Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer flops on his face having crossed the first major checkpoint nearing the end of the school year:
OK, I’m convinced.
And it takes a whole heckuva lot to convince me.
For months, prior to my arrival Friday at Gyeonggi Suwon International School for last weekend’s postseason tournament, I was told how much Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference boys Division I soccer was golden, da bomb dot com and countless other things to make me believe it was aces, top shelf, etc.
They were right.
Top team to bottom team, this is as knowledgeable, deep and competitive a league as I’ve ever seen. Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s boys and girls teams of the Zendejas-Foote-Abel era of the early to mid 2000s will forever top them all, but never have I seen nine teams in one league on such a level.
From the start of the eighth- vs. ninth-place match on Friday, Osan American vs. Daegu High, I’m watching as these two teams work their tails off. I don’t mean filling the net – the Cougars’ Jacob Ives got the match’s lone goal – but how there was no let-up by either team, working, digging, hustling, making intelligent soccer decisions, not trying to do too much but staying within their abilities.
“Gad, I want to see the TOP teams, if this soccer is so good,” I said to both Osan and Daegu coaches.
From every team’s elite stars to the last men off the bench, we’re talking people who clearly understand the game of futbol. They are quick. They’re cool. They’re clinical. They’re wise. Coaches who have played the game, some of them professionally, and are expert at breaking down tendencies of their own and other teams’ players. And coaches who don’t leave at the drop of a hat like many within DODDS or in other sports.
And that extends into the stands at Knights Field in eastern Suweon, where Gyeonggi Suwon International School hosted the two-day, 14-match tournament. The fan support was utterly intelligent, soccer-wise and very sportsmanlike. And the host school, just six years in existence, clearly gets tremendous support, whether the boys or girls team is playing; even to the point where girls spectators brandished Vuvuzela a la the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And that was for a non-title match.
A great time. A fun two days of soccer. And some really powerful matches. A couple of coaches who also attend the DODDS Pacific Far East tournaments remarked about how they like the KAIAC tournament because “Far East is easier.”
Defending Far East Division I champion Seoul American can’t help but get better as Far East approaches. Same with the Falcons girls, who lost a heartbreaking penalty-kick shootout to Seoul Foreign in the D-I girls tournament at Seoul American’s Sims Field. Yongsan International-Seoul’s boys, who played what first-year coach Harry Creech called a “roller-coaster” of a season, sure looked as if they came alive during KAIAC and are more than prepared now to defend their D-II title.
Having seen virtually every boys soccer team in Japan, Okinawa and Korea play matches, right now, I’d put Nile C. Kinnick, Matthew C. Perry and perennial Far East D-I power Christian Academy Japan in the same class with KAIAC D-1’s elite, Seoul American, YIS-Seoul, Seoul Foreign and GSIS. How I’d love to see them come to Far East, rather than have their season end the last weekend of April.
Witnessed a bit of history coming to a close on a rainy, dreary Wednesday in Taejon – the last matches on the old “rice paddy,” the name affectionately given Taejon Christian International’s old dirt soccer field, which will be retired along with the rest of the campus which will move across town, with the soccer team’s playing on a turf field next spring.
Some of KAIAC’s greatest players, including GSIS boys coach Andrew Wiese and sisters Karin and Nina Aaltonen, graced those environs over the years that the former Korea Christian Academy carried a guidon as one of KAIAC’s charter-member schools. Not sure that anybody would miss the field, but the memories, man, if they could talk …
Eatery of the week has to go to the TCIS cafeteria above the aging gymnasium. A lasagna that was so good, only two people I know have made better (and they know who they are).
What I figured would happen when American School In Japan got its full complement of athletes together for the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools track and field finals, happened. Great balance and solid athletes in distance specialists Trevor Maggart and Michelle Stolle and jumper-sprinter Liz Thornton, they took first in both the boys and girls, and look primed to make deep runs at both the Kanto Invitational and Far East meets next month.
Still, somehow, I can’t believe that Nile C. Kinnick had its full complement of athletes available for the Kanto track as well as its soccer matches over the weekend at Robert D. Edgren.
Take absolutely NOTHING away from host Edgren’s strikers and ASIJ’s tracksters – Edgren, with Kierra Davis and sisters Jen and Vanessa Black, is on the rise and could make some serious noise at the D-II soccer tournament at Iwakuni, and ASIJ has always and forever been a track power.
But put Emily Stith in goal and Val James on the track … and we’ll see what happens.
As we prepare for a Far East baseball tournament without defending champion American School In Japan, I’d like to pass along some advice I used to get from a religious leader I used to know when I was based in Alabama in the 1970s:
Leave it alone.
The milk is spilt, the tournament organizer is new and didn’t know about ASIJ, the debate will rage for months about “Well, if ASIJ were there …” and so on for those who have little to do but talk about it.
Speculate all you want. Cast all the aspersions you desire. It won’t change a thing. The Mustangs won’t be there. Edgren, Zama American, E.J. King, Osan American and host Daegu High will play for the Division II title and Yokota, Kinnick, Seoul American, Kadena, Kubasaki and Guam High will battle for D-I bragging rights.
Let’s get past what happened, move on and make the Far East as good a tournament as the 11 participating teams can possibly expect, then bring ASIJ and St. Mary’s International into the fold for next year’s tournament, wherever that may be. And make the experience for the Mustangs and Titans as good as one could possibly expect when they join the fold next year.
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.)
Feb. 20: Dave takes a look at the latest sports highlights in the Pacific region.
Feb. 13: Far East wrestling, basketball cap winter sports season.
Jan. 30: Matthew C. Perry's battle with Yokota in boys basketball highlights weekend action.