By Tim FlackNovember 21, 2018
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Nov. 21, 2018) - Zama American Middle High School student athletes battled their way to not one, but two, second-place Far East finishes on Nov. 10, bringing an amazing end to their fall seasons.
The girls' varsity volleyball team started the day in the Far East Division II championship game at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, facing off against Christian Academy Japan.
The Zama Lady Trojans started hot, taking the first set 25-21 on blistering spikes from outside hitters Grace Bryant and Katherine Hultquist. They lost the second and third sets, 15-25 and 18-25, before pushing back to win the fourth set 25-23. That win put the teams into a final, winner-take-all fifth-set game to 15 points. The CAJ Knights jumped off to a quick start, however, and ultimately grabbed the championship with a 15-10 finish.
Both Bryant and Hultquist were selected on the Far East All-Star Team, and Bryant - a sophomore - earned the title of Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
Just hours later, the boys' football team took to the gridiron against the Osan Cougars in their own Far East Division II fight on their home turf at Camp Zama.
The Cougars - from Osan Air Base, South Korea - kept their game on the ground and capitalized where they could, starting with a touchdown on the opening drive.
Zama's Nick Canada connected with Caen Hammond on a touchdown pass, igniting the fans who packed the stands. Canada ran for a second touchdown, and teammate Luke Singer bulldozed his way into the end zone for a final touchdown, but the Cougars were just one step ahead, and took the game 24-20.
Canada, along with teammates Devonte Gabriel and Sean Sullivan, were selected on the All-Star Team.
At first glance, it could be a story of two heartbreaking losses. But the coaches and players are celebrating the season for the hard-fought successes, for the lessons learned, for the respect their athletes earned from their Pacific-wide peers, and for the friendships made.
Volleyball coach Veronica Tipton-Jones said her team enjoyed a special camaraderie - a sense of family - that helped them excel.
"I contribute our success to phenomenal team chemistry," she said. "This team was comprised of the most caring, friendly and welcoming group of athletes that I have ever coached.
"They brought their friendship to the game and it showed in the way they played and supported each other throughout the season," she said.
Tipton-Jones said one of the key factors in building a team is trust. Every girl brings something different to the team, and the court. The most athletic girls don't necessarily have the most experience or knowledge, and when they first start to practice, they all have to learn to trust themselves and their teammates, she said.
She shared the story of one girl who came to tryouts without ever having played organized volleyball. The team captains and volunteer coach fought to give her a chance. She made varsity and played in every game throughout the season.
Fast-forward to Camp Humphreys, and the semifinal game. That girl missed a spike attack, causing Zama to lose a game, which would have derailed most players.
"But during the final set, this same player called for the ball and the setter gave it to her," Tipton-Jones said. "She put down a massive hit and ended the game, sending us to the championship finals."
She said that example perfectly illustrated the self-confidence the players built throughout the season, and the sense of trust they gave each other.
Tipton-Jones said all of that trust, camaraderie and never-quit attitude mixed together into the perfect recipe to give Zama their first-ever Department of Defense Education Activity PAC East Tournament win when they downed the Kinnick Red Devils at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, earlier this year.
She also gave shout-outs to the other people who helped push the team this year, including volunteer assistant coach Parish Jones, the junior varsity team and the cross country team for daily scrimmages and workouts, cheerleaders who supported every home game and Hannah Maza, the school's athletic director who "constantly showed her love and support through her presence at the games and her perseverance with all our issues."
She also thanked the school staff and rowdy student section who kept the energy level maxed out at the games, the local communities for helping fill the stands, and "our wonderful and supportive parents that have been there since day one at every game, fundraiser and activity.
"We could not have made it this far without all of you," she said. "Thank you and we love you!"
Hultquist said she enjoyed playing on the squad this year.
"Even though we placed second in Far East, I still felt spectacular at the end of the season," she said. "I can say with certainty that we gave it our all and I wouldn't trade anything for the season we had! We all grew as a team and individually. I couldn't be more proud of how we ended. I created memories that'll stay with me for the rest of my life."
Bryant, agreed, stating, "I loved every single second of it and even though we didn't win we still put on a great fight.
"My favorite memory of the season was just being around my teammates," Bryant said. "I've never been on a team that bonded so well on and off the court. We were all close friends and I trusted them with everything."
Zama's Far East varsity squad was rounded out with Jessica Atkinson, Aika Davis, Jazlyn Rioux, Leah Sakamoto-Flack, Liann So, Leah Vasquez and Aurelia Young.
Football head coach Scott Bolin attributes his team's success to their dedication.
"Our team bought into one of our core values-commitment-in a way that previous teams hadn't," Bolin said. "It really showed up in the off-season with the players putting in individual work to make the team better. That dedication showed up on the field in a big way this season."
Bolin said he knew from the very first practice that this group of young men had a shot at a title.
"The potential was evident from the start, but was unproven." he said. "It wasn't until after our first game against MC Perry in Iwakuni that we really saw the potential for a championship game appearance."
Bolin said that in recent years, Zama football squads didn't fare as well away from their home field.
"Winning on the road and winning in a big way has eluded us the past few years and the players demonstrated they could do it, which put them on the path to a Far East championship appearance," he said.
Bolin was very happy with the way the team played against the other Division II teams throughout the season, and for the learning that occurred as the season progressed.
"Our starters did a great job of allowing our backup players the opportunity to improve, which meant the whole team got better and not simply [the] starters," Bolin said. "A lot of selfless participation and play this year from the team."
He spotlighted two of his senior players - twins Nick and Sean Canada - who weathered the rough spots their first few years in the program.
"Their commitment and work ethic is a testament to their character," he said.
He also highlighted Caen Hammond for pushing through an early-season injury to become a major part of the team's offense.
"We're looking forward to his return next year," Bolin said.
Bolin also stressed that the team couldn't have been as successful as it was without the help of a lot of community members.
"My coaching staff was a large part of our success, especially our volunteer coaches - Coach Greene, Coach Houston and Coach Troxler," he said. "Our team mom, Ms. Patty Canada, did amazing work behind the scenes making sure our players were well cared for on long-haul travel and during games with concessions."
He also thanked Carmen Middleton for her volunteerism with the team.
Zama's football squad was rounded out with Jarquavius Webb, Matthew Shealy, Justyn Seraphin, Dominic Peruccio, William Takahashi, Luke Singer, Keshawn McNeill, Jarred Sampayan, Jaden Bouldin-Miller, Justin Brown, Jarred Green, Jaxon Jones, Josh Reilly, Angel Villalobos, Luke Schleicher, Elias Morin and Michael Steger.
"It was a great season and we're looking forward to repeating our success next year," Bolin said. "We are returning [with] some great athletes and a team that should build off this year's successes with an eye on returning to the championship game."