By Nathaniel San Nicolas
In a gym filled with roaring fans and ecstatic attitudes, the George Washington Geckos ousted the visiting off-island team, the Shisa Volleyball Club from Okinawa, Japan, in straight sets, 25-20, 25-23 to claim the championship title of the 14th Annual Shieh Invitational Girls’ High School Volleyball Tournament.
Despite the rough start with unforced errors from both sides, it was a highly competitive match throughout. Down 5-6 in the first set, Shisa setter Emily Lampert decided to take matters into her own hands recording seven aces and two assists to teammates Keila Welky and Kelsey Rogers, bringing the Japan team up 13-6. But after a service error by Lampert, the Geckos’ Tisha Aguigui took full advantage of the missed opportunity and served up four aces of her own, bringing her ladies within two. Trading points back and forth from that moment on, it was the Geckos who found themselves widening the gap, taking the lead at 22-19. Then coming off a timeout, Rogers put one to the floor to try and get the momentum back on the Shisa side. But despite the effort, two unforced errors put the Geckos at game-point, setting up Aguigui to close the set with an ace at 25-20.
Coming into the second set with their backs on the wall, Shisa wasted no time starting off with a 4-0 lead behind a roof and ace from Chanel Grice and Ameya Jackson. However, the Geckos’ Maricia Mariano wasn’t going to give in so easily as she found a hole in the Shisa defense earning herself a kill. Luckily for the Guam team, Shisa committed a few unforced errors and another rotation violation that brought the score to a tie at 13 apiece. But it was Shisa who decided to step it up a notch as Lampert and Rogers smashed two kills each to bring their team up 20-15. However, the gap slowly closed as Mariano still had answers for the Japan team, bringing the Geckos within two behind two kills and an ace. Coming off from another timeout, Zea Nauta and Mariano put the Geckos in the lead, and a hitting error by Shisa made it match-point for the hosting competitors. But power house lefty Keila Welky put the crowd in a roar as she slammed one to the floor to give her team a chance to force a third set. But it was an unfortunate service error that crowned the GW Geckos champions, ending the game with a second set score of 25-23.
Despite falling short of the championship, the Okinawa Volleyball Club enjoyed their experience here on island. Fundraising rigorously, head coach Mike Hogen said, “a lot more interest was taken second time around,” for they competed last year as well and hope to come back again in the future.
As for the champions, Geckos head coach Bobby Quinata said, “This (championship) really sets the tone for the season. There are high expectations on us, and we’re still getting use to each other.”
With the win, the Geckos are a sure force to be reckoned with for the upcoming season, taking this win humbly with their eyes set on the title.
In the third place match, the Simon Sanchez Sharks took the win over the Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars 22-25, 25-23, 15-10.
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