Diamonds across Europe are returning to action after two long years of pandemic purgatory.
The vast majority of the 19 DODEA-Europe schools fielding baseball and/or softball teams are in action this weekend as the organization stages its first official regular season games since the 2019 tournament. and 2021 have been canceled or extremely reduced due to COVID-19.
The obvious consequence of the long hiatus is a lack of playing experience. they have observed since the start of training.
“We don’t have a lot of experience, but we have strong athletes who soak up everything our coaches have to offer,” Kaiserslautern baseball coach Justin Bates said. “To see how far we’ve come in just three weeks of training is very encouraging.”
Teams will need to make several of these leaps in quick succession to peak by the end of this fast-paced six-week season and make a splash in European tournaments.
“Overall, we’re a young team with talent on the field,” Vilseck softball coach Shannon Laliberte said. “We are looking to hone that talent so that we have achieved all of the objectives by the time the tournament takes place.”
While every team would love to grab a long-delayed title, this season is largely about picking up the pace of spring. Napoli baseball coach Jim Davis pointed out that many underclassmen making their DODEA-Europe debuts this year haven’t even played on a regulation high school field.
“We’re working on getting the rust out,” Davis said. “But after two full seasons off, we’re just happy to be back on the diamond.”
Traditional Division I powerhouses Stuttgart and defending champion Ramstein have plenty of opponents for big-school supremacy this spring, and they will each see one early on opening weekend. Ramstein hosts Kaiserslautern, while Stuttgart travels to Wiesbaden.
New Wiesbaden Warriors head coach Jon Ring has four players who aren’t entirely new to the program, a healthy number by the league’s currently skewed standards. Ring wants the Warriors to be “a team of character” proud of their efforts on the field and their example off the field. If they lose, Ring said, “it won’t be because we haven’t done our best.”
SHAPE coach Scott Burgess has nine starting Spartans at the helm, including ‘strong hitters and a decent line-up’, giving the Belgian school a chance to disrupt Germany’s usual power structure in Division I.
Italian schools Napoli and Vicenza, which face off this weekend, will vie for the small school crown this spring after years at Division I level. The Cougars bring a new championship pedigree in the form of the new head coach Osvaldo Garcia Carrillo, last seen leading Ramstein to the 2019 Division I crown.
Carrillo said the Cougars have already “developed good hitting and throwing fundamentals,” though he admits this season’s fortunes rest heavily on the shoulders of the freshmen and sophomores.
“Our team is looking forward to the challenges ahead of us,” Carrillo said.
Napoli and Vicenza will find familiar Italian enemies in the ranks of the smaller schools in 2019, revolutionary champion Aviano and the old Sigonella dynasty.
The Wiesbaden Warriors won one of the most memorable title runs in DODEA-Europe history in 2019, emerging from a No. 8 seed in a nine-team split to beat heavily favored Ramstein to the Division I crown. Now head coach Jenny Yalden is eager to lead her team’s title defense.
“We have a great team all around,” Yalden said. “Our coaching staff is extremely competent and the girls come in every day ready to give 100% of their effort.”
Ramstein and Stuttgart, the division’s traditional powerhouses, will try to oust the upstart Warriors from their new position. Vilseck and 2018 champion Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, will be looking to build on the 2019 semi-finals.
“We lack experience,” said Kaiserslautern coach Ken Robinson. “But we plan to be able to shake things up offensively, throw in strikes and play solid defence.”
Small-school reigning dynasty Sigonella has no carryover from its 2019 title slate, but coach Kendra La Rocca is optimistic about the Jaguars’ new look.
“Our players are eager to learn and support each other,” La Rocca said. “We seek constant improvement.”
Vicenza is a strong candidate to disrupt Sigonella’s title sequence. The Cougars have six veterans of the program on the team, and coach Anna Sansone said the team already boasts “strong offense and aggressive base running” as it seeks to develop its pitching staff and ensure that his players are competent in several positions.