Things learned, observed during Far East tennis tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer marvels at yet another highly competitive Far East tennis tournament and can’t wait for the next one, either.

How apropos that the first result posted on the girls singles bracket board on Day 1 of the Far East High School Tennis Tournament belonged to an American School In Japan player.

Emily Aoki defeated Mylissa Maclin 8-0 shortly after the tournament began on Nov. 5 at Kadena Air Base’s Risner Tennis Complex.

It marked the return to Far East for an ASIJ team that had not graced the place since 2003. And right off the bat, led by its boys juggernaut headlined by singles and doubles champion Kentaro Ishihara, the Mustangs showed their ultra-competitive edge by capturing the boys and school team titles, ASIJ’s first Far East tennis banners in 14 years.

Mustangs players won three of the five event brackets, with Ishihara teaming with Keigo Sakakibara for the boys doubles title, and Kai Hatakeyama and Annie Takigawa taking the mixed doubles crown.

Those titles came on the heels of ASIJ’s solid performance the week before at the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools tournament at Shirako Tennis Complex, way out in the sticks about two hours east of Tokyo.

Welcome back, Mustangs! We missed you!
And you think that ASIJ’s boys contingent was strong THIS year? Wait until 2013, when Kanto singles champion Yosuke Higashi, a junior who didn’t make the trip to Far East to give ASIJ’s seniors a last hurrah, joins the Mustangs Far East roster. Very likely, he’ll meet Ishihara in the singles final and team with Ishihara for a possible singles-doubles gold-medal repeat sweep.
Or will they?

One thing I’m really liking about Far East tournaments since international schools were welcomed back in 2010 after the door was closed to them from 2004-09 is how competitive their DODDS counterparts have become. Girls have been dominant (I’ll get to that later), but the boys aren’t shrinking from the challenge those international players present.

Time was, before DODDS closed the door to international schools those five fateful years, DODDS players would wave a virtual white flag every time they stepped on the court against an ASIJ, St. Mary’s International, Seoul Foreign or other non-DODDS foe and meekly go down without winning a single game.

No longer.

A glance at the boys singles semifinals offers proof positive.

Former two-time champion Kent Shikama of St. Mary’s faced a house-to-house, street-to-street, game-to-game battle in the first set against first-year singles player Andrew Clark of Seoul American. Clark possesses a power game, which kept the match with Shikama even until the latter played angles to keep Clark on the run. Eventually, Clark ran out of gas and Shikama won the last nine games of a 6-4, 6-0 victory.

Ishihara had it no easier against Sam Cadavos of Matthew C. Perry, who battled the former, hammer and tongs, in a nip-and-tuck first set. Ishihara escaped 7-5, then restored order in the second set 6-0.

Both Shikama and Ishihara were highly complimentary of their foes’ fighting spirit. Cadavos went on to win the bronze medal by beating Clark 8-2, while Ishihara ended Shikama’s championship reign 6-0, 6-0.

The point being, like so many other myths out there, first and foremost that small schools can’t compete with big-school brethren (see Yokota and Daegu football and Matthew C. Perry soccer), everything depends on not just talent, but an athlete’s or a team’s mental makeup. If one goes out to play thinking they don’t stand a chance, because the opponent is sooooooooo much better or the team comes from a school that’s sooooooooo much larger, then they’ve already taken themselves out of the chase. Cadavos and Clark left it all out on the court. Take a page from their playbooks, I say.
At last, the perfect weather package arrived at Far East. For the first time since the tournament returned to its longtime Okinawa home in 2007, nary a rain delay gummed up the works. Sunny skies, puffy white clouds dancing overhead and plenty of sunshine. “Chamber of Commerce weather,” retired Kubasaki track and field coach Charles Burns would say.
Continued props to a Zama American girls tennis team that came away with its second successive Far East Division II title. Coach Wanda Finley and her assistants corps have built a competitive program built for now and built to last, with singles and doubles semifinalist Natalie Burke returning for her senior year.
As for the continuing girls “Golden Age,” one may focus on the Gadsden dynasty, with junior Chloe Gadsden capturing her second straight singles gold on the heels of her older sister Amber’s championship in 2010. She dropped just four games in five matches. Talk about domination.

But take a look at the singles and doubles brackets and see how many DODDS players occupied the rungs. Seven of the eight singles quarterfinalists and all semifinalists and seven of eight doubles pairs and all four semifinal pairs featured DODDS players. And each possessed certain amounts of cachet and pedigree, ranging from Kadena’s Erika Youngdahl’s four straight district singles titles to Yokota’s Emily Beemsterboer’s three unbeaten DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain regular seasons.

Aside from Burke and Gadsden, Kadena returns a solid girls corps featuring the non-twins Alex and Kristin Howard (gad, their resemblance is uncanny!). Programs such as Seoul American, Perry, Nile C. Kinnick and Kubasaki will be a year older and a year stronger.

Guess the only thing that could make the boys and girls brackets better is a tad more balance in terms of competition, more competitive international-school girls and DODDS boys. I’m sure they’re out there; just can’t wait to see that potential tapped.

What a fun week.

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Ornauer on AFN


Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)


Sept 28:Dave Ornauer is back with the latest on the Pacific sports scene.

May 22:Yokota has dominated in first year at D-II spring championsihps.

May 8: Dave Ornauer highlights a few athletes who are participating in the Kanto Plains track and field finals Saturday.