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Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 9.0

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer reaches the halfway mark of winter weekend wall-to-wall still needing a holiday break from his holiday break:

Five things we learned last weekend:

1) For the second time in a quarter century, Daegu High’s boys, one of this season’s pre-Far East Division II Tournament favorites along with host Zama American, are making a strong case for teams that over the years argued they could hang with Division I counterparts in their Far East tournament.

The 1988-90 teams featuring point guard Stan Pulley, shooting guard J.R. Collins, forwards Andre Joyner and Alonzo Mosley and center Roy Morgan, more than held their own, leading Kubasaki, the eventual 1988-89 D-I Tournament champion, by 30 points in one game in the old Asia Christmas Classic.

This year’s squad, featuring veterans Richard Buck and Caleb Gosserand and newcomer Torian James, recorded the first season sweep of Seoul American on coach Phillip Loyd’s watch, beating the Falcons 62-51 on Friday in the second “Boyd vs. Loyd” game of the season.

And the Warriors did it without leading scorer Anfernee Dent, held out of the lineup in what Loyd called a parents decision. It was that second quarter, in which Buck, Gosserand and James combined for 25 points to reverse an early Falcons lead. And the Warriors did it despite having Falcons coach Steve Boyd throw that suffocating “Black Diamond” 1-3-1 zone trap on them in the second half.

So, it would seem the Warriors could hold their own should they be afforded – and they won’t, trust; DODDS Pacific rules prohibit it – the chance to play up at D-I Feb. 18-21 at Kubasaki.

But it DOES create some argument for a winner-take-all Far East all-comers game between the winners of the D-I and D-II Tournaments, much like the last couple of years when followers of Kubasaki and D-II champion Morrison Academy debated the merits of each team and who would beat whom in such a matchup. If wishes were airplanes, etc.

For their part, the Falcons committed 25 turnovers and shot 15-for-60 from the field. “You can’t shoot that and expect to beat anybody,” Boyd said.

2) After they combined to go 0-16 to begin the season, finally, Kubasaki’s and Osan American’s girls are showing signs of life.

Trellini Lunsford and the Cougars finally got that elusive first win of the season, going all the way up to Camp Red Cloud and rallying from eight points down after three quarters to secure a 35-33 overtime victory at International Christian-Uijongbu. That makes Osan 1-7 on the season.

At the Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament last weekend at Kadena Air Base, Sydney Johnson and the Dragons not only got their first win in 11 tries by beating Yokatsu 63-31 on Saturday, it began a three-game winning streak. They survived full-court pressure to edge Chatan 34-32 on Saturday, then edged Haebaru 35-28 in Sunday’s semifinals before losing to Kadena for the fourth time this season 62-23 in the final.

Despite that one-sided defeat, the Dragons walked away from the tournament with smiles on their faces, knowing the light switches came on and they could relish something besides an L.

So, where to from here, Sydney?

“More W’s,” she said.

What was the secret to the success this weekend?

“We played as a team. Defense.”

What does this do for the team’s collective confidence level?

“Raises it.”

Did anything that happened against Kadena diminish the good feeling?

“We’ll be ready Feb. 8” for the two teams’ final regular-season showdown at Kubasaki. “We will not be pushed around no more.”

3) Another basketball program that bears considerable watching is the black, maroon and white crew of Kanagawa Prefecture, Zama American. Not for a long time have the Trojans’ teams been this good for this long at the same time.

Coincidentally, that success has some connection to a pair of inbound transfers who have been instrumental in fueling the teams’ fire.

-- Andrae Adams traded in American School In Japan black-and-gold for Trojans swag, and has combined with holdovers RayVaughn King, Andre Encarnacion, David Coleman and others who’ve boosted the Trojans guys to a 12-3 record – including nine straight wins, one of them ASIJ’s lone loss of the season. You know coaches Parish and Veronica Jones have to be smiling much these days.

-- Not often does a coach entrust the keys of the team to a freshman, but Lamari Harris has proven to be far more than up to the task. Her name is up there as scoring and rebounding leader game in and game out for new coach Vera Jordan. The proof is in the win-loss pudding, to the tune of 9-4.

They say a successful football team sets the tone for the entire school year. Encarnacion, Coleman, King and Co. took care of that task on Nov. 10, tacking a second D-II title banner up in the gym (well, they will as soon as the banner arrives) and the spring in Zama’s steps has yet to abate. We’ll see how far it goes; Zama’s boys host the D-II Far East tournament again, while Zama’s girls must hit the road at Edgren for a shot at their first D-II Far East title.

4) They’re kings of the DODDS Japan wrestling mat, Nile C. Kinnick with the eight gold medalists and the team title in Saturday’s individual freestyle tournament, and its two dual-meet victories in Friday’s tri-dual meet at Zama American.

Whether that will translate into team and individual gold at Far East next month at Yokosuka Naval Base, especially in the wake of Okinawa’s strong showing in the Jan. 12 “Beast of the Far East” at Kinnick, remains to be seen.

It goes in cycles, they say, one region or another seizing the power reins at Far East. The last few years, Kanto Plain-based teams have held sway, St. Mary’s International the last couple of years, preceded by Kinnick. Kubasaki and Kadena of Okinawa, with a combined 27 Far East team titles between them, appear to be in line for succession.

Much depends, coach Gary Wilson said, on how much more the Red Devils improve and ramp up their game in advance of Far East. The next big test is the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools finals on Feb. 9 at Yokota. And of course, one can never tell what will happen at Far East until it happens. Injuries, illness, ineligibility, girlfriends – all can derail a team’s chances.

“We’re in the running. We have a good shot. But nothing’s guaranteed,” Wilson said.

5) It was said Kadena’s boys basketball team’s chances would ramp up considerably once Preston Harris, the junior center who’d been suspended from Kadena athletics due to a conduct-code violation, returned to the lineup. We got a test-case sample of that in Sunday’s Okinawa-American tournament final against Oroku, top-rated Japanese team on the island.

A twisting, turning three-point jumper at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. A tie-breaking basket with 1:25 left to give the Panthers the lead for good.

More than that, you’re seeing a different Harris on the court, one whom teammates tell me is more team-oriented, more mature and seemingly more grounded than he was last season and before the suspension.

There are any number of directions a student-athlete can go when what he loves to do best is taken away from him. In my conversations with him, he says he knows what he did wrong and is doing everything he can to right it. That kind of Harris can only be a pure benefit to this Panthers team that went 4-0 over the weekend and is now 13-5 on the season. Welcome back!

Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the 7th Okinawa-American Friendship Basketball Tournament:

-- Seen handing out trophies to two of the Japanese girls teams on Sunday was Alfred Magleby, for the last six months the new head honcho at the U.S. Consulate in Urasoe. Naturally, as the guy in charge of one of the tournament’s chief sponsors, he spoke highly of the event: “It’s the right thing to do. It gets people smiling.” He calls his new post “fascinating,” and even on the bad days, the Utah native says: “Every day is a new adventure.”

-- The event was held for the first time at Risner Fitness & Sports Center on Kadena Air Base, largely because the Foster Field House at Camp Foster’s Gunners Fitness & Sports Complex was unavailable, its power grid and other infrastructure KO’d by Typhoon Jelawat. One of the tournament’s organizers, Keith Richardson of Foster Marine Corps Community Services, expressed suitable gratitude to 18th Force Support at Kadena: “If we don’t do it here, it doesn’t happen,” he said. Work on the Foster Field House should start soon. “Hopefully, it will be back” there next January, Richardson said.

-- That’s why there were only six boys and six girls teams this year; Risner was configured for two courts during the tournament, instead of the customary three at Foster, and was held over two days, instead of three.

-- In addition to 18th Force Support’s generosity, how about a hand for the medics on standby from Kadena’s 18th Medical Group the entire weekend? And the 60 or so volunteers from the community who did everything they were asked to do, from sweeping and trash collecting to doing the heavy lifting of bleachers and collecting basketballs after warmups? They didn’t have to be there. But they were. “They helped keep the tournament alive,” one organizer said.

-- Still have to love some of the mascots the Japanese schools have attached to them. Best one of the tournament was the Rotties of Haebaru High School. Sure missed having Itoman High from Okinawa’s south coast at the tournament; their mascot, the Raging Billows, is by far the best there is, best there ever was, best there ever shall be.

Top performances of the week:

-- Harris’ heroics at the Okinawa-American Tournament.

-- Even in defeat, 72-57 on Friday and 79-61 on Saturday against Zama, Robert D. Edgren senior Khalil Williams did more than his share, scoring 33 points in the first game and 23 in the second. He’ll be a load at next month’s Far East D-II tournament at Zama.

-- Kadena’s girls pressure defense in its Okinawa-American Tournament final victory over Kubasaki.

-- Matthew C. Perry girls’ Courtney Beall averaged 20 points and 14.8 rebounds for the third-place Samurai in the Western Japan Athletic Association tournament.

-- In that same tournament, Tara Long, Deb Avalos and Yasmine Weddle asserted themselves as E.J. King’s own version of the “Big Three,” leading the Cobras to a runner-up finish.

-- The boys WJAA Tournament saw Jarrell Davis of Perry average 14.8 points and 12.8 rebounds as the Samurai won the gold medal. But that 69-58 finals triumph over host Canadian Academy saw monster performances from guard Jon Cadavos (37 points) and 6-foot-6 center David Eason (25 rebounds), the team’s biggest player since 6-10 Jeremy Eck graced Ironworks and Samurai gyms in 1999-2000.

-- Guam High’s boys basketball team sports its own “Big Three,” each stars of the gridiron, Lordan Aguon, Marcus Domingo and Austy Hines. Though the Panthers are 2-2 to start the season, Aguon is averaging 17 points, Domingo 16 and Hines 12 and should be tough to handle.

-- Kinnick’s gold medalists in the DODDS Japan finals: Eddie Sheridan (101), Jianni Labato (108), Nate Abrennilla (115), Brady Yoder (122), Givon Conner (129), Zach Yoder (141), Keith Grogg (148) and Alex Banks (168).

-- Liam Fukushima, 6-for-8 at the foul line in the fourth quarter as American School In Japan boys basketball held off a furious 34-point fourth-quarter rally at Yokota. Breathtaking closing few minutes. Clutch shooting by Fukushima. Mustangs led by 23 after three quarters.

Who’s hot – Zama American’s boys, with three wins last week, now have won nine straight and counting. Kadena’s boys and girls won everything in sight in the Okinawa-American Shootout and are now a combined 27-8.

Who’s not – The two finalists in the New Year Classic, Yokota and Christian Academy Japan, have fallen off hard since the first week of January; CAJ has lost four straight and the Panthers four of their last five.

The $64,000 question – What can be done to revive the Rumble on the Rock wrestling tournament, entering its sixth year this weekend at Kubasaki but down to three teams, Kubasaki, Kadena and Father Duenas Memorial of Guam, after peaking at six teams at one juncture?

Join the conversation and share your voice.

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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. 12: Dave Ornauer highlights Nile C. Kinnick's win over Zama, 30-0, during high school football last week, discusses other games throughout the Pacific.

Aug. 29: High school football is back and Dave talks about the prospects of DODDS teams in Japan.

May 30: Recapping ASIJ's and Zama's Far East baseball championships that capped the Pacific high school sports school year.