CAMP ZAMA, Japan (March 6, 2019) -- At the beginning of the season, the Camp Zama Middle High School girls' basketball team might have seemed an unlikely candidate to win the Department of Defense Education Activity-Pacific Division II girls' championship.

The team had placed 10th the year before, and with only six players, three of the team's managers soon felt compelled to hit the court and start playing.

With a combination of hard work, solid coaching and a lot of encouragement, however, the team took home the school's first Division II girls' championship at the end of the Far East Division II Tournament at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Feb. 21 through 23. The team lost only one game in their regular season and went 7-0 in the tournament, beating Daegu 58-42 in the championship game.

"It felt great to see them play to their full potential and believe in themselves and just put everything together that we had been working on all season," said Daisy Hayes, who started coaching the team this year and is also the physical education teacher at Camp Zama's John O. Arnn Elementary School. "It was awesome."

Only three players had returned from last year's team, Hayes said, and the victory for them was particularly sweet.

"One of my players … she was completely blown away that they actually did it because they came in 10th place last year," Hayes said. "To go from being on a team in 10th place and then go to playing on a team that got first place at Far East, it was just … I had no words."

Jessica Atkinson, a junior, was one of the players who returned from last year, and she said several changes helped the team win the championship.

"It's good to look back and think that we really improved and changed the program," Hayes said. "We got a new coach (Hayes) and she's a good coach. The players who came out this season, we were really good at adapting to different plays and new coaching. So that really helped our skills."

A'Shoncee Boyd, a senior, was one of the managers who joined the team.

"There was a time when they didn't have a lot of players, so they couldn't run plays in practice really well, so Coach Hayes asked me to join," Boyd said.

Boyd said she was really nervous before her first game--she had never officially played on a basketball team before--but Coach Hayes remained confident she would do well.

"Even when I went out there and I made mistakes, she was always really encouraging and telling me what I did right, and whenever I messed up, she was like, 'Just do it again. Just do it again,'" Boyd said.

The encouragement worked, Boyd said.

"Winning the championship felt really good," Boyd said. "I actually played a lot in that game, so it just felt like all that we did and all that we went through during the season … really just payed off, all the hard work."

Chloé Sterling, a freshman, was a strong member of the team with double-digit scoring in every game--including one where she tallied 33 points--and she said she had a lot of fun during the season.

"I was excited (about winning the championship) because I felt like we really worked hard for a win," Sterling said. "We practiced holidays, open gym days, when there shouldn't have been practices. We worked really hard. I think we worked harder than all the other teams."

Although some members of the team were inexperienced, they didn't let that stop them, Sterling said.

"The new players really caught on fast," Sterling said. "They listened and they knew what they were supposed to do. That really helped us become more of a team, but we already knew each other on and off the court, so that really helped with the chemistry."

Sterling also thanked her father, Andre Sterling, for helping her with her game throughout the season.

Jazlyn Rioux, a junior, said this year was her first year playing basketball, and she started out as a manager.

Rioux said she began playing because of Coach Hayes' encouragement and the support of everyone else on the team, and she is glad she did. She intends on playing again next year.

"It was fun," Rioux said. "The people on the team made it fun. I enjoyed it."

Hayes said the team came together because of all the players.

"It was just really their heart and determination and just really wanting to reach their goals," Hayes said.

As a coach, Hayes said she emphasized competing and taking pride in how the team played the game.

"It may sound strange, but I don't teach them to compete necessarily to beat the other team," Hayes said. "I teach them to compete against themselves and live up to their potential and be their best. Because if you do that, you only have one way to go, and that's up."