Football isn’t the only sport to shine this fall at the American School In Japan. There’s also the tennis team, especially on the boys side, which some observers are suggesting is untouchable, and the girls volleyball team, the reigning two-time Far East Division I Tournament champion whom some suggest might make it a hat trick, along with senior Liz Thornton earning her third straight MVP award.
Who can stop such a juggernaut?
Besides Thornton, the Mustangs appear equipped with every quality a successful team needs to keep that run going. They feature multiple hitting weapons, in senior Katey Helwick, juniors Mia Weinland and Alex Hernandez (quarterback David’s little sister) and freshman Elyse Davidson. Sophomore setter Sammie Hoskins has ably handled the transition from graduated Baileigh Gibson. They went 14-0, capturing their second straight Kanto Plain title and dropped one set the entire season, to Nile C. Kinnick.
The Red Devils probably stand the best shot at at least nicking the Mustangs’ armor. Noblae Wainwright and Audri Salter have blossomed into solid hitters, Kelly Osterbrink keeps order at the setting position, Charla Johnson is being groomed to replace her, and Kaile Johnson and Rhyssa Hizon are solid hitters on the outside.
Far East runs Monday-Thursday at Naval Base Guam, and it could be one of the island powers, league champion Academy of Our Lady of Guam among them, might have some say. Kubasaki of Okinawa took fifth last year, and while most of the Dragons’ lineup transferred, last year’s backups have transitioned well into starting roles.
At the Division II level, three teams loom as possible heirs to the throne vacated by Morrison Academy of Taiwan, which won the tournament the last two years but has opted to join a new 12-school Christian conference that also features Yongsan International School-Seoul of Korea and Faith Academy of the Philippines, each longtime Far East tournament participants.
Daegu, runner-up last year, comes off its Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division regular-season title share and tournament championship. Warriors senior Lari Robertson hammered her way to MVP and Best Hitter honors. Kaitlyn Nott handled the transition to setter seamlessly and Rachel Wyche and Rose O’Houlahan have bloomed into defensive stars.
Matthew C. Perry, which lost to Kinnick in last month’s DODDS Japan finals, also appear well-equipped for a D-II championship run. Senior setter Lakeyia Brown has two prime middle-blocker weapons to feed, sophomore Ani Erhart and senior Courtney Beall, plus a solid supporting cast which has come together under yet another new coach, Patricia Swiderski.
Then there’s Zama American, the tournament host. The Trojans are the leading DODDS Pacific team in terms of total Far East tournament titles won, with four, in 1979, 1981, 1988 and 1997. Those were all years in which D-I and D-II teams played in one tournament with one champion crowned.
This time, the Trojans will take aim for their first D-II title on their home turf. Senior Kristina Baldwin handles things at setter, and the team features tenacious defense in Janilla Chitamin, good middle blocking in Erica Howie, Katrina Reid and Rachel Boyle and a solid supporting cast.
Outdoors at Kadena Air Base’s Risner Tennis Complex, on the boys side especially, more ASIJ domination appears to be in the cards.
Reigning singles champion Kentaro Ishihara isn’t even defending his title, having moved up to second boys doubles and first mixed doubles.
Nationally ranked Japan juniors player Yosuke Higashi, a senior, looms as the favorite in the singles, and he and teammate Len Kamemoto in the boys doubles. Should they stumble, St. Mary’s International features former Far East singles champion Kent Shikama along with teammate Juan Borga, waiting in the wings.
Among known quantities who’ve previously played Far East, Seoul American’s Andrew Clark appears to be the best DODDS hope in boys singles. Okinawa champion Brenden Neu of Kubasaki and Perry’s Gaku Lange have tough draws to try to make it to the quarterfinals. Sidney Gadsden of Guam High is a freshman, but the younger brother of past singles champions Amber and Chloe Gadsden, and is a year-round player; he could make some noise in the top half of the draw.
The girls draw appears more DODDS friendly, with Chloe Gadsden returning and taking aim at a third straight singles gold. Kadena sisters Kristin and Alex Howard are also back, Seoul American’s Grace Cho earned No. 1 singles-seed honors during the season, and Yokota features two rising stars in Rimi Bargmon and Kaia Austin, who replace the departed Emily Beemsterboer and Anju Yamanaka.
But the road to D-I gold also features international-school obstacles in ASIJ’s Lili Kobayashi and Seisen International’s Alicia Tiffany.
The team titles in Division II are shaping up to be a battle between Perry, Zama and YIS-Seoul, which features No. 6 singles seeds Jun Lee in the boys and Yejoo Kang in the girls.
Weather for Monday looks marginal, 60-percent chance of rain, while the rest of the week looks good.