Things learned, observed in Far East high school basketball tournament week

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer gives thanks for reaching the back end of Far East tournament week, and lived to tell the tale:

To paraphrase the chorus of a song performed by a Montgomery, Ala., bar band from the 1970s, Rabbit Creek:

“Fifty years of trying, 50 years of pain. Fifty years of laughter, but none of them in vain.”

How special, then, was it that Zama American’s boys basketball team could end a Far East Tournament title drought that spanned 1963 to the present?

All the close calls. Reaching the Far East Division I Final Four in 1985 at Kubasaki with Kevin Maxwell and Mark Catan. The Demetrius Dixon team of 1993-94 that nearly ran the Kanto Plain table, but came up short (fifth) at the D-I tournament at Yokota. And the Wilberto Badillo-Carlos Walter team of 2007 that began the season 34-0, won its first DODDS Japan title in school history and first Kanto Plain title since sharing the 1994 crown with Christian Academy Japan, only to fade in the D-I semifinals and eventually taking fourth.

All of those memories of heartbreak and frustration gave way to unbridled joy, happiness and celebration at Camp Zama’s Yano Fitness & Sports Center last Wednesday, when Andrae Adams, RayVaughn King, David Coleman, Yoshinobu Nicolas and the Trojans outlasted a stubborn, out-of-character slowdown St. Paul Christian team from Guam 28-25 in one of the lowest-scoring Far East championship games in history.

It’s been that way at Zama all school year. There’s a spring in people’s steps. More people in those halls, administration, teachers, students, are smiling more. Five Far East tournament titles will do that. Winning is the ultimate tonic: When a school’s teams win state championship banners, people tend to be peacock-proud of those achievements. “I go to school at Zama” is a point of pride in 2012-13.

Ever since Bruce Derr, the former DODDS Japan district superintendent, was called out of retirement to become the principal last May at a school where he coached volleyball and wrestling in the 1970s and ’80s, the school has undergone a major transformation. And winning Far East championships is a major part of that transformation.

First, girls tennis and football in November. Then sweeping both wrestling tournament banners last week at Yokosuka. But the biggest coup, undoubtedly, will be putting year after year of wondering whether this will be the year for boys basketball behind Trojan Nation.

For Parish and Veronica Jones, a second Far East tournament title to follow the one last May by Brooklinn McElhinney and the Trojans girls softball team.

For Sean Wise, son of the high school’s nurse, equally gratifying to see it finally happen. He was part of that 2006-07 team that began the season with such promise, only to have it fall apart. Eternally chipper, you know Wise was smiling like a noon-day sun at the final buzzer.

For Zama American High School, a real feather in its black, maroon and white cap. Fight on, Trojan Nation! A community is proud of you!
Zama wasn’t the only school celebrating the end of a lengthy tournament title drought – all four winners of Far East basketball tournament championships had not won their respective crowns in at least 12 years.

American School In Japan boys, with tournament Most Valuable Player Henry Wallrapp, beat Father Duenas Memorial of Guam 61-49 last Thursday at Kubasaki, the Mustangs’ first championship since Henrik Gistren’s clutch foul shots helped ASIJ pull away from Yokota for a 53-48 overtime victory in 1983 at Yokota Air Base’s main fitness center.

Then there were Hanna Kim, Karen Yates, Nicole Turner and the Morrison Academy Mustangs, the pride of Taichung, Taiwan, who dispatched a much improved E.J. King girls squad 67-50 for the D-II championship, the first won by the Mustangs since the days of the school’s all-time leading scorer, Robin Siirila, in 2000 at Willie R. Brown II’s spotless fitness & sports center at Camp Hialeah in Pusan, South Korea.

And the Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils’ answer to the Big Three, point guard Alyshia Allison, shooting guard De’Asia Brown and ferocious post player Mashiya McKinney, ended a drought spanning back to 2001. But the Red Devils needed a two-game final to do it, rebounding from a 57-53 overtime loss to ASIJ to down the Mustangs 45-32 in the deciding second game. In so doing, McKinney enjoyed a revenge moment of sorts, for her girls volleyball’s defeat against ASIJ in the Far East D-I Tournament in November on Guam.
Much of the talk following that girls D-I title matchup was fatigue factor, and whether ASIJ’s girls were simply spent after winning two overtime battles just to force that second, deciding championship game. Worse, the injury bug struck when McKinney and ASIJ’s two-time volleyball MVP Liz Thornton’s heads collided under the basket late in the first half, with Thornton having to leave with a concussion. Then, Joey Yamada fouled out, leaving ASIJ without two of its key weapons.

Should the tournament have been conducted as a true double-elimination with a second, deciding final game to be played a half-hour after the first, observers asked? Or should it have featured a winner-take-all final game, as was the case with the DODDS Japan tournament two weeks earlier at Misawa Air Base?

DODDS-Pacific Far East athletics coordinator Don Hobbs, tournament organizers said, insisted that it be the former, not wanting a repeat of the events following that DODDS Japan tournament, when Zama, vanquished by host Robert D. Edgren, asked when the second “if” game was scheduled. Apprised that there would not be one, Jones and Jones protested, but to no avail. Hobbs wanted no part of a similar scenario, and one can’t blame him for that.

Still, the use of true double-elimination conjured up memories of the 2003 Far East Boys D-I Tournament, in which Kubasaki played something like five games in a 24-hour period and had nothing left in the tank when the Dragons lost the final in one game at Seoul American. It was said then that D-I tournaments would feature single-elimination brackets, but that was before pool play was taken out of the equation and double-elimination replaced it for the 2013 tournaments.

No matter which way you go, true double or winner-take-all, I don’t think every coach will  be entirely happy.
But to address that fatigue factor, clearly delineate the number of games teams will get at Far East tournaments, eliminate seeding debate, to make the Far East tournament experience more like DODDS Europe and perhaps get the YIS-Seouls, Faiths and Morrisons to hedge their bets and not leave Far East to form that conference, might I suggest the following:

-- Reinstate pool play for Far East, just as they do in Europe. Ensure that even numbers of teams are invited to the D-I and D-II tournaments and have just two pools of four, five, six, seven or eight teams each.

-- Tournaments with 14 teams or more play a single round-robin against all in their pools. Teams would play six games in a seven-team pool, seven games in an eight-team pool. For tournaments with 12 or fewer, teams would play all opponents in their pools PLUS one or two teams in the other pool, to be selected at random.

-- The top finishers in each pool would then play for the title, the next two for third place, the next two for fifth, etc.

-- Geographically separate common opponents in the respective pools, putting Yokota and Kinnick and Kadena and Kubasaki in separate D-I pools, and Osan American and Daegu High and E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry in separate D-II pools.

That eliminates all the guesswork, debate and negotiating needed to seed into a double-elimination tournament. It makes every game meaningful, and doesn’t eliminate teams from title contention on the first day, as happened in all four tournaments last week.

All of this said, the double-elimination formatting was done for the most part very well by tournament organizers (excepting giving the Nos. 7 and 8 teams in the Girls D-II tournament first-round byes, which to me still flies in the face of reason, though all 10 coaches voted in favor of that non-traditional format).

The No. 2 seed won the Boys D-I and Girls D-II, the No. 4 seed the Boys D-II and the No. 3 seed the Girls D-I . That’s not a bad batting average. Credit the organizers for doing a creditable job, given the lack of common opponents and untold amount of input from coaches and pure rough-and-ready reckoning and  guesswork needed. Even NCAA tournament organizers, with full bodies of work available from each team from all forms of media, swing and miss quite often.
It could be argued, whether fairly or unfairly, that Daegu High’s teams were unwarrantedly seeded No. 1 in their respective tournaments, given the fact that each crashed out in two games and were left to play for lower placement the rest of the way.

But was the seeding to blame for the Warriors’ performance? Look at how quickly the Warriors boys rebounded from the first-day doldrums and played hard the rest of the way, beating Osan 83-68 and E.J. King 65-54 for ninth place. A strong finish after a terrible start. And Daegu’s girls responded by routing M.C. Perry 55-27, finishing only seventh, but finishing strong.

Could it be, as the parent of one Daegu player suggested in an e-mail to me, the timing of the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division Tournament had something to do with it? I think the parent has a good point.

The Warriors girls traveled back and forth from Camp Walker to the KAIAC host Taejon Christian International School both days of the tournament, played three games in two days, went home and in less than eight hours had to board a bus at 5 a.m. Sunday for Kimhae International Airport for a flight to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, then to Misawa Airport – 12 hours in the air including layovers. They arrived at Misawa Air Base at 8 p.m., then had to play the first game Monday. I think I’d be a bit on the exhausted side, too.

“Last year, we had a week to rest and prepare, but this year, nothing but get on a bus and a plane,” the parent wrote.

Well, just today, I received an e-mail from Daegu High’s athletics director Ken Walter, stating that next year’s KAIAC Blue Division Tournament will occur a week earlier. We’ll see what kind of difference it makes next year.
Following the Girls D-I tournament, one observer and I engaged in a rather lively debate over supper at the Yokota Enlisted Club about the merits of MVPs selected from non-championship teams. His position was the MVP should be that player who led his/her team to the title; mine was by strict definition, player most valuable to his/her team.

I see his point, and have long wondered, for example, how the Baseball Writers Association of America could have seen their way clear to voting Andre “Hawk” Dawson the 1987 National League MVP for a last-place Chicago Cubs team.

Then again, I’ve also seen many a Far East tournament MVP come from a non-championship team. Melissa Calkins of Guam’s Trinity Christian School in 1994 was the Girls D-II MVP from a fifth-place team. Eight years later, Brieanna Carroll of seventh-place Pusan American was named MVP.

I have no problem with either selection, having seen each tournament and knowing what those two players produced and how much they meant to each of their team’s fortunes.

So I have no problem with Sheik Carino of St. Paul’s boys, Tara Long of E.J. King’s girls and Bessie Noll of ASIJ’s girls getting the MVP nods. Having seen all three play, I say they each deserve it.

Noll was the fuel that made the Mustangs’ girls engine run, a purely athletic guard who could play any position and play it well. Simply a pure athlete, whose best sport – believe it or not – is baseball. She hopes to play women’s softball at the collegiate level, and felt that playing baseball would best resemble the speed of the game, since ASIJ doesn’t have a girls high school softball team.

Long was clearly the “it” player of the Girls D-II tournament. Though it was pretty clear the other nine teams in the tournament were playing for second place behind Morrison, it was Long and the Cobras who gave the Mustangs the toughest time, relatively speaking; Morrison beat its other three foes by an average of 28 points, but Long’s play and that of teammates Deb Avalos, Yasmine Weddle, Rachel Fraser and others helped the Cobras stay within an average of 18 points of the Mustangs.

And Carino! Wow! Talk about a two-legged human dynamo. Guy can shoot, he can run like a scared jackrabbit, and plays defense along with the rest of the Warriors like a man possessed.

Yes, non-championship team tournament MVPs need their love, too.
A fond farewell to Dan Robinson, who steps down from the helm of a Morrison Academy team that first began attending Far East tournaments in 1995, the Steven Titus team, and came away with six D-II Tournament titles, including four consecutive from 2009-12. Robinson and the Mustangs came up short in their bid to match Faith Academy’s girls Drive for Five of the late 1990s-2000, but he did watch his son Grant average 28.4 points per game, shoot 60 percent from the field and 54 percent from three-point range. The last three games saw him average 33 points, 65 percent from the field and 57 percent from three-point land, despite defenses keying on him with box-and-one zones.
A fond farewell to St. Paul coaches Paul Pineda and Stu Schaefer, who plan to step aside after this season. The Warriors have two D-II titles to their credit.
A fond farewell to Morrison, Yongsan International-Seoul and perhaps Faith Academy as well, from Far East tournament participation. With Far East tournaments trimmed by at least a day each, and basketball cut by two days each, the three schools plan to join a 12-school international Christian conference next school year, with their own tournament system that one athletics director says will mirror the old Far East tournament experience, with pool play and elimination brackets.

If they do leave, that will end 20 years of Far East association with the old International Christian School of Seoul, 18 years with Morrison and 41 years of welcoming Faith Academy, and its legendary boys coach Tine Hardeman, to Far East.

One of the enriching aspects of Far East tournaments is the chance to compare notes on everything from hoops to living between DODDS and non-DODDS players and coaches. Team Military (DODDS-Pacific) meets Team Missionary (Faith, YIS-Seoul, Morrison, Christian Academy Japan) meets Team Metropolitan (ASIJ, Hong Kong International School) meets Team Micronesia (take your pick of any Guam teams) and so many others. Facebook friending usually spikes after such tournaments. A shame to see them go. You’ve added so much to the experience. Bonne chance in the new conference.


Things learned, observed in Far East high school wrestling tournament week

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer ruefully remembers how much he hates colds:

Welcome back to the top of the wrestling world, Kubasaki and Zama American. For the Trojans, after an absence of two years, tying Robert D. Edgren for the most Division II titles, with four, and for the Dragons, after an absence of four, as they extended their Pacific record for most Far East team titles in any sport to 23.

It puts coach Ron Geist in a pantheon of Kubasaki coaching greats who’ve tacked a Far East wrestling banner on the hallowed walls of the Dragons Den. And four more individual gold medalists to boot, giving the team an even hundred on the team’s Wall of Fame, rebuilt after the wall in the old room was painted over and all the names were feared lost.

Geist joins prior Dragons coaching winners Terry Chumley, Jeff Pellaton – he of the Pacific-record 13 team titles – Jim Feller, Ed Davies and the late Jerry Weekes who’ve helmed team-champion teams in the green and white. And for Geist, it was a huge boost after suffering a stroke last June; he seems well on his way to total recovery and the championship sure put an extra spring in his step.

But oh, the drama we all endured along the way. Kubasaki won its team championships by razor-thin margins, 78-77 in the team-points chase with host Nile C. Kinnick in the individual freestyle tournament, and needing four victories in the last four bouts to rally from a 23-18 deficit to down the same Red Devils 32-26 in the dual-meet phase.

Tyshon Butler (168), a former Red Devil shining at his old haunt Aaron Stravers (180), two-time gold-medalist Fred Suniga (215) and heavyweight Josiah Allen came through when the Dragons needed it most. A virtuoso performance, three tight decisions by the first three, followed by a meet- and title-clinching pin by Allen.

As was the case in last month’s “Beast of the Far East” Tournament, also at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Kubasaki won its gold-medal bouts – four of them – when it counted, while the runner-up – in this case Kinnick – had just one gold medalist and five silver medalists. Kubasaki edged Kadena at “Beast” in similar manner last month.

For Kinnick coach Gary Wilson and his charges, it was small consolation to know that they were just one gold medal short in the freestyle and one bout victory shy in the dual to bring home the titles.
It was readily apparent at season’s beginning that coach Steve Scott on numbers alone had what it took to vault back to Division II title country.

Still, the wrestlers have to get it done on the mat, and his best athletes, former Far East Outstanding Wrestler Chad Wilder (158) and Mitchell Harrison (180) had to get it done against some rather strong opposition, to include Stravers and his former Kinnick teammate Ian O’Brien, while Wilder tussled early during the season against Kinnick’s Alex Banks and St. Mary’s International’s Jeff Koo.

But as the man says, to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what they did. And Zama totes yet another D-II banner home (more on that in another blog post).
Is there any reason why there was so much debate that interrupted one bout in the dual-meet championship and delayed a final verdict in the 108-pound gold-medal freestyle bout?

No question, the intent is to get it right, ensure that decisions are awarded properly, and the officials association headed by Takashi Noda did its best to review and conference with each other, then patiently explain their decisions to the coaches.

Clearly, nobody was happy with the delays. It took a video review (not permitted in the manuals that govern DODDS Pacific Far East competitions?) and 13 minutes of discussion before Kubasaki’s Daniel Mora was given a decision that dethroned defending Far East champion Justin Duenas of Kadena at 108 pounds. Naturally, each side claimed their wrestler should have won. But the debate went on far longer than necessary.

So, too, did it the next day, when Kinnick’s Brady Yoder appeared to have scored a decision at 122 over Kubasaki’s Josh Gabri, but after a full 27 minutes (!!!) of haggling, the call was reversed and Yoder given credit for a pinfall victory. Kubasaki’s coaching staff blew a gasket, with Geist suggesting that there should have been a video review to determine the winner of that bout.

The point being, such delays harm the momentum and rhythm of a tournament final. Sort of how the Super Bowl turned on a dime with San Francisco rallying against Baltimore after the 34-minute Superdome brownout. That was an act of nature. Debating wrestling outcomes for that long is well within human control. Wrestlers need to keep warmed up, else one might pull a hamstring or a groin or other injury otherwise preventable by zipping it and letting the action continue on the mat. That’s coaches and referees, each.
If there was another reason for coaches and wrestlers to feel a bit grumpy last week, it was the timing of the tournament itself. For the first time in … well, I can’t remember now … the Far East wrestling tournament was held the same week as the Far East basketball tournaments. The idea, according to Far East Athletics Council membership, was that teachers would prefer to have classes disrupted just one week instead of two.

As I’ve said many times in this space, academics come first; I get that, despite the carpings of my detractors. Student comes before athlete for a reason.

But according to that same panel, the tournament was also moved down to Far East basketball week to create another week in the regular season. Wrestlers need that extra week for preparation, we were all told.

So, where was the competition the week before Far East wrestling? Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools regular-season dual meets wrapped up on Feb. 5.  The end-of-season tournament was on Feb. 9 at Yokota. Nothing was scheduled the week of Feb. 10-16. Same in DODDS Korea. Same on Okinawa.

All the extra added week did was create seven more days that wrestlers had to hold their weight, for no tangible reason.

I don’t think anybody was unhappy with losing a day of the tournament, as DODDS Pacific mandated cutbacks from four days to three for the wrestling tournament. We were in the gym a bit longer, but not much. There were two teams fewer than last year, and only a handful of teams brought full lineups.

But to a man, every coach and every wrestler I spoke with said they’d rather have the tournament moved back where it was, the week before basketball.

(DISCLAIMER: Selfishly, I’d prefer that, too; it is awfully hard to cover four basketball tournaments and a wrestling tournament all at one time. But if they stick with the current format, that’s how I’ll roll).
If this is it for Brian Kitts, as he has said privately, Yokota and the Kanto Plain lose one of their coaching elders and one of the leading advocates for retaining international freestyle as the preferred method of Far East wrestling. He never got that Far East team title as a head coach, but he’s kept competitive a program that former coach Mark Hanssen picked up off the scrap heap in the late 1990s and turned it into a power.
The name is Vasconcellos. Ryan Vasconcellos. Gold medalist. 122-pound. St. Mary’s. Learn it well. The man served notice to the entire Far East wrestling community that he could, one day, become the school's first four-time Far East tournament gold medalist. And the first ever to do it without ever losing a high-school bout.

The only four-time champions hail from Kubasaki, Scott Wood (2009) and Justin L. Miller (1999). Wood’s achievement came in the penultimate year that international schools were excluded from Far East tournaments, else we might have seen a couple more. Miller lost just one bout in his four high school years, to Mike Gamboa of Kinnick at 135 pounds in the 1996 dual-meet finals, at Yokosuka’s Old Thew Gym.

If bloodlines mean anything, Ryan’s father, Robert, was a Far East gold medalist the year St. Mary’s and Zama shared the team title, back when Far East was just a two-day true individual-freestyle double-elimination tournament.

Ryan spends his weekends working out against adult wrestlers in a club outside of school. The more he gets thrown around the room against those guys on Sundays, the better Ryan’s repertoire will become and the better he’ll be on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And the more his name will show up in this space.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, post-Far East tournament wrapup

1, American School In Japan (17-2).
2, Father Duenas Memorial, Guam (7-2)
3, Zama American, Japan (22-5).
4, Kadena, Okinawa (20-8).
5, Kubasaki, Okinawa (16-12).
6, Faith Academy, Philippines (24-5).
7, St. Paul Christian, Guam (6-3)
8, Yokota, Japan (21-10).
9, Seoul American (21-12).
10, Daegu High, South Korea (14-9).
11, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (21-13).
12, Yongsan International-Seoul (14-12).
13, Robert D. Edgren, Japan (21-16).
14, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (18-10).
15, Okkodo, Guam, (6-3).
Dropped out: Seoul Foreign.
1, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (23-3).
2, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (20-3).
3, American School In Japan (22-2).
4, Kadena, Okinawa (19-4).
5, Seoul American (18-4).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, E.J. King, Japan (19-9).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (12-7).
10, Seisen International, Japan (10-8).

Things learned, observed in Pacific high school winter sports Week 12.0

When it comes to seeding teams for this week’s Far East High School Basketball Tournaments, not all the top seeds were created equal.

The Girls Division II Tournament at Robert D. Edgren features an unusual bracket, in which the top two seeds, defending champion Daegu High of South Korea and No. 2 Morrison Academy of Taiwan, will play first-round games, while No. 7 Matthew C. Perry of Japan and No. 8 Yongsan International-Seoul will await the winners of those first-round outcomes.

Chris Waite, the tournament director, gave his rationale for the unique setup to DODDS Pacific Far East athletics coordinator Don Hobbs, who accepted the explanation and approved the bracket, Hobbs said by phone Sunday after consulting with Waite earlier in the day.

“We’re going with the bracket as he set it up,” Hobbs said.  “We’ll give it a try, we’ll see what happens and we’ll evaluate it later.” The format and seeding were to be spelled out at a pre-tournament coaches meeting Sunday evening at Edgren.

Daegu faces International School of the Sacred Heart of Tokyo and Morrison takes on Osan American in the first round. The Game 1 winner then plays Perry and the Game 2 winner against YIS-Seoul.

The seeding and format raised some eyebrows among the tournament’s coaches. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Perry coach Victor Rivera, who despite having to play one less game than Daegu said he didn’t like the format.

“It does seem odd,” coach Mimi Long of No. 3 seed E.J. King said.

The rest of the Far East High School Basketball Tournament field features boys Division I at Kubasaki, girls at Yokota and boys D-II at Zama American. Teams tip off at 8 a.m. in D-I and 9 a.m. in D-II on Monday, with the D-II tournaments concluding Wednesday afternoon and the D-I tournaments on Thursday evening.

For the first time since 1986, the tournaments begin without the luxury of pool play to help seed teams into their respective playoff brackets. That process was done in advance, with pool play having been dropped as one of the cost-cutting measures imposed by DODDS Pacific in early December.

Tournament organizers and Hobbs accomplished that daunting task without the benefit of having teams play each other to demonstrate how well or poorly they’re doing and who merits what seed. Organizers used varying methods, to include win-loss record, history of each conference at Far East, past performance, head-to-head results where available and others.

“It isn’t perfect, but it’s close,” girls D-I tournament director Tim Pujol said last week.

Those formulas produced Daegu High as the top seed of both the boys and girls D-II tournaments. Following the boys top seeds were four-time defending champion Morrison, YIS-Seoul and host Zama American. The girls seeds were almost a mirror image, with E.J. King replacing YIS-Seoul at No. 3.

In the Boys D-II tournament, each of the top four seeds got first-round byes. In D-I, the boys top seed is another defending champion and the tournament host, Kubasaki, which has won the title the last two years on Guam and now gets a chance at a three-peat on its home court. American School In Japan follows at No. 2, as are the Mustangs in the girls D-I bracket, with Kadena, last year’s runner-up, as the top seed. With 15 teams in the D-I tournaments, the only teams getting first-round byes are the top seeds.

The question now, as I’m sure many a coach has discussed and debated, whether the seeding selections were accurate. Did Hobbs and Waite, boys D-II honcho Steven Rabine, girls D-I poobah Tim Pujol and boys D-I chieftain Fred Bales get it right, or did they whiff on it big time or somewhere in between?

Which teams will prove worthy of their seeds? Which teams will come from out of nowhere, a 12th-seed lightning bolt out of a clear sky and shock the world? Which teams will clearly demonstrate that their top or near-top seed wasn’t warranted in the least?

It all begins Monday.

-- Yokota: Despite a bit of a rough patch during January and early February, the Panthers can still be dangerous, especially around this time of year. Sophomore Ke’Ondre Davis, considered by observers to be a work in progress, stepped up big in Yokota’s prime-time 51-49 win Friday at Capps Gym. The victory gave American School In Japan the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools championship without stepping on the court, as Kinnick fell into a second-place tie with Zama American with three losses each; ASIJ has just two.

-- Nile C. Kinnick: Will the real Red Devils please stand up? After manhandling Christian Academy Japan on Tuesday, they hit the road against a Yokota team they’ve beaten twice and lost yet another heartbreaker at Capps Gym.

-- Seoul American: Both boys and girls teams appear primed to at least give people problems, if not make a deep run at the D-I titles; the boys haven’t won one in five years, the girls in two. The questions: Have the girls been tested enough, and can the boys show they won’t let a half-court slowdown by the opponents throw them off their game?

-- Daegu American: Transfer star Anfernee Dent’s knee is a concern; one could see he was having trouble finishing as he ran upcourt with the ball. One can see that the girls team is still working hard to replace departed center Maleah Potts Cash. They’re trying, but that’s a difficult task. The fact that both teams finished out of the title running at KAIAC 5CD usually bodes for a good performance at Far East D-II; that’s exactly what happened to Daegu’s girls last year, taking the D-II title after failing at KAIAC.

-- Osan American: Good teams waiting to happen, especially on the boys side, with their talented threesome of Derrick Merriwether, Marlon Cox and Manasseh Nartey. The girls survived a tight 35-34 finish with International Christian-Uijongbu; some signs of life there.

Top performances
-- Jasmine Thomas earned KAIAC 5CD Most Valuable Player honors, 25 points, 11 rebounds and five steals to power Seoul American past Seoul Foreign 55-28 in the tournament final.
-- Olu Akinbayo, a junior also described as a work in progress by his coach, scored 50 points and pulled down 33 rebounds in three games to garner the boys MVP award, with Seoul American outlasting YIS-Seoul 47-42.
-- Ke’Ondre Davis scored the winning basket on a tip-in at the buzzer in Yokota’s edging of Kinnick. He finished with 12 points.

Who’s hot
Can Seoul American’s KAIAC gains translate into D-I title glory?

Who’s not
Can Daegu right itself in time to be competitive at D-II?

The $64,000 question
Can anybody prevent Faith Academy’s boys, American School In Japan’s girls and both of Morrison Academy’s  teams from making it an international-school sweep of all four Far East hoops titles?


Pacific high school basketball ratings, pre-Far East Tournaments edition

1, Faith Academy, Philippines (22-2).
2, Kubasaki, Okinawa (14-10).
3, Kadena, Okinawa (15-6).
4, American School In Japan (12-2).
5, Father Duenas Memorial, Guam (3-0)
6, Seoul American (19-9).
7, Daegu High, South Korea (12-7).
8, Robert D. Edgren, Japan (18-14).
9, Zama American, Japan (18-5).
10, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (15-8).
11, St. Paul Christian, Guam (3-0)
12, Yokota, Japan (18-8).
13, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (19-10).
14, Okkodo, Guam, (2-1).
15, Seoul Foreign (8-7).
1, American School In Japan (17-0).
2, Kadena, Okinawa (16-2).
3, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (15-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (18-2).
5, Seoul American (16-2).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, E.J. King, Japan (15-7).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (10-5).
10, Seisen International, Japan (7-5).

On your Ahner, Part II: Kadena grads make Louisville grid team roster

Now, it can be told: Kadena graduates Aaron Ahner (2011) and his brother Gabe (2012), who helped lead the Panthers to back-to-back Far East Division I football titles last decade, have officially been added to the University of Louisville’s team roster.

They’re now part of a NCAA Division I (Football Bowl Subdivision) Cardinals program, a member of the Big East, a Bowl Championship Series conference, that stunned two-touchdown favorite Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 at New Orleans. The Ahners join the team after spending the 2012 season working with the practice squad after they walked on, Aaron after having transferred from D-III Dubuque.

“I didn’t realize I was on the roster until my mom called me. But it feels good to finally be on the roster,” Aaron said via Facebook message.

Neither has been assigned a jersey number, but Aaron is listed at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds (wow, did he grow!), a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle; he played defensive end and kicker for Kadena. Gabe, who was an interior lineman for the Panthers, is listed at 6-3, 268, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle.

“This definitely sends the message that even DODDS student-athletes can achieve this feat and they should follow their dreams of being a D-I athlete,” Gabe said via Facebook. “They just need to keep working hard and staying humble.”

Yokota's Speed inks National Letter of Intent to play football at Briar Cliff

Still think DODDS Pacific student-athletes can’t make the grade in college? Got another example that they can: Stanley Speed of Yokota High School.

The senior who quarterbacked the Panthers to their second successive Far East Division I football title has signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Briar Cliff University, an NAIA school in Iowa, and received a $24,000 annual academic grant-in-aid as well.

Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 11.1

Author's note: Some of this material appeared in the Pacific page at Stripes.com and also in our print editions for Monday.

Five things we learned over the last weekend in Pacific high school sports:

1) You’ve heard of the dog that sleeps with one eye open? Sort of the way teams are competing in the frigid days of February, playing opponents with one eye on them and the other on what’s coming next week: Far East tournament week.

That was the impression left by many a coach after last weekend’s DODDS Japan basketball and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools wrestling finals, the teams’ last major preparation for the Far East tournaments in each sport. Far East wrestling is Feb. 19-21 at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Division I basketball is Feb. 18-21, girls at Yokota and boys at Kubasaki. Division II hoops are Feb. 18-20, boys at Zama American, girls at Robert D. Edgren, site of the DODDS Japan tournaments.

Brian Kitts, Yokota’s wrestling coach, feels that Kanto finals champion Nile C. Kinnick, with four gold medalists among the 13 weight classes, is ready to challenge Okinawa powers Kadena and Kubasaki, the favorites heading into Far East.

“Don’t overlook Kinnick,” he said after Saturday’s tournament, which he hosted at Yokota’s Capps Gym. “They’re on the outside looking in, but the way they looked today, they may be the best dual-meet team already and could be the best individual freestyle team out there. Don’t sleep on Kinnick.”

Reigning Far East Outstanding Wrestler Chad Wilder of Zama American proved his readiness with a gold medal at 158 pounds. Saturday’s Outstanding Wrestler, Yokota’s Kalik Battle, turned in a dominant performance against Kinnick’s Marvin Newbins for 135-pound gold. The best bout of the day, by far, observers said, was the 168-pound final, in which reigning Far East champion Jeff Koo of St. Mary’s outlasted Kinnick’s Alex Banks for a 2-1 decision.

“The whole match was that close,” Kinnick coach Gary Wilson said. “Great job by both guys. The highlight of the tournament.”

While the Red Devils matmen have dominated Kanto all season, taking all 10 dual meets as well as the finals title, other teams are starting to find their stride, such as Robert D. Edgren’s boys basketball team. For the second straight year, the Eagles came out of the knockout bracket in the double-elimination tournament, this time throttling top-seeded Zama 70-53 in Saturday’s DODDS Japan final at the Eagles’ Nest.

Fueling the title drive in the second half was a pair of freshmen overlooked much of the season but starting to find their groove. Isaiah Murphy had 16 points off the bench and Khaleem Shabazz had six assists, all to Murphy, as the Eagles rallied from a 26-19 deficit, outscoring the Trojans, who had won 16 straight games, 25-9 in one stretch of the third quarter.

“We’ve been waiting for them to get that moment and this was their moment to shine,” coach Andre Thibert said of Murphy and Shabazz, the younger brothers of two established Edgren stars, Louis Murphy and Khalil Williams. “It was definitely a coming-out party for our two freshmen.”

It could not have come at a better time for all concerned.

2) Just what is a true double-elimination tournament, people asked, some articulately and wrathfully, of DODDS Japan tournament organizer and outgoing Edgren athletics director Jim Burgeson in the aftermath of Saturday’s boys final.

Edgren’s victory, in actuality, gave the Eagles and Zama each one loss and, in theory, should have necessitated an “if-necessary” game to decide the title. No second game was played. Burgeson and Thibert each – correctly – stated that the tournament by-laws indicated no “if” game, and that it was understood by all before the tournament began.

Let’s back up to the beginning, a very good place to start, considering the tournament almost never came off at all. A snowfall of trace amounts in coastal areas and 1 inch or so inland in the Kanto Plain delayed Zama’s, Kinnick’s and Yokota’s team buses by a day; had we been talking five or six inches, they might not have left at all, considering the blizzards they ran into on the Tohoku Expressway on Thursday.

Burgeson had initially scheduled all teams to play generous amounts of basketball, five pool-play games each on Thursday and Friday and as many as three elimination games on Saturday; that was rejiggered into a modified double-elimination tournament with a fifth- and sixth-place game and a single, winner-take-all, championship game at the end of that rainbow. (He also scheduled some friendlies, with no scorekeeper, between E.J. King, Edgren and Matthew C. Perry on Thursday to give them something to do).

Every athletics director received an e-mail (I was copied) with the updated and final tournament schedule, emphasizing there would be no more changes. The rules of engagement were made clear well in advance. The tournament has never had an “if” game in its three years. Burgeson and Thibert stuck to their guns.

Say this for Zama – they’ll have more than enough motivation next time they see Edgren, possible at next week’s Far East.

3) Sometimes, it’s not about the entire body of work over the course of a season, but who’s hot at the right time heading into Far East. Unquestionably, Edgren’s boys would have to be included in that category. They went 1-2 the previous weekend at Yokosuka, including a bad loss to St. Mary’s International, but they  may  have turned the corner with that DODDS Japan title performance. So, too, did Yokota’s girls, who turned a few heads by reaching the final (they lost 47-37 to Kinnick), instead of Zama’s or E.J. King’s girls. Even in defeat against their Division I sisters, the Cobras showed some panache and that they may be ready to challenge for their first D-II title since 1997.

4) What can one say about the Okinawa Activities Council’s boys basketball rivalry between Kadena and Kubasaki? The last three times these guys have laced up, the total victory margin was four points, two one-point victories and a two-pointer, that by Kubasaki 52-50 on Friday at home. The home team won all four games in the series, which was halved at 2-2. If anything gives either team an edge, and then you have to consider each team was without some key components, it would have been Kubasaki’s buzzer-beating win over Kadena in last month’s New Year Classic.

5) So much depressing chatter over the weekend up at Misawa, about everything from why the DODDS Japan tournament was held at Misawa in the dead of winter when weather could have scotched it, or how much extra it cost to fly four teams to Misawa instead of the two that would have flown had the tournament been held in the Kanto Plain. Even talk about impending furloughs and possible cancellations of Far East tournaments should the “automatic sequestration cuts” take effect starting March 1 and the continuing resolution expire on March 27 without renewal, triggering a government shutdown.

Regarding the first two parts: Yes, the weather endangered the event and it did cost more money to transport the teams, but in the end, Burgeson and Thibert put on a very, very good show. Regarding the second two parts, which are only fueled by rumors, speculation and social-networkingitis: Phillip Phillips said it best: “Don’t pay no mind to the demons; they’ll fill you with fear.” Forget the rumor mill. Listen to the official channels. Nothing’s been canceled yet. Nobody’s been laid off yet. There are 18 days before the first deadline, and likely, the can will get kicked down the road again for another couple of months. It always seems worse than when the time comes.

Guam High
After a dreadful start to the season, in which the Panthers girls softball team went 0-3, things got better on Friday at their home field with an 11-1 run-rule-shortened romp over Academy of Our Lady of Guam. “The girls were excited and quite happy (and so was Pizza Hut,” coach Marcellas Walker said in an e-mail. They get Simon Sanchez and Southern this week, two “big games,” he said, “and we’ll be putting our best foot forward.”

E.J. King
Jaimee who? The Cobras remain a competitive lot thanks to their big three of Tara Long, Deb Avalos and Yasmine Weddle, short in stature but giants on the court. Avalos, in particular, is primarily a perimeter shooter, but she can drive and scrap underneath, remindful of Kristia Suriben, Cobras star of last decade.

As with any young team, the Dragons can sometimes be like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. But coach Jon Fick is consistently getting stellar double-double performances from Kareem Key, Tristan McElroy, DeQuan Alderman, Nick Ashley and Ryan Burnette, most of whom rode the bench during last year’s run to a second straight D-I title.

Coach Willie Ware said he couldn’t have been happier with the return of Deja Caldwell to the lineup. She missed the previous three weeks with injuries, and rejoins fellow senior Eisiah Lawson to form twin towers in the paint to go with a large cadre of guards led by Maria Vaughan.

Robert D. Edgren
Thibert and the Eagles had been waiting for some complementary pieces to rise up and join established stars Louis Murphy and Williams to take the pressure off of them. If Isaiah Murphy and Shabazz keep it up, despite an 18-14 record, the Eagles could make a deep run at their first D-II title.

Osan American
A thumb’s up for all three sports teams over the weekend. Both the boys and girls teams won on Friday over International Christian-Uijongbu, ensuring they’ll escape the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division cellar. Meanwhile, the wrestling team, though losing to Seoul American on Saturday, came within two points, 33-31, their best performance in a dual with the Falcons in 13 seasons.

Daegu High
The reason why the Warriors wrestling team wasn’t at Osan on Saturday? Lunar New Year and its accompanying gridlock on the Kyongbu Expressway. … The Warriors basketball teams appear in prime position for a run at KAIAC Five-Cities Division titles, the boys (11-6) seeded No. 1 and the girls (9-3) in at least a tie for No. 2 with Seoul Foreign.

Seoul American
Likewise, the Falcons boys (15-9) hold the No. 2 seed and the girls (13-2) are No. 1 entering the KAIAC 5CD tournament, being held for the first time at the new Taejon Christian International School campus in the heart of the Republic.

Matthew C. Perry
Lost in all the hoopla of Kinnick’s girls and Edgren’s boys winning the DODDS Japan titles was the girls’ fifth-place game, in which the light switches went on for a Samurai team that had not won a DODDS Japan game all season but came within three points of Zama. They trailed 37-21 after three quarters, but scored 24 points, most coming from Courtney Beall, in the final period, losing 48-45. You’d have thought they’d won, from their reaction. "This is how they play when they play well," coach Victor Rivera said. And that game came against Rivera's old school, where he taught for two years last decade.

Zama American
Sometimes, a loss like the Trojans’ boys suffered in the DODDS Japan final is the best thing for a team. For one, it happened on Feb. 9, not Feb. 20, the day of the D-II final. For another, it gives the Trojans motivation for the next time they face the Eagles. Sort of the same way a slap across the face with a wet squirrel works.

While twin towers Brianna Harris and Sarah Hamner remain the forces in the middle, the Panthers got some contributions from a pair of up-and-coming freshman, guard Sarah Cronin and center Caitlyn Rowan. The latter’s surname might be familiar to ardent sumo followers; she’s the daughter of the first foreign sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Akebono, birth name Chad Rowan.

Nile C. Kinnick
De’Asia Brown and Mashiya McKinney make a nice outside-inside tandem for a Red Devils girls team which has beaten everyb0dy they’ve played except American School In Japan, a frustration for coach Samuel Williams. … The boys team, 2-2 at DODDS Japan, are another Forrest Gump box of chocolates team, also frustrating for coach Robert Stovall.

Top performers
-- Kalik Battle, Yokota, Outstanding Wrestler of Kanto Plain finals, big win over Kinnick’s Marvin Newbins in the 135-pound final.
-- Daniel Costello’s victory at 215 pounds over Yokota’s Jake Jackson might have been the biggest surprise gold among the four won by Kinnick.
-- Osan American’s boys big three of Marlon Cox, Derrick Merriwether and Manasseh Nartey, plus girls star Trellini Lunsford in the Cougars’ sweep of the Eagles.
-- Kinnick guard De’Asia Brown and center Mashiya McKinney paced the Red Devils past Yokota 47-37 in the DODDS Japan girls final.
-- Despite finishing fifth, M.C. Perry’s Courtney Beall consistently posted 20-plus point and 10-plus rebound games all weekend.
-- Freshmen Isaiah Murphy and Khaleem Shabazz’s coming-out party for Edgren’s boys.

Who’s hot
Was Edgren’s boys title a sign of what’s to come, or a home-court illusion?

Who’s not
Did Yokota’s boys (13-1 start, 4-6 since) peak too so0n?

The $64,000 question.
Which teams stand the best chance of upending top seeds Daegu High boys and Seoul American girls in the KAIAC Five-Cities Division Tournament this weekend?

Best idea
Misawa's 35th Force Support Squadron is putting its foot forward to support high school athletics and out-of-town teams with special discounts at its various eateries. If you're staying at Misawa Inn and you're with one of those teams, show your room key for a 25-percent discount.

Most interesting idea
Edgren's second-quarter stall tactics in its 45-43 edging of Yokota, a reversal of what occured in a game in the same tournament last year. The rationale? To bring the Panthers out of their zone defense and get them to play man-to-man.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, pre-KAIAC tournament edition

Author's note: The following has been edited to correctly reflect results of weekend games, 9:25 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10.

1, Faith Academy, Philippines (21-2).
2, Kubasaki, Okinawa (14-10).
3, Kadena, Okinawa (14-6).
4, American School In Japan (10-2).
5, Father Duenas Memorial, Guam (3-0)
6, Seoul American (15-9).
7, Daegu High, South Korea (11-6).
8, Robert D. Edgren, Japan (18-14).
9, Zama American, Japan (18-4).
10, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (15-8).
11, St. Paul Christian, Guam (3-0)
12, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (18-9).
13, Yokota, Japan (17-7).
14, Okkodo, Guam, (2-1).
15, Seoul Foreign (6-5).
1, American School In Japan (16-0).
2, Kadena, Okinawa (16-2).
3, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (15-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (18-2).
5, Seoul American (13-2).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, E.J. King, Japan (15-7).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (9-3).
10, Seisen International, Japan (7-4).

Midweek blues: Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 11.0.

It appears as if the Seoul American at Yongsan International-Seoul boys basketball game last Saturday, in which the Guardians won 67-62 in overtime after the regular referees assigned to do the game didn’t show, will stand as a Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference game, Seoul American’s athletic director Don Hedgpath said Wednesday.

Two certified refs not affiliated with either school or the United Services For Korea Officials Association refereed the game. YIS-Seoul’s coach, athletics director and KAIAC commissioner Daniel Hale said the result would stand and that both he and Falcons coach Steve Boyd agreed it would count as a league game. Boyd disputed that, saying that the game could not be official without regular USFKOA referees to sign off on the book after the game, and that he never agreed that it would count as a league game.

The DODDS Japan basketball tournaments for boys and girls, scheduled to begin Thursday at Robert D. Edgren, have been delayed a day because of Wednesday’s snowfall in Tokyo. Yokota’s, Zama American’s and Nile C. Kinnick’s teams will depart at 8 a.m. Thursday and play will begin in a straight double-elimination tournament on Friday at 10 a.m. at the high school and middle school gyms. Kinnick's girls and Zama's boys are the top seeds entering Friday's play.

On Okinawa, the final Okinawa Activities Council regular-season wrestling dual meet pitting Kubasaki at Kadena has been canceled. DODDS Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said the postponement is precautionary. Two wrestlers at Kubasaki, Hoff said, were diagnosed with a staph infection, which can be spread by contact, and that wrestling poses unique risks both from contact with other wrestlers and the mat surface. “We are following guidance provided by military health officials on ways to mitigate health risks including disinfecting surfaces, limiting physical contact, etc.,” Hoff said.

Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 10.1

Five things we learned over the last weekend in Pacific high school sports:

1) Now, it can be told: Kadena is the team to beat at the Far East High School Wrestling Tournament later this month at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, with Kubasaki nipping at the Panthers’ heels close behind.

Five golds and five silvers. Team titles in both Friday’s dual-meet portion and Saturday’s individual freestyle phase of the 6th Rumble on the Rock tournament at Kubasaki High School.

“I’m proud of the guys and the way they wrestled,” said Justin Armstrong, who became the team’s fourth head coach in four seasons, inheriting a team that has six Far East team titles to its credit, but none since 2010.

From 115 to 168, the Panthers appear loaded and a solid threat to end that team-title skid, thanks to the likes of David Hernandez, Zach Fanton, Cole and Kyle Milburn, newcomer Vao Mustafa, Alaska state champion Alex Rojas, Elijah Takushi, James Alexander and heavyweight Nolynn Riley.

Armstrong credits the push that his Panthers have gotten from their foes ’cross-town at Camp Foster. His wrestlers have had to earn their keep, Armstrong said, with guys like Austin Cyr – who beat Takushi for 148-pound gold on Saturday – and Tyshon Butler, who knocked off Kyle Milburn at 168.

“You wrestle Kubasaki so much, every week, it’s so intense,” Armstrong said. “We’re so close, pushing each other to higher levels.”

They’ll see each other again, the Dragons and Panthers, on Wednesday at Kubasaki. Far East is scheduled for Feb. 19-21; St. Mary’s International is the two-time defending champion.

2) But don’t cry poor for the Dragons, who still have that team title in last month’s “Beast of the Far East” tournament, buoyed by five gold medals, edging out a Panthers team that had six finalists and finished with six silvers.

Back to back, at 108 and 115, the Dragons are dangerous with Daniel Mora and Steven Walter, and again at 180 and 215 with Aaron Stravers and Fred Suniga, in addition to Cyr and Butler. Walter is gunning for his third straight Far East gold medal, while Suniga is seeking a repeat.

Then, there’s Nile C. Kinnick, third at “Beast,” and champion in virtually every other tournament they’ve entered this season. The Red Devils pounded Christian Academy Japan 58-3 on Saturday, three days after winning by the same score against American School In Japan.

The Red Devils, too, have an armada of weaponry, brothers Zach and Brady Yoder, upper-weight contenders Alex Banks and Ian O’Brien and Marvin Newbins, he one of two Pacific wrestlers to execute five-point throws this season (more on that later).

Kinnick improved to 9-0 last week and visits 8-1 St. Mary’s for the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools regular-season crown. The league tournament is Saturday at Yokota.

3) A shame, it is, that Father Duenas Memorial, which attended Far East last year and Rumble last weekend, will not return to Far East this year.

Organizers say the field this year is capped at 15 teams, with the intent of making it an even 16 next year with the addition of Humphreys High School in Korea. That would give the event 13 DODDS-Pacific/DDESS-Guam schools, along with charter Far East tournament participants St. Mary’s, CAJ and ASIJ.

It would have been something to see guys like Michael Franquez of Okkodo, who won the 101-pound Rumble title, and Father Duenas’ Micah Lopez at 158 at Far East. Lopez drew the biggest oohs and ahs from an appreciative crowd at Kubasaki High when he hoisted Kadena’s James Alexander into the air and sent him thundering down for a five-point throw (he was told to cool it after that).

Had he and FDMS been invited back to Far East, he would have put an entire weight class on notice with that one throw.

To Alexander’s credit, the mark of an experienced freestyle wrestler is knowing how to both win AND lose safely. He resisted the instinct to “post” his arm onto the mat to steady his fall but also risk a devastating elbow dislocation, as happened in December to Kadena’s Jacob Cote.

4) They’d stood unbeaten and atop the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division boys basketball standings from the start of the season. Daegu High is still first, but unbeaten no longer, thanks to a Saturday visit to Osan American, where the Warriors took the first blotch on their ledger when the Cougars beat them 53-47.

“Osan played a phenomenal game,” Warriors  coach Phillip Loyd said.

That’s three wins in four games for the Cougars, who began the season with six straight losses. And those two guys, Manasseh Nartey and Derrick Merriwether, were the guys who lit the torch that lit the way.

Osan wasn’t the only team in the business of doling out shocking results over the weekend.

Remember that Robert D. Edgren boys team that Nile C. Kinnick crushed 70-47 in last month’s New Year Classic? Well, imagine this: the Eagles beat the Red Devils 50-46 at Kinnick’s Devil Dome on Friday.

Then, there was Zama American’s girls traveling to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and riding a six-game winning streak, before losing 38-32 to E.J. King.

Interesting weekend.

5) What a howdy-doo we had, and still have, as a result of the developments Saturday at Yongsan International School-Seoul, where a scheduled KAIAC Five-Cities Division  boys basketball game pitting Seoul American at YIS-Seoul began and ended with total drama, which continues even now.

The game had originally been scheduled in December, but was snowed out and rescheduled to Feb. 2. Geographically, the two schools may be the closest among any KAIAC 5CD members, just five miles separation, SAHS on Yongsan Garrison, YIS-Seoul on Itaewon’s eastern edges.

Anyway, the United Services for Korea Officials Association referees slated to work Saturday’s game did not arrive. Daniel Hale, YIS-Seoul’s coach and athletics director who also is KAIAC’s president, telephoned and sought other officials, but to no avail.

According to Hale, two persons certified as basketball officials, not affiliated with either team, volunteered to referee the contest. Hale also said that both he and Falcons coach Steve Boyd agreed that the game would count as a conference game and in the 5CD standings. YIS-Seoul won 67-62 in overtime and Hale says the game has already been entered and counted as an official conference game.

Boyd says pretty much the opposite. He says he agreed that since the Falcons were there, and Saturday was the Guardians’ senior day, that Seoul American would stay and give YIS-Seoul a game, but that it would count only as a friendly and not in the league standings.

When he found out that the game had been entered into the league standings, Boyd pretty much blew a gasket, insisting just as adamantly as Hale has been about the game counting, that he would never agree to such an arrangement, and that the game should either be rescheduled, or that their scheduled rematch on Wednesday at Yongsan count twice (assuming the USFKOA officials show this time) and that Saturday’s game be treated as a friendly.

A look at the standings and one might understand why Hale is adamant about the game counting. Daegu High has pretty much sealed first place at 10-1, while Seoul American is second at 7-3, two games ahead of its nearest chaser, Seoul Foreign (5-5), with Wednesday’s game the only one remaining in the regular season. The KAIAC tournament is scheduled Feb. 15-16 at Taejon Christian International School.

But behind SFS, you have International Christian-Uijongbu at 4-4, YIS-Seoul at 4-5, Osan American at 3-7 and TCIS at 2-8. YIS-Seoul needs victories if it hopes to catch SFS for the No. 3 seed and, presumably, a better first-round matchup.

League bylaws say that any protest of a league game should be brought to the game officials or the league president before the game ends. Boyd did not do so. On the other side of the coin, Boyd said the game couldn’t possibly count as a league game if there were no USFKOA officials to certify the result.

Hale and Seoul American’s co-athletics director Don Hedgpath spoke by phone earlier Monday, with Hedgpath requesting that Hale and he look into possible alternative solutions.

Here is what the game summary would look like:

Yongsan International-Seoul 67, Seoul American 62, OT
Saturday at Seoul

SAHS 9 20 15 10 8—62
YIS-S 15 17 14 8 13—67

Scoring—YIS-S: Sam Kang 17, Chris Yoo 12, Ben Linssen 10; SAHS: Patrick Anderson 13, Sean Horne 10, Tariel Stewart 10. Rebounding—YIS-S: Kang 8, Linssen 6, Yoo 5; SAHS: Anderson 5.

What does Sports Blog Nation think?
Top performers
-- Manasseh Nartey (17 points) and Derrick Merriwether (15) in Osan’s boys basketball’s upset victory over Daegu.
-- Kubasaki’s Tyshon Butler being the only wrestler at Rumble needing to win two finals bouts in the double-elimination format to upend Kadena’s Kyle Milburn for the 168-pound gold.
-- Andre Encarnacion’s buzzer-beating shot that lifted Zama’s boys basketball team past M.C. Perry 62-61 in a see-saw battle.
-- Kareem Key’s 25-point, 11-rebound double-double in a losing cause as Kubasaki lost 69-66 Saturday at Futenma.
-- Courtney Beall’s averaging 14.3 points and 17.7 rebounds for M.C. Perry’s girls in a losing cause as they dropped three games.
-- Vanessa Black’s four third-quarter three-point goals and 18 total points in a losing effort as Kinnick’s girls beat Edgren 49-30 on Friday.
-- Jasmine Thomas’ averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in just under 12 total minutes as Seoul American won at Osan and Yongsan International-Seoul.
-- Quin White’s 19 points that helped Edgren’s boys drop Kinnick 50-46 on Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base.

Who’s hot
-- Osan’s boys have won two of their last three, while Zama boys and girls are a combined 25-8 entering the DODDS Japan tournament.

Who’s not
-- Turnover plagued Perry’s girls fell from above .500 to 9-12 on the season with four weekend losses.

The $64,000 question

Which teams stand the best chance of stopping Zama’s boys and Kinnick’s girls from winning the DODDS Japan basketball tournaments?

USFJ-AFL on the brink?

Troubled times, these are, for the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League, which may enter its 14th season as an absolute mess, if one is played at all.

For one, two teams - the Courtney Wolfpack in the South Division and the Misawa Jets of the North Division - each lost their head coaches. Jason Stravers is due to deploy soon and Jeremy Sanders is stepping aside to handle personal issues.

Neither team has a replacement in sight. One of Stravers’ top assistants is also due to leave Okinawa, and Sanders says he’s having trouble scaring up a successor at Misawa.

That could very easily leave two teams in each division, Yokosuka and defending champion Yokota up North and Foster, the 2011 champion, and Kadena in the South Division.

There’s the issue of who’s in charge of the league. It’s been done by committee the past three seasons, and over that span, nobody has shown any interest in filling the post, last held by Sean Dath, a civilian with Fleet Activities Yokosuka’s public affairs office.

James Price, Yokosuka’s coach, comes close to fitting that bill; few have more love for the league and interservice football than he does, but he also wants to continue coaching, and that simply wouldn’t work.

If the league could ever locate Bob McFarling, a retired Navy officer who founded the old senior Greyhawks team in 1975 and the old Atsugi Flyers in 1983 and is reported to be living in retirement near Mount Fuji, I think he’d be the model man for the job. He's a gruff but good-hearted soul who would get things done.

But if we’re left with two teams in each division, there’s the issue of how to get teams from mainland to Okinawa and vice versa to play regular-season games. If the military does chug over the Fiscal Cliff along with the rest of government, the pool for such transportation options as Naval Air Logistics Operations flights could disappear completely.

Tough times, which could get tougher. The 2013 season is due to begin in late April and end with the Torii Bowl in July at the site of the North Division champion.

Pacific high school basketball ratings, pre-DODDS Japan tournament edition

1, Kadena, Okinawa (14-5).
2, Faith Academy, Philippines (21-2).
3, Zama American, Japan (15-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (16-7).
5, American School In Japan (10-2).
6, Kubasaki, Okinawa (12-10).
7, Seoul American (14-9).
8, Yokota, Japan (16-5).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (10-6).
10, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (13-8).
Dropped out: Matthew C. Perry.

1, American School In Japan (14-0).
2, Kadena, Okinawa (15-2).
3, Morrison Academy, Taiwan (14-3).
4, Nile C. Kinnick, Japan (15-2).
5, Seoul American (12-2).
6, Southern, Guam (season complete).
7, E.J. King, Japan (13-5).
8, Academy of Our Lady of Guam (season complete).
9, Daegu High, South Korea (8-3).
10, Seisen International, Japan (7-4).




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.