Packed with 12 seniors, the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders steamrolled their way through the 2019 Shieh Girls Volleyball Invitational championship game. Pitted against the George Washington High School Geckos, JFK claimed the title in straight sets, 25-22, 25-18.
“Our goal, this year, is to play on the very last day – on that championship day,” said Islanders’ Frencine Villena, a class of 2020 senior. “To get there, we just have to push and believe in ourselves.”
The Islanders’ starters, with more than half a decade of experience playing on the same teams, hope team chemistry will carry them far this season.
“We’ve been together for a really long time, ever since seventh (and) eighth grade,” Villena said. “The others that came along, we connected easily. We had that chemistry right then and there.”
In the opening set, JFK’s Kiyoni Yamaguchi, Kiana Rivera, and Hannah Hular helped stave off the determined Geckos.
In the deciding set, Villena’s timely play above the net kept the Geckos on their heals. Villena, smashing two late kill shots, set up match point. The Geckos, one of the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam elite teams, with an error into the net, ended their storied preseason tournament run.
After two full days of volleyball, Villena, who had been at the Dale J. Jenkins Gymnasium since 8 a.m., wanted to leave Upper Tumon.
With the finish line in sight, Villena said that she wanted the championship “so bad because we’ve been here since this morning. We just wanted to get it over with.”
“We did it,” she said. “We played to the best of our abilities.”
While the tournament, in its 20th season, doesn’t count for anything more than bragging rights, it allows teams to check out the competition, and chip off the summer rust.
“It helps us see what we’re going to be challenging, through the season,” Villena said. “It helps up prepare more, and do more of what we did tonight, in the season."
For Alden Bautista, JFK volleyball head coach, he hopes that the Islanders can carry the momentum through to opening day.
At 6:30 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 27, JFK opens its 2019-2020 campaign against the Tiyan High School Titans in Tiyan.
“Hopefully, being in this tournament, and winning it, makes them see how well they can play this season,” Bautista said. “If they work together, only good things will come.”
The last two tournament winners, the St. John's School Knights, advanced to consecutive title games against the Notre Dame High School Royals.
The Royals, this year's Shieh third-place finisher, is still the team to beat.
“There is still room for improvement," Bautista said. "We probably need to work on getting more players involved on offense.”
Bautista said the tournament is “a great way to gauge the strengths of the team and the weaknesses that we need to work on.”
Dr. Thomas Shieh, delivering as many smiles as babies, was happy to treat the teams to another successful tournament. For Shieh, hosting the tournament is a labor of love.
“Keeping them on the court keeps them off the street,” Shieh said. “If we can get them involved in sports, they’ll be less likely to get involved in the streets, doing the bad stuff.”