.”
Montepio is keeping her options open but is intrigued with New York University because of its vast areas of study which she found interesting. Her future plans are to potentially attend there to major in Business and Communications, and still be close to relatives living in the New Jersey area.
Stith on the other hand, looks to go to college then kind of ‘return home’ so to speak.
“I have been accepted to the University of South Florida but I may try to go to another school, say University of Florida,” said Stith. “I want to major in Environmental Science and then I would like to come back to Japan to be a Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) Environmental Science teacher.”
Despite the teams shortcomings on the season, head coach Anthony San Nicolas feels they were a success overall.
“I think we partially met our goal in terms of what we were setting ourselves up for,” said San Nicolas. “When we had our first loss against Seisen, I brought the girls outside and asked them to re-assess their goals in terms of what we were trying to accomplish; Kalie was the first one to point out that we’re trying to win Far East. She did not say we are trying to win Kanto or we are trying to win DODDS; we are trying to win Far East because we want to be the best in the Pacific. So I say it was partially accomplished because we got to the championship. We did what we needed to get there. Obviously we fell short; it only makes us hungrier I guess.”
San Nicolas commended the senior girls for their work throughout the season, while holding the team as a whole with high regard.
“I definitely have a great bunch of girls,” said San Nicolas. “I told them this on more than one occasion; they are the most talented bunch of high school girls that I have ever coached. So the biggest thing, and some of them alluded to it – was getting them to play with that desire. But for the most part, I felt we did what we needed to do – we got to the big dance.
You know it’s unfortunate that not everyone wanted to dance, and I guess these guys used the words, ‘we were nervous’ or, ‘we choked’ – something like that. I have coached long enough to see teams who have choked, who have been nervous. I don’t think we choked; I think ASIJ stepped up their playing level, which kind of caught us off guard.”
San Nicolas feels the future of the team is bright and is filled with optimism for the 2014 season.
“We have a decent core group coming back but, the downside to that is a lot of the talent sitting in here now is kind of unmatched,” said San Nicolas. “You can’t teach the defensive prowess that Kalie has. That’s something that’s innate. So as a coach, that’s something I need to bring out. You can’t teach the volleyball IQ that Kelly has; the middle blocking heart and toughness that Megan brings; to be that multi-role player like Maria who will do whatever it takes for the team to win, even if it means to put everyone before her own self; or the leadership qualities of Courtney in terms of this being her second year – you can’t teach those kinds of things; those are things people are born with to some extent. They can pick and choose and say, ‘oh I want to be like that, or I want to try to do like so and so,’ but in all five of these players, it comes naturally. So, I am looking forward to next year but its going to be a lot to replace these three but we do have the pieces in place. It’s just a matter now of putting it all together again so that we can hopefully make it back to that Far East championship.”