Hail Lange, James, Stripes’ Pacific spring sports Athletes of the Quarter
It takes more than coaching from the sidelines and solid play on the field, but the intertwining of both from a team’s senior leadership to make their respective cores of athletes succeed both in the regular season and the Far East tournament stage.
That’s what set apart Gaku Lange, a Matthew C. Perry junior soccer striker, and Valerie James, a Nile C. Kinnick track and field multi-event star, from the rest of the pack and what has designated them Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school spring sports season Athletes of the Quarter.
Lange was what his father and coach Mark Lange referred to as the “leader of the machine,” a Samurai squad that went 26-6-3 in the just-completed season, plus the team’s second straight Far East Division II Tournament title and the third in school history.
The younger Lange led that path with a Pacific-leading 52 goals plus 13 assists, teaming with playmaking sophomore Justin Hill (11 assists, many on Lange’s goals), and senior defensive specialist Yasuki Milsop to lock down the rear for a team that lost three players (Tyelor Apple, Yuta Fleming and Alex Barker) who combined for 100 goals last season.
The elder Lange said that Gaku can be “very demanding” of his teammates, but that this season he toned it down and became more of a leader to “help other people step up.”
“He became a better player because of the people around him,” Mark Lange said. “He missed those three; he was part of a machine. But he became the leader of the machine and learned to bring those boys up.”
Similarly, James became a coach on the track and a mentor to many a rising Red Devils star, making the lives of coaches Al Garrido and Luke Voth much easier in the process, Voth said.
“If I had half a town of Vals, I’d be in good shape,” Voth said of James, who holds the school records in the 100, 200, 400, 1,600 relay and high jump, earned Kinnick school Co-Athlete of the Year and Scholar Athlete of the Year honors.
James helped Kinnick’s girls stay unbeaten during the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools season and win the Far East Division I girls team title, in the process setting a Pacific and Far East meet record in the 1,600 relay. Teaming with freshman Aya Stewart and sophomores Rhyssa Hizon and Shakita Samuels, the Red Devils clocked the distance in 4 minutes, 3.38 seconds, more than three seconds better than the old mark.
More than individual performance, “She was a leader, an example to the younger kids around her,” Voth said. “Aya wants to step up and fill her shoes … Rhyssa and Shakita used Val as their benchmark. She makes you look like a good coach.”
Coach of the Quarter – Michael Callahan had not coached the Kadena boys soccer varsity since last capturing a Far East Division I Tournament title in 2006. Asked back to the sideline by the team’s sponsor Nelson Youngblood in mid-April, Callahan helped mentor the Panthers to a 17-5-4 record and a season that ended the way his last one did, with the D-I title.
Team of the Quarter – Boasting tremendous balance in sprints with Rahman Farnell and Jarrett Mitchell and in distance with Erik Armes, Ryan Bugler, Jessica Ircink and Allie Reichenberg, Kubasaki track and field won the Far East D-I boys and overall team titles as well as the Okinawa district finals.
Programs of the Quarter – Kubasaki captured Far East titles in track as well as D-I baseball along with the Dragons’ eighth straight Okinawa district baseball title. Kinnick’s girls won Far East track as well as bringing home the school’s first D-I softball title. Kadena won boys D-I soccer and was snapping at the heels of both Kubasaki’s and Kinnick’s track teams while finishing second in softball for the second time in three years.
Most Improved Teams – Daegu High softball and Osan American baseball won the DODDS Korea district titles for the first time in seven years, with the Warriors winning the school’s first Far East D-II title and the Cougars coming in third.
Most Improved Program – Thought to be rebuilding, Ebony Madrid and Osan’s girls soccer team instead finished atop the Far East D-II Tournament heap for a Pacific-record eighth time after coming in second in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division. The boys soccer team was an equal surprise, finishing second behind Perry for the D-II title. That’s in addition to baseball.
Baseball Player of the Quarter – Leadership doesn’t always translate from statistics, but Kubasaki benefitted well from the transfer of senior Jared Paul from Kadena. Others such as Tommy Warren (.483, 10 home runs, 38 RBIs) and Angelo Bourdony (.397, 5, 21) may have hit better than Paul (.300, 1, 12), but Paul, who switched from first base to outfield and “didn’t say a word” about it, coach Randy Toor said, provided leadership that helped vault the Dragons to the top of the Far East D-I heap.
Soccer Players of the Quarter – The aforementioned Lange and Madrid (Pacific-leading 40 goals) helped the Samurai and Cougars to Far East D-II title glory, much as junior Yuji Callahan (27 goals, 12 assists) and senior Katey Helwick (28 goals) did in powering Kadena’s boys and American School In Japan’s girls to the D-I crowns.
Softball Player of the Quarter – Junior right-hander Kelly Osterbrink transferred from American Samoa to Kinnick, where she fit right into the rotation to the tune of 13 wins in helping the Red Devils win DODDS Japan, go 27-0 and capture the school’s first D-I title. She got the win with a complete game in Kinnick’s 2-1 D-I title final against Kadena.
Track and field Athletes of the Quarter – Such a star-studded field this year, in all events at all schools across the board. Joining Kinnick’s relay foursome in the Pacific record-breaking pantheon were Armes, who beat the 13-year-old boys 1,600 record with a 4:25.88, and Ircink, who shattered the three-year-old girls 1,600 mark with a 5:23.26.
Game of the Quarter – The last two category winners come at the expense of an ASIJ baseball team that many thought was unbeatable this season. Kubasaki and the Mustangs hooked up in a spine-tingling Far East D-I semifinal pitching duel, featuring Dragons sophomore Renton Poole and Mustangs junior Justin Novak. The only run, an unearned one, came on Paul’s double in the fourth, as Kubasaki returned to the D-I title game for the first time since winning the inaugural Far East in 2010 with a 1-0 shutout of ASIJ. Poole allowed three hits and no walks while striking out five; Novak allowed two hits and two walks while fanning seven.
Play of the Quarter – The first sign that the Mustangs were beatable came on April 30, when Yokota edged the Mustangs 4-3 at Yokota Park. Nate Sax got a complete-game victory, but almost had a 4-0 lead slip through his fingers in the seventh, when ASIJ scored three times and had the bases loaded with two outs, before Jacob Mansberger caught a fly ball to the deepest part of the field, right at the fence, to preserve the victory.