Midweek blues: Things learned, observed in Pacific high school winter sports Week 10.0

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer approaches Rumble on the Rock and wonders if it can be saved, or at least be returned to its former standing among in-season invitationals:

After Wednesday’s 35-23 home victory, which wasn’t even that close, it’s readily apparent that Kadena’s wrestling team is living up to the words of a coach at the “Beast of the Far East” tournament earlier this month: “Kadena’s going to win Far East, hands down.”

Three dual meets against Kubasaki, and three victories, each in resounding fashion. The only blotch on Kadena’s resume right now is finishing second to Kubasaki at “Beast,” 34 points to 32. That was partly the product of execution in gold-medal bouts; the Panthers had six finalists and came away with six silvers, while the Dragons came away golden in five finals. Two golds for Kadena would have resulted in the Panthers’ carrying away the team gold.

Were we to have more teams at the sixth edition of Rumble on the Rock this weekend, it would have been far more conclusive just how strong Kadena really is. Rock solid and contending at all weights from 108 to 168.

I’ve seen teams with good wrestlers in three or four weight classes back to back (what I called Nile C. Kinnick’s “Minefield” from 129 to 148 comes to mind), but not so many consecutively.

From 108 to 168: Reigning Far East champion Justin Duenas, David Hernandez, Zach Fenton, Cole Milburn, Vao Mustafa (STRONG!), Elijah Takushi, Alaska state champion Alex Rojas, James Alexander and Kyle Milburn. These guys will give everybody up north a run for their money.

I guess the case could be made that Kubasaki didn’t sport its full lineup on Wednesday. Steven Walter, the Dragons’ two-time weight-class champion, was out injured, forcing Kubasaki’s coaching staff to move 108-pounder Daniel Mora up to 115, where he lost to Hernandez in an exciting three-period bout that was the most competitive of the night. Zach Tyler, inserted in Mora’s place, gave Duenas a tough go, but came up short in a two-period decision.

Still, there are some matchups that I can.not.WAIT to see at Far East. Particularly the rematch at 158 between Alexander and Zama American’s Chad Wilder, the reigning Far East Outstanding Wrestler. Alexander thought he had it won against Wilder at “Beast.” That will be fun to watch.

All that said, don’t sleep on Kubasaki. If anything right now, they’re the SECOND-best wrestling team in the Pacific, given their resume. Mora is still a very, very dangerous customer, as is Austin Cyr at 148, and especially at the upper weights. Aaron Stravers is beast at 180, as is reigning Far East 215-pound champion Fred Suniga. Jesse Hogan of Yokota should be considered the favorite at heavyweight, but he won’t have as many bouts to prepare for Far East as will Kubasaki’s Josiah Allen.
We clearly need more teams at Rumble if it is to remain a viable tournament. Time was when we’d have six teams at that tournament, and it gave teams sorely in need of Far East tournament map preparation just what the doctor ordered.

But fewer … and fewer … and fewer … are the competitors making their way to the Dragons’ Den for the sixth edition. What the tournament’s founding father Fred Bales calls: “3.1 teams,” charter members Kadena and Kubasaki, plus Father Duenas Memorial and one wrestler from Okkodo of Guam. The latter two in sore need of freestyle experience in what (apparently) will be the last year that Far East will employ the freestyle format (more on that later).

Sure was nice back in the days when Christian Academy Japan, American School In Japan and St. Mary’s International populated the tournament; they don’t need to now, because back in that day, Far East was limited to DODDS teams only. They get plenty of wrestling in the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools these days. They used to treat Rumble as their Far East alternative. No need to do so now.

Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam would be an ideal partner for Rumble, especially if they do pull the trigger on the freestyle to folkstyle switch. Even if they don’t, the four IIAAG teams that partner with Far East could sure use the refresher in the differences between the two styles.

Then, there are the southwestern DODDS Japan schools, E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry, and perhaps even Robert D. Edgren in northern Japan, who would probably welcome the opportunity to Rumble. They get exactly four events per season, less than half that of the Kanto DODDS and international schools. A full day of dual meets on Friday and individual bouts on Saturday against the likes of Kadena and Kubasaki would give them an outlet of competition just two weeks before Far East.
Sidebar to that: Why, oh why is it that DODDS Japan outlying schools can’t get a fair shake and be permitted to wrestle in one or two of the Kanto invitationals like they used to before the 2007-08 season? Even if they’re allowed to compete as invited, non-scoring guests, they would welcome the chance. I thought we’d gotten past the exclusionary practices of pre-2000 before Mike Diekmann became the DODDS Japan district superintendent and ordered the paths to full competition between ALL DODDS Japan schools in ALL sports opened.  Another story for another day, I guess.
Regarding the proposed switch from freestyle to folkstyle, discussed at the DODDS Pacific Far East athletics directors video conference … a decision has been tabled until at least March, possibly as late as May. That’s according to a draft of the meeting minutes, a copy of which was obtained by Stripes. They’re still discussing the logistics of the switch, everything from training referees at each locale to ensuring student-wrestlers are properly educated as well. New referees would have to be found, particular in Kanto and DODDS Korea, where indigenous officials schooled only in freestyle are currently employed. “Arrange yourself,” longtime Kanto referees head Takashi Noda said in response to a question about whether his charges would officiate folkstyle. And there are some who continue to argue in favor of keeping freestyle, suggesting that students who wrestle folkstyle in Europe and freestyle in the Pacific get a more well-rounded mat experience. Stay tuned.
If anybody needed any more proof that the race for Kanto Plain basketball title space is as competitive as it’s been in years, look no further than the top of the current heap.

On the boys side, I have Zama American, winners of 10 straight games, at 6-2, a half-game ahead of 5-2 Nile C. Kinnick and American School In Japan (based on all games reported to Stripes).

ASIJ took one on the chin Wednesday, losing by three points in overtime at Kinnick, then rebounded to win at CAJ on Thursday. Even Yokota and St. Mary’s, each at 2-4, are within striking distance if a lot of things go their way.

Once you get past league-leading ASIJ, at 7-0, the girls race for second place is a tight one. Lamari Harris and Zama American are knotted with De’Asia Brown and Kinnick at 5-2; the Red Devils’ only losses are to ASIJ. And Seisen International, long a doormat prior to Elizabeth Jury’s arrival as coach, finds itself right in the thick of things at 5-3. That said, one would presume that Bessie Noll, Liz Thornton and ASIJ are favored to win that race.
Not all is hunky dory at Mustang Valley these days, however. A precious small handful of healthy wrestlers remain to compete for ASIJ, just five in a 58-3 thrashing at the hands of Kinnick on Wednesday. We’re a long way from the glory days of the 1980s and ’90s. Not your father’s Mustangs, by any stretch. And very definitely a year in which DODDS schools will rule the Kanto roost. Expect Kinnick to win the Kanto tournament on Feb. 9 at Yokota, with Zama and St. Mary’s in trail.
What a close call Zama‘s boys basketball team had at CAJ the other night, barely hanging on to win 52-50. That said, could it be a Trojans party – for both the boys and girls – at center court on Feb. 9 in the finals of the DODDS Japan tournament at Edgren? An historic first, that would be. And.it.is.possible. Although I’m sure Perry’s and Kinnick’s boys and Kinnick’s girls will have much to say in that conversation, but we’ll find that out in another week.

Catching up with: Ex-Korea spiking stars shining on college courts, classrooms

The following has been updated, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2.

It just goes to show you, DODDS Pacific student-athletes CAN and DO make the grade at a higher level, as the examples provided by Leanne Quizon, Daegu High Class of 2012, and Nicole Sparks (Osan American 2010), Dan Arnold and Laura Vega (2009), clearly demonstrate.

They helped lead their respective volleyball teams into Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference powers, and the girls specifically to Far East Division II tournament glory in their high school years. Now, all four are shining at the NCAA Division II level.

Check out the roster for Mount Olive (N.C.), where you can spot the team photograph and the three women's players’ profiles.

Also, check out the emphasis on student over athlete demonstrated by Sparks and Vega, who’ve earned all-academic team honors in addition to their work on the court.

Arnold has been starring and started for the Trojans all or part of his four college years.

Congratulations to Korea’s Fab Four.

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?

Pacific high school basketball ratings, start of second semester edition

1, American School In Japan (9-1).
2, Kadena, Okinawa (13-5).
3, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (12-6).
4, Faith Academy, Philippines (21-2).
5, Kubasaki, Okinawa (12-9).
6, Zama American, Japan (12-3).
7, Daegu High, South Korea (10-5).
8, Yokota, Japan (16-5).
9, Seoul American (12-8).
10, Matthew C. Perry, Japan (12-5).
Dropped out: Christian Academy Japan.

1, American School In Japan (12-0).
2, Kadena, Okinawa (14-2).
3, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (11-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (11-2).
5, Seoul American (9-2).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, E.J. King, Japan (11-5).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (7-3).
10, Seisen International, Japan (6-3).

Think Ornauer needs a ratings education? Is your list more accurate? Shout it out! Be true to your school, but remember, you’ve entered THE “No-Hate Zone.”

KAIAC to get yet another makeover

With three new schools to enter the 41-year-old organization next school year, the current two-division, seven-teams-each setup in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference enacted for this school year will be very, very short-lived, according to an e-mail obtained by Stripes on the subject.

Humphreys American High School comes aboard in August, along with tiny Chadwick and Dwight schools which applied for and were accepted as the league’s 15th, 16th and 17th member schools.

They’ll join the league’s current 14-school membership, which will now be divided into three divisions:

-- Blue Division, seven schools, Taejon Christian International, Seoul Foreign, Yongsan International-Seoul and the four DODDS entities, Seoul American, Osan American, Daegu High and Humphreys.

-- Red Division, five schools, Seoul International, Gyeonggi Suwon International, Korea International, International Christian-Uijongbu and Asia-Pacific International.

-- White Division, five schools, Korea Kent Foreign, Centennial Christian, Pyeongtaek International Christian, Chadwick and Dwight.

The selected colors reflect the fact the Korean and American flags each bear red, white and blue.

The new setup replaces the Five-Cities Division, which featured ICS-U, TCIS, YIS-S, SFS, SAHS, Osan and Daegu, and Three-Cities Division, including APIS, GSIS, SIS, KIS, KKFS, CCS and PICS.

The league constitution, according to the e-mail, states that once KAIAC reaches the 17-school threshold, it would expand to three divisions which could then hold up to eight schools each, and would afford one school per year the chance to switch divisions if they and the league feel it would be beneficial to that school and the league.

The rationale is to keep the level of play equitable as schools grow or lose student-athletes, the e-mail said.

Each school will receive points for regular-season and tournament placement in each of KAIAC’s major sports, boys and girls volleyball, basketball and soccer.

Example: Blue Division’s regular-season and/or tournament champion would receive seven points, the runner-up would get six and so on. Head-to-head competition would serve as the main tiebreaker.

Then at year's end, one school each from Red and White, considered the lower divisions, with the most points would then be eligible to move up to Blue or Red, while the one each with the fewest in Blue and Red would be eligible to move down to Red and White.

Both schools involved in those scenarios would have to agree to move. If one doesn’t want to move, the schools’ superintendents would be asked to determine if movement that year is necessary, and could provide justification to the league board why it should not move.

Got all that? Pop quiz in 10 minutes.

Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 8.0 (and MLK)

Note: Some of this material published in Monday’s editions of Stars and Stripes.

You think the high school teams had it rough enough during the weekend
Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournaments on Okinawa and at South Korea’s Camp Humphreys?

Try the route Area I’s men had to take to win the men’s title in the Korea MLK, in its fourth year. They had to win games on Monday, the first one starting at 8 a.m., and in the last three, the total victory margin was four points. The last two games? Overtime, 71-69 and 64-63 over a never-say-die Daegu/Area IV squad.

Nishihara, the top-rated Japanese high school team on Okinawa, can speak objectively on that subject. They endured similar exhaustion in becoming the first high school to win the Okinawa MLK title, having to win three games on Sunday and beating Kadena in a two-game final. In this case, the scores weren’t as close, 46-39 and 58-48. The teams became the first high schools to finish 1-2 in the tournament.

Kadena’s Shake & Bake met little resistance in snagging the Okinawa MLK men’s title from Oki Savage 70-44. Yongsan Garrison’s women enjoyed a breakout weekend, taking the Korea MLK title 66-59 over Area I.


High school coaches pretty much agreed that all their teams took away from the tournament a little something to make them better in advance of next month’s Far East tournaments.

“This was a good test for us; we finally got a chance to play top-level competition this weekend (and they realize they’re not) head-and-shoulders above everybody else,” said coach Willie Ware of Kadena’s girls, who came into the weekend tournament unbeaten against high school teams.

Nishihara’s offense was nearly perfect, featuring precision passing and dead-eye three-point shooting – they hit seven in the early stages of the second game to pull away. Defensively, the Japanese crashed down hard on Panthers center Eisiah Lawson, at times triple-teaming her and daring Kadena to beat them from outside.

“Defense,” Ware said of the key component the Panthers must work on before the Far East Division I Tournament Feb. 18-21 at Yokota. Nishihara “moves the ball very well. We have to react quicker. And we have to play a full game, not just in spurts.”

It was the second straight runner-up finish for Kadena in the MLK.

The three-day tournament featured 13 men’s and four women’s teams, all bigger, more physical, quicker and faster than their high-school counterparts. Kadena’s boys won once and lost twice in the double-elimination event, while Kubasaki’s girls fell by the boards in two games. Still, each was able to take a little something from the tournament to make them better.

“We played three really good games and got a chance to evaluate some players in adverse circumstances, which is always a benefit,” Panthers boys coach Gerald Johnson said. “We learned a few things about our players.”

At Camp Humphreys’ MP Hill Gym, Seoul American won once and lost twice, their victory coming against Kunsan Air Base, 43-24. While a confidence booster for the Falcons, coach Jesse J. Smith said he cautioned his players afterward about “our reason for being here.”

In any game against women, “we’re the underdogs, they’re the favorites. We’re the high school team, they’re the women’s teams,” Smith said. “We made some mistakes, they play rougher than high school teams. They’re here to learn how to fight through those things.”

Among the specifics the teams feel they need to work on are basic things, such as sharper, crisper passing and foul shooting.

“By all means, they learned a lot,” Smith said. “They understand the importance of passing and free throws. The two games we lost were because of bad passing. They learned about working together, the speed of the game; they responded. I thank the organizers for inviting us.”


Nishihara almost didn’t make it to the Okinawa MLK final, barely escaping the two-time champion Lady Ballaz 36-32 in the knockout stage. Had the Ballaz won, guard Kristy Robinson would have had to take the court against the Panthers, for whom she serves as a volunteer assistant.

“I was ready for it,” said Robinson, an Air Force staff sergeant from Crestview, Fla., who’s assigned to Kadena Air Base.

Which would she rather do, play for the Ballaz or coach the Panthers?

“I play basketball for fun. I’d rather be coaching them,” she said, adding that she plans to become a coach when she leaves the military.


Since the fall of 2009, the Panthers’ backcourt has featured players named Vaughan. Maria, the team’s point guard, is a senior and Alicia, the shooting guard, is a sophomore, and waiting in the wings is yet another Vaughan sister, Linda, currently an eighth-grader at Okinawa East Junior High School.

She’ll attend Kadena next year and likely will slide into Maria’s spot. The family has been on Okinawa all the girls’ lives; she’ll graduate in 2017. Observers suggest that Linda could become the best basketballer of the three Vaughans.

Also a track runner, she has been timed in 2 minutes, 35 seconds in the 800; the Pacific’s long-standing high school record is 2:19. But sorry, Panther track fans; she plans to play softball in high school.

Top performers of the week
-- Parish Jones of Zama American has averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds in his last three games.
-- Zama freshman Lamari Harris have the Trojans girls in swimmingly good position also, a 7-4 start.
-- Far East tennis champion Chloe Gadsden of Guam High Tennis began her junior regular season by blanking Annette Kang of St. John’s 8-0. She’s the two-time reigning Far East singles champion.
-- Anfernee Dent averaged 25.5 points in two games over the weekend as Daegu High’s boys improved to 9-0 in league play.
-- Taylor Myatt, a sophomore, is similarly a revelation for Daegu’s girls, who beat Yongsan International-Seoul 51-50 on a shot by Myatt with 30 seconds left. The Warriors are 7-2.
-- Kareem Key of Kubasaki averaged 24 points and 16.5 rebounds as the Dragons split their two weekend games and are now 10-7 on the season.
-- De’Asia Brown is averaging 25.5 points this season for Nile C. Kinnick’s girls, who won 61-36 at Christian Academy Japan on Saturday to improve to 10-1.
-- Manasseh Nartey probably is champing at the bit waiting for soccer season to start, but prior to that, he could put Osan American’s boys basketball team on a roll. He’s led the team in scoring the last two times out, each Cougars victories after opening 0-4.

Who’s hot
-- Jones and Zama have won six straight games to improve to 9-3 on the season.

Who’s not
-- Yokota’s girls (7-8) have had horrid luck recently with close games, the latest ones a 32-30 overtime loss at Robert D. Edgren last Saturday and a 38-37 defeat Saturday at Zama, following a one-point home loss to Seisen International late last month. “Hopefully, someday we’ll finish one of those,” coach Catherine Martinez said.

The $64,000 question
-- Who will Seoul American’s Joe Durham, arguably the top wrestler in DODDS Korea, be able to wrestle to prepare for next month’s Far East tournament at Nile C. Kinnick? The 215-pounder won both of his bouts in Saturday’s tri-dual at Daegu by walkover; Osan American and Daegu High have nobody at 215 nor heavyweight.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, post MLK tournament edition

Note: This post has been edited to correct win-loss records 6 p.m. 1/22/2013.

1, American School In Japan (8-1).
2, Faith Academy, Philippines (18-1).
3, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (12-6).
4, Kadena, Okinawa (9-5).
5, Kubasaki, Okinawa (10-7).
6, Yokota, Japan (15-4).
7, Seoul American (11-7).
(tie), Zama American, Japan (9-3).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (9-5).
10, Christian Academy Japan (9-5).
Dropped out: Matthew C. Perry.

1, American School In Japan (11-0).
2, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (11-1).
3, Kadena, Okinawa (11-3).
4, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (7-3).
5, Seoul American (7-2).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, Daegu High, South Korea (7-2).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, E.J. King, Japan (7-4).
10, Seisen International, Japan (5-3).

Got better ideas about who should be on this list? Shout it out! Be true to your school, but remember, you’ve entered THE “No-Hate Zone.”

Things learned, observed on Day 2 of Okinawa MLK hoops tournament

All looked lost well into the second half as Kadena High School’s girls basketball team fell behind Nishihara, the island’s top-rated Japanese team, by 19 points in Saturday’s Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament champions bracket final.

Given the Panthers’ rally for a 28-27 victory, coming on Eisiah Lawson’s baseline jumper from the left side as time expired, Kadena seems to be making a habit of winning one-point victories over tough Japanese opponents. Lawson hit a shot with 13 seconds left almost a year ago to the day, Jan. 22, 2012, as Kadena won the Okinawa-American Shootout 55-54 over Naha Shogyo, last year’s Okinawa big dog.

Hail Encarnacion, Thornton, Stripes’ fall Athletes of the Quarter

Every so often, student-athletes turn up at schools, whom fate made unstoppable and who in turn tell their respective teams to hop on their backs, for they’re off on a journey that will take them to Far East tournament title country.

Last fall, that was senior Andre Encarnacion of Zama American football and Liz Thornton of American School In Japan volleyball, vital cogs in two Far East champion teams, who’ve earned Stars and Stripes Pacific high school fall sports Athlete of the Quarter honors as a result.

Often dragging several players hanging onto his belt with him for big gains, Encarnacion racked up a division-leading 1,349 yards and scored a Pacific-high 19 touchdowns, his second straight year leading the Far East.

Zama went 6-5 overall, with all five losses coming against Division I-equivalent opponents. Against Division II, the Trojans went 5-0 and outscored its opponents 179-77, including three wins against Division II title-game foe Robert D. Edgren by a combined 115-63. They beat the Eagles 35-20 in the title game at Zama on Nov. 10, Zama’s second D-II title in the last four seasons.

“It’s amazing how he carries five guys with him,” coach Steven Merrell said of a back who departs Zama as its career rushing leader with 2,732 yards and 37 touchdowns on 380 carries over parts of three varsity seasons. “You shake your head sometimes. You can’t believe it.”

Thornton is the third in a line of sisters who’ve won Far East D-I Girls Volleyball Tournament titles and MVP awards, became the first of the three to do it twice, in November at Naval Base Guam against the Mustangs’ chief rivals the past three years, Nile C. Kinnick. Catherine was the first sister to do it in 2006 and Gwen followed in 2008.

Thornton averaged 15.3 spike kills and 4.4 block points per match as the Mustangs nearly went unbeaten this past season, teaming with fellow All-Far East middle blocker Mia Weinland (12 kills, 3.2 blocks), a sophomore who will return next season, and senior setter Baileigh Gibson (24 assists).

The only blemish on their 21-1 overall record, including their first outright Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title since 2008 (Kinnick won or shared the  next three), was a straight-set loss to Kinnick on Day 2 of Far East. The rest of the way, they outscored their foes by 64 points, losing just one set. And the title match, a 25-17, 21-25, 25-20, 25-20 win over Kinnick, came after an errant ball struck coach Gail Lanier in the eye during warmups (more on that below).

Congratulations to the two winners.

The rest of the fall-season Stripes sports awards:

-- COACH OF THE QUARTER: The job that Tom McKinney did, not just build a team that swept every conceivable honor in Far East cross country but who did it while flying under the radar, was simply remarkable.

-- TEAM OF THE QUARTER: Arguably the finest championship team Yokota has ever put together, featuring their Super Five linemen, Victor Madaris, Max Lester, Dylan Kessler, Jake Jackson and Jesse Hogan plowing the road for the Killer B’s backfield, Raymond “Ice Man” Butler, Morgan Breazell, Donavan Ball and Stanley Speed. The Panthers went 11-0, outscored opponents 470-105 and beat Kubasaki for the second straight year in the D-I title game 55-8 on Nov. 17 at Yokota.

-- PROGRAM OF THE QUARTER: Far East tournament championship performances in D-I girls volleyball and D-I tennis, along with the Asia-Pacific Invitational cross-country meet team title and a solid, respectable 5-3 football season. That’s the American School In Japan.

-- MOST IMPROVED TEAM: Slowly rising on the Far East volleyball radar is Kubasaki. Keila Welky, Kelsey Rogers, Stephanie Dowse and the Dragons ran the table in the Okinawa Activities Council regular season, then took fifth at the Far East D-I Tournament, their best finish since taking fourth in 2005.

-- FOOTBALL PLAYERS OF THE QUARTER: The above-mentioned Encarnacion and the Panthers’ collective. ’Nuff said.

-- CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNERS OF THE QUARTER: Kadena’s Andrew Kilkenny and Ana Hernandez sparkled in the Far East D-I 3.1-mile individual race, while Henry Valentine-Ramsden of Seoul Foreign and Taylor Fell of St. John’s (Guam) did likewise in the API. Best times of the season were recorded by Kubasaki’s Erik Armes (16:31 on Oct. 17) and Carydaliz Fontanez of Kinnick (19:19 on Sept. 22).

-- VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS OF THE QUARTER: The aforementioned Weinland, Gibson and Thornton, and Karen Yates, who powered Morrison Academy to a repeat of its 2011 Far East D-II Tournament title and the Mustangs’ fourth in 11 years.

-- TENNIS PLAYERS OF THE QUARTER: Aside from ASIJ’s Kentaro Hayashi and Guam High’s Chloe Gadsden, Far East singles gold medalists, Gadsden for the second straight year, there were Jeffrey and Jae-hyun Kim of Seoul Foreign. The Crusaders’ junior pair ran the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference regular-season and tournament table as well as third straight Asia-Pacific Activities Conference tournament titles. And they’re back for one more season.

-- BEST NEW EVENT: The “everybody plays everybody” regular-season Far East football format has been criticized as being a waste of money and favoring the gridiron at the expense of other sports. Not only did it beget the most exciting season in Pacific history, with every game every week meaning something … it finally put high school football on a PAR with all other fall season sports, in that it gave every team in every area a full regular-season schedule of at least seven games, some playing as many as 11, plus a Far East championship game in each division. Just.like.every.other.fall.sport.

-- GAME OF THE QUARTER: That’s twice in the 2012 calendar year that I’ve had my heart in my throat every second of a very, very exciting game. Zama’s 40-26 victory Oct. 5 at Robert D. Edgren could not have been more see-saw, unpredictable and fun. Hundreds of Misawans decked out in green and gold witnessed the pyrotechnics, and even AFN’s The Source 1575-AM radio was on hand to broadcast the event. The other time I was that close to an apoplexy on the field last year was that memorable 1-0 Kinnick victory over ASIJ in girls soccer.

-- BEST SUBSTITUTION: Not sure when the last time was that Tim Thornton coached a game, much less a sport during a complete season, since he left Canadian Academy for ASIJ in the 1990s. But when Lanier was struck in the eye during pre-match in the Far East D-I final, the father of MVP Liz Thornton stepped in and coached the team to its four-set victory over Kinnick. I would surmise that Thornton, Gibson and Weinland and the rest of the Mustangs knew what they had to do, but the elder Thornton was there when needed.

Okinawa MLK tourney a shell of its former self

The following has been edited and updated, 6:10 p.m. Jan. 17, 2013.

Call it Martin Luther King Invitational Lite.

Things learned, observed at “Beast” wrestling tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer survives yet another dangerous landing and is glad to be in one piece:

For somebody who transferred to Kubasaki last summer, Aaron Stravers has spent a goodly portion of time either at his old Nile C. Kinnick stomping grounds or facing the Red Devils both on the gridiron and wrestling mat so far this school year. And there’s more yet to come.

Steadman, Bales offer proof: You can come back home

The following has been edited and updated at 6 p.m. Jan. 17, 2013.

One has already returned to the system, albeit temporarily (for now). The other plans to return as well.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, post-'Beast' wrestling tournament edition


1, American School In Japan (8-1).
2, Yokota, Japan (15-2)..
3, Christian Academy Japan (9-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (11-6).
5, Kadena, Okinawa (7-3).
6, Kubasaki, Okinawa (9-6).
7, Daegu High, South Korea (7-5).
8, Seoul American (7-8).
9, Zama American, Japan (7-3).
10, Matthew C. Perry, Japan (9-5).


23rd Pacificwide Softball Tournament coming in May

Once more, Memorial Day will welcome some of the finest interservice softball teams and players from throughout the Pacific -- and even from the States and Europe -- to Yongsan Garrison in South Korea, the site of the Pacificwide open tournament, in its 23rd year, scheduled for May 24-27.

It’s open, as always, to the first 32 men’s and 12 women’s teams that sign up and pay the $500 entry fee by May 14. Active-duty military, DOD civilians, contractors and dependents 19 years and older and not in high school are eligible to play. Teams are limited to 18 players and two coaches; if the coaches are also players, they count against the 18-player cap.

Things learned, observed on Day 3 of 7th New Year Classic

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer once more thinks he needs a holiday break from his holiday break:

Perhaps the most underrated, yet most important moment of host Yokota’s drive to its second New Year Classic high school boys basketball tournament title came before the championship game, during the closing moments of regulation time in the Panthers’ 56-55 semifinal win over Nile C. Kinnick.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, post-NYC edition

A little late this season, but for the initial 2012-13 Pacific high school basketball ratings, I wanted to wait until after the just-completed New Year Classic to get more of an accurate gauge. And the tournament didn’t really solve anything. But here goes nothing:

1, American School In Japan (8-1). Aside from a surprise loss at Zama American, Mustangs have charged out of the gate in the same style as last season.
2, Yokota, Japan (13-2). New Year Classic title propels Panthers to contender status.
3, Christian Academy Japan (7-3). This Knights team grew rapidly during the New Year Classic.
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (10-5). Tons of potential on this Red Devils team.
5, Kubasaki, Okinawa (8-5). Two victories over Kadena leapfrog the Dragons into the top five.
6, Kadena, Okinawa (6-3). Only thing the Panthers seem to be lacking is that definitive big man.
7, Daegu High, South Korea (5-5). All five defeats against adult teams in Thanksgiving tournament.
8, Seoul American (2-4). Falcons are 2-1 in league play, two of those losses came vs. adult teams.
9, Zama American, Japan (5-3). Signature win over ASIJ puts Trojans in top-10 company.
10 (tie), Matthew C. Perry, Japan (8-4), Yongsan International-Seoul (4-2). Could be Far East D-II Tournament title contenders.

Controversy surrounds Kubasaki-Kadena NYC clash

Anytime the human element is involved in any endeavor, it’s said, there’s always the chance for an honest error, sometimes one that ends up costing a team a victory it thought it had in its grasp.

In this case, it was Kubasaki getting a 49-47 victory Friday over Kadena in the 7th New Year Classic quarterfinal round. It was a game the Panthers led by as many as eight before the Dragons rallied, thanks in part to a few additional seconds added to the game clock in the closing stages when it appeared the game was already over.

Things learned, observed on Day 2 of 7th New Year Classic

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer marvels over the yakisoba served by Yokota’s Shima snack shack:

Pool play in the 7th New Year Classic high school boys basketball tournament wrapped up just past noon Friday with Yokota and Kadena grabbing the top seeds entering the single-elimination playoffs.

Things learned, observed in 7th New Year Classic

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer shakes his head in wonder at how long-distance travel takes more of a toll every year:

As a lost art, foul shooting continues to descend in free fall toward utter irrelevance in basketball. Consider the totals after the first six games of the 7th New Year Classic high school tournament at Yokota High School.



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.