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ASIJ’s Jardine, SAHS’ Henderson earn Athlete of Quarter honors

One thing any senior student-athlete wants to do is make their career exit a memorable one. That held very much true for American School In Japan senior quarterback Hayden Jardine and Seoul American senior cross-country runner Amanda Henderson.

Jardine capped his remarkable career as No. 5 in Mustangs black and gold, going 79-for-163 for 1,192 yards with 12 touchdowns and 187 yards and seven TDs on 31 attempts as ASIJ shared the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title, going 7-1 in league and 9-2 overall. He and Cristian Rivera of Kubasaki were widely viewed as the top quarterbacks in the Pacific.

Henderson finished off a stellar running career in Falcons Navy blue and white by going undefeated for a second straight season, going 20-0, winning her second straight Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference title and her second consecutive Far East Cross-Country Meet individual gold medal. She also ran the Pacific’s top time this season, 19 minutes, 32 seconds in the KAIAC title meet.

SportsBlog Nation is proud to present them as Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school Student-Athletes of the Quarter, honors which Stripes has bestowed since the spring of 1987.

ASIJ football enjoyed a 19-6 league record and 23-7 overall mark, its best three-year run in school history, and at least a share of two Kanto titles with Jardine in the shotgun or under center. ASIJ was the only team to beat first-time Far East Division I champion Yokota, with whom the Mustangs shared the Kanto crown, this season.

In his three years as Mustangs starter, Jardine was 178-for-355 for 3,497 yards, an average of 9.9 yards per attempt, and 42 touchdowns against 25 interceptions. He also rushed 65 times for 353 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Henderson became the most decorated girls cross-country runner in Seoul American’s history. After transferring from Kubasaki for her sophomore year, Henderson did not lose a race in her last two years in Falcons uniform, going a perfect 40-0 in that span.

The rest of the Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school fall sports season awards:

Coach of the Quarter/Most Improved Team: After spending years in Kadena’s shadow, Coach Paul Campbell and the Kubasaki Dragons, led by island champions Erik Armes and Alli Robles, captured their first Far East overall team title and the Okinawa Activities Council team title for the first time since 2001. Also deserving of mention is Rydell Wilkins, who took a Seoul American football team that went 2-5 in 2010 to a 5-3 overall finish and advanced to the second round of the Far East Division I playoffs.

Team of the Quarter/Volleyball Player of the Quarter: ASIJ volleyball, after finishing second in the Kanto Plain, bulldozed its way to its third Far East Division I Tournament title in six years, led by sophomore Liz Thornton, who became the third player in her family to earn the tournament’s MVP award. She averaged 15.7 spike kills and 4.5 block points as the Mustangs roared through the tournament dropping just one set en route to the title.

Program of the Quarter: Besides football and volleyball, the Mustangs won the overall title in the Asia-Pacific Invitational cross-country meet on Guam and the overall team and boys team titles in the Kanto Plain tennis regular season and tournament. Nice way to greet new athletics director Brian Kelley.

Most Improved Program: Yokota, which won its first Far East Division I football title in school history, while the girls tennis team won its school-first Kanto Plain regular-season and tournament titles. Girls volleyball placed third in DODDS Japan, its best finish since 2004. Seoul American also deserves mention for football, placing third in the Far East Division I Girls Volleyball Tournament despite losing its top stars from 2010 and new coach Lori Rogers at the helm, taking second overall in Far East cross country with its rebuilt boys lineup and winning the Far East Tennis Tournament overall team title under first-year coach David R. Abbott.

Longevity Award: Nile C. Kinnick girls volleyball enjoyed its third straight top eight finish in the Far East D-I Tournament, but also improved to 76-2 with three straight Kanto Plain and DODDS Japan titles in the last three seasons.

Tennis Players of the Quarter: Despite the sport being out of season on Guam, sophomore Chloe Gadsden ensured the Far East Tournament girls singles title would remain in the family, joining her older sister Amber as a gold medalist. Other honorees are two-time KAIAC and Asia-Pacific Activities Conference champions Jeffrey and Jae-hyun Kim of Seoul Foreign and Kanto boys singles champion Kentaro Ishihara.

Cross-Country Runners of the Quarter: In addition to Henderson’s back-to-back perfect seasons and Armes winning Far East, there was Brandon Fell of St. John’s on Guam, who won the API boys meet with a Pacific-best 16 minutes, 16.12 seconds.

Football Players of the Quarter: How’s about five of them? The entire Yokota offensive front five get this honor, five juniors who plowed the road for running backs to pile up more than 3,500 rushing yards and 45 rushing touchdowns as the Panthers, in addition to the D-I title, won their 12th DODDS Japan title and a share of their 12th Kanto Plain title on coach Tim Pujol’s watch.

Best Newcomers: In addition to Armes, stellar newbies came in sister pairs in Japan. Tia and Natalie Burke helped transform Zama American’s girls tennis team into a title contender, while Ashley and Katie Rock brought power and fire to an E.J. King Cobras girls volleyball team not seen since the days of Anna Bickenbach and Maria Havens in the early 2000s.

And, finally, the Play of the Quarter: With Yokota leading by just eight points late in the first half of its D-I quarterfinal battle with Kadena, Pujol called for a halfback option throw by backup quarterback Demonte Butler to Donovan Ball for 33 yards to Kadena’s 1. That set up a touchdown run by Scott Hansen which gave Yokota a 21-6 lead at halftime. It proved to be the turning point of the contest, which Yokota won 42-6 to dethrone the two-time D-I champion Panthers.

Things learned, observed on Day 3 of Yokota Christmas Classic girls basketball tournament

No stall tactics. No coaches calling into question each other’s strategies and tactics after this one. Just a great game of basketball to wrap up the first Yokota High School Christmas Classic girls tournament and send us into the Christmas break looking forward to the rest of the season.

For Wednesday's Christmas Classic results, click here. For story and photos, click here.

Wednesday’s 45-42 Yokota victory over Kadena was as anticipated as it was discussed in the more than 24 hours from the end of their first encounter, the 47-42 Yokota victory in which the Panthers stalled out the last six minutes of the contest.

No ambivalence did the fans show in the games leading up to the championship rematch. Favored to win the tournament and become the second host team to win a Christmastime tournament in Japan (American School In Japan’s boys won the Holiday Classic on Sunday), Yokota was either cheered wildly by its home fans, or reviled by visiting supporters, particularly those of Nile C. Kinnick, who wanted vengeance for the two times Yokota beat the Red Devils this season.

That will have to wait until February’s DODDS Japan tournament, also at Yokota. Kadena had some dues of its own to pay back the Red Devils; the Panthers send Kinnick packing 63-55 in the first of two semifinal games, two days after Akemi Allan’s buzzer-beating shot rallied the Red Devils past Kadena 49-48. In the other semifinal, Yokota easily dispatched Kubasaki 50-32, then Kinnick took the bronze for its consolation prize, downing Kubasaki 48-33.

That led to the championship. After the starters were introduced to the strains of The Who’s “Eminence Front,” the song the Dallas Mavericks use for their home introductions, the players took the court … and a cautious chess match ensued, each team and each coach plying the full extent of each team’s playbook and defensive strategies.

Maria Vaughan’s three-point goal gave Kadena an encouraging start. But the rest of the game saw the Panthers trying to catch up to Yokota, which scored the next nine points to lead 9-3. Vaughan and junior inside teammate Eisiah Lawson got into foul trouble, and Yokota increased the margin to 18-7 on Trinity Davis’ bank shot.

This was an undermanned Yokota squad that was missing senior leader Kathryn White, who’d gone with her family on vacation to Hawaii, planned long before the Christmas Classic had been.

So, junior center Sarah Hamner, not used to starting, was pressed into emergency service with a directive to keep close tabs on Lawson. Hamner responded, grabbing 15 rebounds and, while Lawson finished with a team-high 14 points, made Lawson work for every one of them.

Kadena also had trouble dealing with an inbounds play on which Davis would take the ball and quickly bank it into the basket; she scored 10 of her 15 points on that play.

Still, Kadena behaved as if it couldn’t spell the word quit, let along know what it meant. Despite playing with four fouls, Vaughan knotted it at 28 with a steal and a bank shot with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

Erika Ettl, who led Yokota and all scorers with 19 points, hit a shot from the left side, sparking a six-point run that gave Yokota the lead for good. But every time the Panthers tried to pull away, Kadena would answer back, creeping to within two three times down the stretch, but missing three-point chances to either tie or take the lead. Davis sealed it with two foul shots with 11.6 seconds left.

Plenty of fellowship followed the contest, between players who cordially went through the traditional handshake ceremony and coaches who broke into big smiles and wished each other well, knowing there’s every chance the two might meet again during the Far East Division I Tournament Feb. 20-25, also at Yokota High’s Capps Gym.

A year ago in the D-1 Tournament at the Charles King Fitness & Sports Center on Naval Station, Guam, Yokota and Kadena met for third and fourth place, with Yokota clearly having its way, 59-42.

The next time, it could be for the D-1 title.

Having gone 6-0 in tournament play, Yokota enters the holiday break at a Pacific-best 12-0 on the season. Kadena is 5-3, a far better start than the Panthers endured last year at this time.

With Seoul American’s stars of the last two years departed and Faith Academy’s ranks similarly depleted except for Grace Fern and Kelly Hardeman, we may have seen a virtual changing of the guard over the week at Yokota.

As the late, great balladeer Harry Chapin said at the end of his last hit song “Sequel,” I guess only time will tell.

Things learned, observed on Day 2 of Yokota Christmas Classic girls basketball tournament

Yokota Panthers managers-statisticians Caitlin Older and Gabi Baker display their loyalty during Tuesday's pool play in the Yokota High School Christmas Classic girls basketball tournament in Japan.

One six-minute stretch of action (or inaction), the final six minutes of Tuesday’s pool-play game between Kadena and Yokota, will likely become the most talked-about portion of the Christmas Classic Girls Basketball Tournament, if not the entire season.

For Tuesday's Christmas Classic results and photos, click here.

With Yokota leading 42-37 and Kadena having just scored, Yokota senior point guard Erika Ettl brought the ball past midcourt. Coach Paul Ettl called out, “Spread!”

And Yokota’s five players stretched out into the old-school North Carolina four-corner formation. Kadena stayed in a 1-2-2 zone, not coming out to force a “closely-guarded” call or press Yokota into doing something with the ball.

With no shot clock in this tournament, Yokota was free to use this strategy for however long it wanted.

And the teams just stood there. For the final six minutes. Occasionally, Ettl would hand the ball to teammate Trinity Davis who would hand the ball back to Ettl. Teammates Sydney Glover and Cora Argallon would dance briefly from time to time. Spectators alternately laughed or had their faces turned crimson with rage over Coach Ettl’s tactic.

Kadena’s players clearly wanted to do something besides stand there; some even asked the coaching staff if they could come out and guard Yokota. “Just stay there!” assistant coach Tiffany Madison said.

Successful, the strategy was. Yokota came away with a 42-37 victory, and later beat Nile C. Kinnick 48-41 to go 4-0 in pool play and earn the top seed into Wednesday’s modified single-elimination playoffs.

But was it good strategy or poor sportsmanship?

I went around the room afterward and asked any number of folks, each team’s coach, players, spectators in the stands, coaches of other teams. Those siding with Ettl and the four-corner stall were clearly in the minority.

“I wanted to practice our delay offense,” Ettl explained, adding that he also wanted his team to face man-to-man pressure, assuming that Kadena would come out of its zone and force the action. And also, there might come times during regular-season games at DODDS facilities that don’t have shot clocks, and in the Far East Division I Tournament, which also doesn’t use a shot clock, when situations might arise that they’d need that tactic in their arsenal, Ettl said.

But Kadena did not come out to challenge Yokota, which surprised quite a few folks, starting with Yokota’s coach. “I didn’t expect them to not come out,” Ettl said.

Kadena’s coaching staff did not buy Ettl’s explanation.

“They need to man up and play,” Kadena head coach Willie Ware said. “That’s what real basketball is about.”

Everything Yokota tried offensively, “we had an answer for,” Ware said. “They were scared. That’s why they held the ball.”

So, why not come out of the zone, go into a man-to-man press and at least try to get a “closely-guarded” call on one of Yokota’s ballhanders? I’m not sure I ever got a clear answer about that. Not for lack of trying, either.

“We prefer to start the game the same way we end it, regardless of the situation,” assistant coach Darrell Winfrey said.

Tuesday’s game was just a pool-play game for seeding purposes; all five teams qualified for Wednesday’s playoffs. Thus, Kadena didn’t come out of its zone, but “come the playoffs, we won’t do that,” Ware said.

OK, so put yourself in your players’ shoes, I asked Ware and Winfrey. How do you think they felt when they were told to not challenge Yokota and try to win the game?

Ware hesitated. “Good point,” he finally said.

Players very clearly and articulately sided with their coaches. “It’s on them (Kadena); they should have come out and played us,” Yokota forward Sydney Glover said.

Kadena players clearly felt otherwise. “That’s not fair. It’s just wrong,” forward Eisiah Lawson said.

Yokota principal Darrell Mood, the Christmas Classic’s primary scorekeeper who coached the old Wagner High Falcons of Clark Air Base, Philippines, to the D-I boys tournament title in 1990 on the same Capps Gym floor, questioned why Kadena didn’t play more aggressively on defense.

“What kind of message does that send to your players, when you’re telling them not to play to win?” Mood said. “That coach basically conceded defeat.”

***

To the spectators, players and coaches who felt that incident should be impetus enough to get DODDS Pacific to mandate shot clocks for Far East tournaments again, don’t hold your breath.

DODDS Pacific is an affiliate member of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which recommends but does not mandate a shot clock. Of the 50 United States, 45 of them do not use shot clocks; thus, DODDS desires to side with the majority of states that don’t, and also to mirror what DODDS does in Europe and DDESS does in the States.

The shot clock came into being in the 1954-55 National Basketball Association season, one of three answers to a deadly serious problem facing the league. The games themselves had become dull and boring. Fault lay not with the players themselves, but with the game as it was played. Too many whistles.

In addition to there not being a shot clock, there was no limit on team fouls (individuals would still foul out after a set amount of violations), and the foul lanes were just six feet wide, permitting big men such as George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers to camp in the lane defensively and force teams to beat the Lakers from the perimeter. Also, there were no non-shooting fouls; a foul in a non-shooting situation resulted in one free throw.

Whenever a team would get the lead, it was to its advantage to freeze the ball, to keep it out of the opponent’s hands. So the opposing team would foul and put the leading team at the line. In retaliation, the leading team would foul right back. This, in effect, would result in teach team trading two points for one. And in actuality, it turned each game into a monotonous procession to the foul line.

Syracuse Nationals owner Daniel Biasone pressed then-NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff for a rules change. His team had been practicing various blocks of seconds to see what an appropriate amount would be for a team to get the ball across midcourt, set up a play and execute it, and determined that 24 seconds would be a good time.

He used a game featuring Mikan’s Lakers hosting Larry Faust and the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1950. Murray Mendenhall, the Pistons’ coach, instructed Faust that if the Pistons won the opening tip, to hold the ball at the center of the court until Mikan came out and played the Pistons man-to-man.

The Pistons did get the jump and the ball was handed to Faust. He stood at the center of the court, ball on hip. Mikan and his forward teammates Verne Mikkelson and Jimmy Pollard, dropped back to the baseline. Faust would pass occasionally to a teammate, but there was no action.

In the closing seconds, the Pistons trailed the Lakers 18-17 and hit a desperation shot to win the game 19-18. It took the Pistons some two hours for the fans to clear the arena and they could get out of their lockerroom. The fans were that outraged by the activity.

The 24-second clock, a 12-foot foul lane and team foul limits were added for the NBA’s 1954-55 season. Aside from those changes, the retirement of Mikan left the Laker dynasty dead. The season was a tremendously exciting one, with the Nationals winning the title.

Over the years, more changes have been made, such as the 10-second timeline, reduced to eight seconds a few years ago. Non-shooting fouls were established for the 1972-73 season, along with the three-point line introduced by the old American Basketball Association, seven years later.

College adopted the three-point line and the shot clock, then 45 seconds for men, 25 years ago; it was reduced to 35 seconds a few years later. Women use a 30-second shot clock with no halfcourt timeline. International rules call for an NBA-style 24-second clock and eight-second timeline, and have moved away from the trapezoid foul lane in favor of the NBA’s 14-foot lane.

The reason why high school basketball hasn’t universally adopted a shot clock?

Very simple. At that age, while basketball is competitive, it also remains developmental. People are still learning the game. The old Okinawa and Korea referee John Zivic once remarked to me, “They made the NFHS rulebook for a reason.”

With a 35-second clock, teams must play a more up-tempo game, must have a skilled point guard who can direct traffic, set up plays, get the ball across midcourt and execute in a timely manner.

That’s all well and good for experienced veteran squads from big schools. But your smaller satellite schools in Korea and outlying areas of Japan, which are much smaller than your Kubasakis, Kadenas and Seoul Americans of the world, barely have enough enrollment to populate teams, much less have a skilled point guard available.

Without a shot clock, teams can play any style of ball they want. Yes, even the style Ettl’s Yokota team used today.

Yes, it encourages things like the “BarkerBall” 2002 Far East Division II girls tournament final, won by coach Bruce Barker’s Osan American Cougars over Matthew C. Perry of Japan. The Cougars seized a huge lead via press and transition in the first half, then stalled out the entire second half.

To the point where Perry’s girls broke into a dance on the court. Spectators yelled at Osan’s bench, “Play basketball!” Barker yelled back: “Tell them to come out and play!”

And it also led to the D-I boys tournament game two years ago in which Kubasaki went into a stall against St. Mary’s International, the tournament’s defending champion noted for its Princeton-style deliberate pace. St. Mary’s won that game 12-11 – on the game Capps Gym floor. And it once more sparked debate about the merits of the shot clock vs. no shot clock.

And I suppose it will forever be debated as long as NFHS recommends, but does not mandate, a shot clock.

 

Things learned, observed on Day 1 of Yokota Christmas Classic girls basketball tournament

For years, Paul Ettl had hoped to see a girls holiday basketball tournament to coincide with boys New Year Classic tournaments that began at Yokota High School in January 2007.

Two months ago, when the Yokota girls coach found DODDS’ host-family parameters for attending the Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament were too restrictive to allow the team to go, Ettl decided to do something to make up for the lost competition.

For Monday's Christmas Classic results and photos, click here.

“When we lost Hong Kong, we lost six games,” Ettl said Monday, the first day of the Yokota High School Christmas Classic girls tournament at Capps Gym.

“As soon as we found out we’d lost Hong Kong, we started working on this. We invited any and all teams, Hong Kong, Faith Academy, the Korea teams, Okinawa, the outlying Japan teams, and this is the five we got,” Ettl said.

The five are host Yokota, Nile C. Kinnick and Christian Academy Japan from the Kanto Plain and Kadena and Kubasaki from Okinawa, the most decorated DODDS Pacific programs in Far East Division I Tournament history.

“This is a good start,” Ettl said, noting that the New Year Classic for boys began with just four teams, the last four to win Far East D-I Tournament titles, Yokota, St. Mary’s International, Seoul American and Kadena. “I’m glad the girls get the opportunity for tournament experience.”

The tournament includes two days of pool play, followed by a modified single-elimination tournament on Wednesday, culminating with the championship game at 6 p.m.

The event was received well by coaches and players, some of whom expressed hope that more teams would come to future tournaments.

“I don’t know why it took so long” for the Christmas Classic to come to being, Yokota senior forward Kathryn White said. She felt badly, she said, for schools such as Zama American not being here, that they could have used the tournament experience to prepare them for the Far East D-I Tournament, also at Yokota in February.

“I’m sure it will grow,” White said. “You have to start somewhere.”

While the tournament’s first four games were one-sided affairs, Monday’s final pool-play game became a barn burner down the stretch thanks to freshman De’Asia Brown, who netted 14 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter as Nile C. Kinnick rallied from 10 points down to edge Kadena 49-48.

While Brown supplied plenty of fireworks, senior guard Akemi Allan fired the final shot, a backdoor bank from the left side as time ran out. “I was hoping, praying, please go in,” Allan said.

There were four lead changes in the final 1:29.

“Learning to fight back from adversity builds character,” Kinnick coach Samuel Williams said. “It teaches them to never give up. Something that can't be taught in practice.”

Things learned, observed on Day 3 of ASIJ Holiday Classic basketball tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer senses that the race for Kanto Plain basketball title space will absolutely go through Mustang Valley this season:

Teams that hadn’t faced each other were supposed to square off on Sunday, the final day of the three-day American School In Japan Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament.

For Sunday's Holiday Classic results and photos, click here.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. While the championship game paired American School In Japan vs. Yokota, simply how the cards fell, it turned out all four games featured rematches of earlier games in the tournament.

“It just didn’t work out,” tournament organizer Brian Kelley, ASIJ’s first-year athletics director said.

I’ve heard any number of reasons why Matchup Sunday ended up looking like Repeat Sunday, on paper. I’ve heard from many “glass-is-half-empty” circles that the format wasn’t popular with the coaches, and one or two mentioned they would not return next year.

From the “glass-is-half-full” author of this post, figure it this way, campers: ASIJ was willing and able to put on a tournament, whatever the format. Everybody got five games in three days. For most, it was their first tournament experience of the season. Kadena, Kubasaki and Yokota made up for the six games they lost when they couldn’t attend the Hong International School Holiday Tournament last month. We got to see Canadian Academy, playing some of the teams for the first time ever, others for the first time in 16 years.

In my conversations with Kelley, he’s firm in his conviction that next year, Matchup Sunday will be just that, matchups of teams that did not face each other earlier in the tournament.

Now, as to Matchup-Repeat Sunday, it in fact became Turnabout Sunday … well, at least the first three games, which featured reverse outcomes from the first time the teams met in the tournament:

-- Canadian Academy 32, St. Mary’s International 31: The Titans thoroughly thrashed the Falcons 63-35 the day before in divisional play; in the rematch, St. Mary’s raced to a 12-5 first-quarter lead before CA blanked the Titans 16-0 in the second quarter. Down the stretch, the teams traded turnover after turnover before the Falcons managed to hang on in the end.

-- Kubasaki 67, Zama American 42: Did the teams have or not have an agreement to engage in a rematch of the Trojans’ 77-74 double-overtime win in Friday’s pool play? Whatever the case, the Dragons more than made up for their last-second loss on Friday, scoring 15 straight points and holding Zama scoreless for 4:45, and led by as many as 27 down the stretch.

-- Kadena 63, Nile C. Kinnick 36, third-place game: Totally different outcome from the Red Devils’ 51-47 tournament-opening victory on Friday. Kinnick went 8:10 without scoring and Kadena poured in 20 straight points to rally from an early 12-7 deficit. The Panthers led by as many as 34 with 2:30 left.

-- American School In Japan 69, Yokota 47, championship: The only result that held true to an earlier matchup. The Mustangs pounded the Panthers 65-27 in Friday’s pool play, but the script changed dramatically in the first half, at least, of Sunday’s final. The lead changed eight times and the score was tied four times before Sam Hopkins of ASIJ took over in the third quarter, scoring 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting and finishing with 28 points. Warren Manegan kept Yokota in it in the first half, scoring 18 of his 21 points, including five three-pointers.

Looking ahead to the future, the tournament has a chance to return to its roots next Christmas break. It began in January 2007, just after the New Year. Christmas break begins on Dec. 21 next year, and school resumes Jan. 7, 2013. The tournament can easily be scheduled for Jan. 2-4, 2013, with the new Christmas Classic for girls the week before, Dec. 26-28. Recommend ASIJ and Yokota trade up tournaments, with Mustang Valley hosting the girls and Capps Gym the boys. I’m sure Kelley and Yokota athletics director Tim Pujol will be talking in the run-up to next year’s tournaments.

Things learned, observed on Day 2 of ASIJ Holiday Classic basketball tournament

A fan of American School In Japan Mustangs senior forward Hayden Jardine holds a sign cheering his favorite player.

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer senses that the race for Kanto Plain basketball title space will definitely go through Mustang Valley this season:

Take a look at how well American School In Japan has done in Far East and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools sports the past year.

For results of Saturday's Holiday Classic games and photo gallery, click here.

Far East championships in boys baseball, girls volleyball and girls soccer. Share of the Kanto Plain championship in football. Overall team championships and boys team titles in the Asia-Pacific Invitational cross-country meet and the Kanto tennis tournament.

Given their early-season success – they’re 7-0 through Saturday’s games overall – the Mustangs boys basketball team could be next in the Kanto and Far East Division I Tournament driver’s seat.

“We just expect to win this year,” said Hayden Jardine, a senior forward who quarterbacked the Mustangs to their Kanto title share in the fall. And they were the only team to beat Far East D-I champion Yokota during the regular season.

What has made the Mustangs boys basketball team so successful? Jardine and his senior football receiver-basketball forward teammate Sam Hopkins point to a new gameplan and a new coach, first-year ASIJ athletics director Brian Kelley.

“Everybody on the team is dedicated to being very good,” Hopkins said. “We’ve worked hard in the offseason. All 13 of us can play. We know who the leaders are, but we’re very unselfish; we have a different high scorer every game.”

Unlike years past when the Mustangs were known for their patient, deliberate, half-court tempo, this year’s ASIJ team is more free-flowing, “not as much of a system” under Kelley, Jardine said.

“We have set plays, but we haven’t had to use them yet,” Jardine said, adding that the team is comprised of players who know their roles, as scorers, rebounders, playmakers, defenders, etc.

“Coach Kelley’s attitude and game-planning,” Jardine said. “He drilled into us from Day 1 that we were going to run.”

Winning Far East D-I on Guam in February would break a title drought that stretches back to Henrik Gistren’s two overtime foul shots that boosted the Mustangs over Yokota 53-48 in overtime in the 1983 D-I title game at Yokota Air Base’s main fitness center.

Most of the ASIJ players are seniors, and at least one opposing school administrator says he’ll be happy to see Jardine, in particular, leave. “I’m going to come to their graduation just to make sure he does leave. He needs to go,” Yokota principal Darrell Mood said, only half-jokingly.

***

The name Reasoner has resonated through Christian Academy Japan basketball since the early 1970s, dating back to when Jonathan, CAJ Class of 1973, played for three Far East D-I Tournament title teams under legendary Knights coach Gene Fitzgerald.

Reasoner’s five children have either passed through or are playing for the Knights today; junior Eliot is a shooting guard on the boys varsity, while freshman Elisabeth plays for CAJ’s junior varsity girls. The two follow in the footsteps of Daniel, who graduated in 2001 from Okinawa Christian International and also attended CAJ; Nate, CAJ Class of 2004; and Elias, CAJ Class of 2005.

Eliot Reasoner’s jumper with 16 seconds left boosted CAJ, which won or shared the Kanto title the last two years, past reigning Far East D-I Tournament champion Kubasaki 53-52 in Friday’s pool-play game.

“He’ s a leader on the team in most areas,” longtime Knights coach and AD Craig Eby said. “He’s really developed his own style. He can shoot and he can hit. He keeps us going under pressure. And I have him for another year.”

***

On his second tour of duty in Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils coaching togs, Robert Stovall says that while he’s not enjoyed the same success he had as head football coach in the mid-1990s, the Red Devils team, under head coach Dan Joley, is showing some signs of a turnaround despite a 3-6 overall record.

He points to Kinnick’s 39-26 season-opening victory at Zama American on Aug. 26, in which the Red Devils trailed the Trojans 18-7 at halftime. “We played with a lot of heart,” Stovall said. “Once they begin to win consistently, they’ll desire the feeling more.”

Stovall, 46, is remembered for the Kinnick teams of 1995-98 which won four straight Kanto Plain football league titles with such stars as LaShawn Williams, George Thompson, Jared Warner, Rey Gannon, Daniel Ayrs and Eean Tyson.

He assumed the Red Devils' basketball helm for the 2010-11 season and has remained since.

***

Hair of the tournament Part II goes to James Cortez, a Yokota sophomore sporting a spiked ’do of the first order.

Catching up with: David Motu, ex-Kubasaki gridder chasing Japan collegiate title

Lining up for the Red and White of Nihon University’s Phoenix in Sunday’s Koshien Bowl will be a face familiar to Kubasaki Dragons football fanatics – David Motu.

The former Dragons star fullback and linebacker will help Nihon Daigaku chase Japan’s national collegiate football championship against the Kansai Gakuin Daigaku Fighters. The game kicks off Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Koshien Stadium and can be seen on Japan’s national network, NHK.

The Koshien Bowl winner advances to the Rice Bowl on January 3 against the winner of this weekend’s X Bowl, which determines the champion of the semi-professional X-League.

Things learned, observed on Day 1 of ASIJ Holiday Classic basketball tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer senses that the race for Kanto Plain basketball title space will go through Mustang Valley this season:

Don’t look now, but a Trojan may be gaining on you.

To see Thursday's basketball summaries and photo gallery, click here. For Friday's Day 1 ASIJ Holiday Classic results and photos, click here.

After several down-at-the-heels seasons, Zama American boys basketball, though to be rebuilding and with a new coach, Parish Jones, at the helm, is channeling the 2006-07 squad that won its first 34 games before coming up just short in the Far East Division I Tournament.

Andre Encarnacion, Mike Duncan, David Coleman and the 2011-12 Trojans have gotten off to a 6-2 start, their most recent triumph coming in double overtime 77-74 over the same Kubasaki team that five years ago halted Zama’s run to the D-I title 76-75, also in overtime, in the semifinal at Seoul American High School.

Imagine you’re coming off a 53-40 win over last year’s DODDS Japan champion and Kanto Plain co-champion Yokota on Thursday night at home, then the next day have to play Kubasaki, last year’s D-I champions, right off the bat in the first game of the American School In Japan Holiday Classic.

Probably riding an emotional wave following the upset over Yokota, the Trojans seized a 12-point first-quarter lead, only to watch Kubasaki roar back and lead by as many as eight in the fourth quarter.

But Zama didn’t quit, sending it to overtime 61-61, and again rallying from four points down in the first overtime to force a second extra session at 72-72. Encarnacion fouls out, and James Liker, a sophomore who had not played at all up to that point, was thrust into the lineup with the score knotted at 74.

So what does Liker do? Hits a three-pointer from the top of the key with 9 seconds left to win it.

Understandably, Zama didn’t have much left in its 51-38 loss to Christian Academy Japan later Friday. But they proved their fitness and made their point. This team is for real, and is taking dead aim at finishing what their 2006-07 counterparts, Wilberto Badillo, Carlos Walter and them, started.

***

For first-day napkin “team to beat” honors on the first day of the Classic, though, it’s pretty apparent the tournament host Mustangs fit that bill.

This is a senior-laden bunch, with a big three of Sam Olson, Sam Hopkins and Hayden Jardine, along with skilled point guard Ken Yajima, and helmed by another first-year coach, Brian Kelley, the school’s athletics director.

Zama beat Yokota by a baker’s dozen on Wednesday; ASIJ laid waste to the Panthers 65-27, holding All-Far East shooting guard Warren Manegan to just six points.

It’s gonna take an awful lot to corral these Mustangs, that’s for sure.

And they do signage well. During the Mustangs’ 103-60 stampeding of Canadian Academy, one spectator held up a sign that read: “Can’t stop Sam Hop No. 33,” referring to ASIJ’s Sam Hopkins. The sign was held by none other than Tom Jardine II, whom Hopkins succeeded wearing No. 33 for ASIJ, both on the gridiron and hardwood.

***

The first day’s hard-luck award has to go to Kubasaki. From defending Far East and Classic champions, the Dragons crashed out 0-2 in pool play, and by a total margin of four points (53-52 last-second loss to Christian Academy Japan), and played the equivalent of nine quarters to get there.

“It’s a good tournament. A lot of parity,” said Dragons coach Jon Fick, who all too well realized that his team could very easily have been on the winning end of those two games, if not for a few little things going Zama’s and CAJ’s ways.

In the eyes of Gerald Johnson, in his first year of coaching Kadena, it’s getting the players to understand that every single play matters in a tournament, whether it’s an early-season Holiday Classic or the D-I Big Dance on Guam. “You can’t take a play off,” Johnson said.


***

Very well is it understood why Christian Academy Japan can’t play into Sunday’s championship and placement games. Sundays traditionally are off days where high school sports are concerned, but the last few years, the New Year/Holiday Classic has played into a Sunday, and CAJ, a fundamentalist Christian school that abides by the Bible and the Commandments to the letter, gracefully bows out, while the rest of the field will move up in placement. “On Day No. 7, He looked all around. He looked up to the heavenly sky. He looked all over the ground. His work was done, so he stopped right there and made the holy Sabbath, a time for rest and prayer.”

***

To shot clock or not to shot clock? That is the question making the rounds at the ASIJ Holiday Classic, also known in some circles as the 6th New Year Classic which began in January 2007 at Yokota High.

The first few New Year Classics, at Yokota for two years then Nile C. Kinnick for the next two, did not feature a shot clock; this one includes a 35-second shot clock.

Interesting, since all the participating teams except one also play in the Far East tournaments, which do not have a shot clock.

DODDS is an affiliate member of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which encourages but does not mandate a shot clock. Of NFHS’ membership, only five states utilize a shot clock.

Blog post interruption: The 24-seconds shot clock was introduced to the NBA for the 1954-55 season, and injected new life into what had become a dull and boring game. Without the shot clock, with one-shot fouls instead of non-shooting fouls and without team foul limits, it was to the advantage of the team with the lead to freeze the ball and keep it out of the opponents’ hands.

So the losing team would foul to put the winning team at the line and the winning team would do the same to the losing team. Trading two points for one. Turning the game into a monotonous procession to the foul line.

The American Basketball Association used a 30-second clock and introduced the three-point line for the 1966-67 season, and eventually the three-point line was added by the NBA and the shot clock (45 seconds for men, 30 for women) introduced in college basketball for the 1986-87 season.

Some folks are for the up-tempo style of basketball the shot clock invariably encourages. Where the Holiday Classic is concerned, Kelley, the tournament’s organizer, falls into the pro-shot clock category.

“People come all the way here, give up their vacation time, spend all that money and effort,” Kelley said. “I don’t want to have a championship game where they’re stalling the ball to nurse a six-point lead. The game is deserving of a shot clock at every level.”

On the other side of the coin, though, having a shot clock forces teams to play the same style of ball. Not having a shot clock works to the benefit of lesser-experience teams that don’t have a veteran point guard who can set up plays and direct traffic in short order. With no shot clock, you can play any style of ball you want, up-tempo, slow-tempo, Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels style or North Carolina four-corner style.

***

Great to see Canadian Academy back at one of the Kanto Plain-DODDS Japan events for the first time in quite a while. They used to play in Far East Division II Tournaments years ago, before they joined the Asia-Pacific Activities Conference for the 1994-95 season; one of APAC’s membership stipulations is not playing in other organization’s tournaments. The Falcons do play regularly against Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King in Western Japan Athletic Association tournaments, but not against Kanto Plain or other DODDS Japan schools. Welcome back, Falcons!

***

Perhaps the best hair of the tournament belongs to Jarrett Mitchell of Kubasaki, who stenciled an arrow in the top to rear of his head that points to the image of a basketball on the left side of his head near the ear. Interesting ’do, Jarrett.  Right behind Jarrett’s was the star etched into the hair of Savon Woodie of Kadena.

Post-level sports in Korea on life support

If there’s a 27th anniversary Osan Pacificwide Holiday Basketball Tournament next December for post-level teams in Korea and the Pacific, I’ll be very surprised.

All the proof you need comes in the form of three things: 1) The late start to Korea’s Traveling League season, and 2) Only nine teams, six men and three women, with just one team, Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, coming from off-peninsula, partly because of 3) cutbacks in funding for varsity-level sports in Korea.

That’s the smallest field we’ve seen in that tournament, which began in 1987. And the tournament is not even being staged by 51st Force Support at Osan Air Base; Tony Jones, the Osan Defenders head coach, is putting on the tournament.

He happens to have a solid collection of All-Air Force players who got assigned to Korea partly because of the history of high-calibre post-level ball in Korea; hence, he wanted a stage for them to perform, so Jones offered to do the tournament instead.

Sort of like being all dressed up with no place to go, though.

Only Osan, Andersen, Yongsan Garrison, Suwon Air Base, Kunsan Air Base and Camp Humphreys are represented at this year’s Pacificwide.

In years past, there was enough money in the varsity sports pot at the various Army garrisons in Korea to fully fund their post-level teams, everything from bus transportation to regular-season games and in-country tournaments, to tournament entry fees, to in some cases funding travel and billeting to events such as the Martin Luther King Invitational on Okinawa and March Madness at Andersen.

Kiss those days goodbye, if budget cutbacks are any indicator. Army teams on peninsula are being told their entry fees would be paid, but they must come out of pocket for ground transportation and billeting – which can be pretty pricey, anywhere from $39 per night at Osan’s Turumi Lodge to $75 at Army lodging.

And that would likely also mean Okinawa’s MLK won’t see any post teams from Korea this year; I’m told some Army teams won’t even be able to support Korea’s own MLK at Camp Humphreys’ Super Gym. March Madness may be scrambling for some teams as well.

This was something I’d sort of predicted years ago, when talk began circulating about longtime Yongsan Garrison sports chief Bennie Jackson’s imminent retirement. He’s been the godfather of post-level sports in Korea, the longtime director of the Pacificwide softball tournament Memorial Day weekend at Yongsan. I’d said when Bennie leaves, the post-level program in Korea – and since Korea’s a bedrock of Pacific ball, the entire region – would be in trouble.

Lonnie Herring at Camp Humphreys offered to pick up the post-level basketball league this year since nobody else did; the season began late, the first weekend of December. He did the preseason tournament, he’ll do the Korea MLK and the Traveling League postseason tournament in March.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a post-level league next year. Maybe not even a softball league this year.

What a shame. As I’ve said many times, it’s all well and noble that the services are emphasizing the “fit to fight tonight” concept by pouring most of the services dollars into fitness and core sports programs.

But you also have a $1.75 billion industry known as All-Armed Forces sports to support. Without an elite-level varsity program in your areas, how can you support it with elite-level athletes? Who will be the ones you can hold up as examples to the youth of America, the Olympic gold medalists or the International Military Sports Council tournament champions who send the message to America’s youth: You CAN serve your country and play sports for your service.

Or maybe the All-Armed Forces sports industry is on the chopping block with this $400 billion in budget cuts coming in the next decade?

Things learned, observed in Pacific winter sports Week 4.0

Seems to be no stopping Rebekah Harwell, where putting points on scoreboards and assailing the Pacific’s single-game basketball scoring records are concerned.

Scratch 44 as the high-point total, which she reached Nov. 26 and shared with Kubasaki’s Gabby Falco, who scored 44 in a game in November 2009.

Harwell left that mark in the dust on Saturday … no, she demolished the old mark, netting 52 points to power her Matthew C. Perry Samurai past E.J. King 66-41 in the first of two Western Japan Athletic Association tournaments. The Samurai took third place, falling later to host Canadian Academy 41-34.

Now, we live in a world in which a Pacific high school girls basketball player has scored 50-plus points. The question now being, how high can Harwell go?

Anybody and everybody who’s seen her play say the same thing: Graceful moves, sees the whole floor, gets her teammates involved, breaks double teams with ease and seemingly hits shots from anywhere on the floor.

Very much the same things said five years ago about Kristia Suriben of E.J. King.

But this is not the Bekah Show, as some critics have come to say. All one needs to do is gaze at Harwell’s teammate, sophomore center Courtney Beall, and see how she’s averaged a double-double in points and rebounds this season.

Beall is taller than most rival post players in DODDS Japan. If opponents double down on Harwell, pass over the pressure inside to Beall for short shots and putbacks. Collapse down on Beall and dare Harwell to beat you from outside … well, we’ve seen where that leads.

At 7-4, the Samurai are off to their best start in five years, and this could be just the start of something big.

***

Harwell is leaving in her wake some really great names who once held the Pacific single-game scoring record, most of them taking place in Far East Division I Tournament play.

Prior to Harwell and Falco, YeVonne Sears of Robert D. Edgren set the mark of 41 during the 2000 D-I tournament, hosted by Edgren. Sumiko Arai’s 40 points for Seisen International set in the 1983 Far East tournament stood for nearly 17 years. And before that, Jackie Creech of Kubasaki set the record with 32 in the 1980 Far East.

Who, you ask, holds the boys single-game mark? That also came in a Far East tournament back in 1971, when Tim Griffin of old Misawa High School scored 71 points. Griffin also holds the Far East tournament four-game record with 171 points.

***

While the Samurai girls feature a solid Ms. Inside-Ms. Outside combination, one of the key pillars in the boys’ attack has played his last games for Perry and will soon depart for the States.

Much noise has been made about brothers Jon and Sam Cadavos, who in the same WJAA tournament last weekend became the first brother pair to post triple-doubles in two different games in an eight-day span in … gad, who knows when was the last time that happened?

Anyway, the Cadavos’ inside presence, Malik Hale, is PCSing to the States and will take his 14-point, 16-rebound averages with him – a pretty tough blow for a team that’s off to a 10-1 start, its best in 12 years.

Still, one would think the Samurai and coach Dewayne Pigge’ will find a way.

***

They merely threw a scare into the reigning Far East Boys D-I Tournament champions a week earlier. On Friday, the renaissance team, Zion Christian Academy, entered the Panther Pit at Kadena High School and scored a major upset, downing the 2010 D-I Tournament champions 66-62 in a game the Lions led virtually from start to finish. Markese Bohanon had another huge game, scoring 30 points.

I may have been wrong when I said the Lions were a good bet to make a deep run in the Far East Division II Tournament if they get an invitation from DODDS Pacific. I think they could do so at the Division ONE level. Seriously.

They play old-school. They play team ball. They pass, pass and pass some more. They move with and away from the ball. They set picks and screens, create lanes for cutters and when those close up, they kick the ball outside for perimeter shots. They remind me a lot of St. Mary’s International and late coach Fred Sava’s philosophy: Pass the ball because the ball never gets tired. And St. Mary’s has won three D-I titles. ’Nuff said.

My friend Charles Burns, the now-retired Kubasaki Shogun football coach once said of his team’s first loss to Ryukyu University, which used to be the Okinawa Activities Council’s personal piñata: “This league is now on notice.” Consider it so in this case as well. Kubasaki and Kadena are now on notice.

***

Anybody notice who’s on top of the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I boys and girls standings? About a month into the regular season, Daegu American sits atop both at 7-0.

Transfer Raven Calloway and holdovers Sarah Wright and Lari Robertson, among others, are making Warrior Country say “Kristina and Angie who?”

Then, there’s Kymmond Mitchell, who on Friday channeled his own inner Brandon Spencer (2007), Chuckii McDew (1994) and J.R. Collins (1989) among the pantheon of great Warriors long-distance shooters. Mitchell netted a school-record 11 three-point goals and scored 35 points as Daegu beat Osan American 66-52 on its home court.

That might or might not last long, though. And leave us not forget Seoul American, whose boys at 5-0 and girls at 4-1 battle Daegu right off the bat following the Christmas break, at Falcon Gym, girls at 6 p.m., boys at 7:30 p.m. Should be quite the good battles.

***

In case anybody hadn’t noticed, Nile C. Kinnick’s girls basketball team is making quite a bit of noise, thanks to freshman guard De’Asia Brown and senior guard Daquianna Jones.

After sweeping two games at the Robert D. Edgren Eagles Nest, the Red Devils are 6-0. But they, too, face their own litmus test on Thursday at home against defending DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain champion Yokota. Varsity tipoff at 7 p.m.

While Seoul and Daegu only play each other that one time, Kinnick and Yokota each get a second crack at each other on Feb. 6 at Yokota’s Capps Gym.

***

Speaking of folks having a Red Devil of a season, a tip of the cap to Aaron Stravers, who won the 180-pound weight class in Saturday’s American School In Japan Invitational Wrestling Tournament, not Zama American’s Mitchell Harrison, as originally reported. My bad, Aaron. And congratulations on your first career gold medal.

Pacific flag-football rivalry games: Army wins the week again

Once more, soldiers ruled the gridiron over that eight-day period known as Army-Navy flag-football rivalry week. In the 22 years since Army and Navy company-level flag teams began playing each other to coincide with the service-academy rival game in the States, soldier teams have more than had their way with their sea-going counterparts.

It began on a frigid Dec. 3 at Seoul American High School's Sims Field, where coach Dennis Brown Jr. capped a four-year run of victories as Army routed Navy 30-0, setting the table for a three-game sweep. It was the 13th victory in 16 tries for the soldiers in the Peninsula Trophy series.

That was just the start. Last Saturday at Zama American High School Trojans Field, Camp Zama soldiers -- playing a team comprised exclusively of Naval Air Facility Atsugi players -- prevailed for the second straight year, beating Navy 19-7 and evening the Kanto Trophy series 5-5.

It looked as if Navy would at least seize one game, taking a 21-12 lead at Okinawa's Torii Station on Robert Trisby's TD run with 2:41 left in the third period. But Trisby, who accounted for three touchdowns as he did in Navy's 27-3 victory a year ago, was picked off three times as was backup Michael Geddie.

Those pickoffs overcame Navy's six sacks, three by Tyron Francis. And when Josh Harris of Army returned an interception for a 19-yard pick six in the fourth quarter, it turned the tide and led Army to a 25-21 victory. It was the soldiers' 17th win in 22 tries and seventh in the last eight Commander's Trophy games.

Far more than competition on the field, these Army-Navy games re emblematic of the "one team, one fight" spirit that each team carries with it onto the field, then once the games are done, the soldiers and sailors remind themselves of how they're comrades in arms, no matter what service.

"It's a great rivalry, but once it's over, we go back to being teammates," said Torii Station 10th Support Group commander Col. Lance Koenig.

He and Fleet Activities Okinawa commanding officer Capt. Richard "Stormy" Weathers might seem the most bitter of rivals, given how their respective services warmed up for the game by "decorating" each other's lawns.

Koenig's featured a robotic goat with a head that nodded up and down along with a sailor dressed in service blues in a makeshift boat. Weathers said he was greeted by elements of the 296th Army Band, which in all likelihood ensured Weathers had the words to "The Army Goes Rolling Along" by the time he hit the rack Friday.

"We're actually good friends," Koenig said. "And we couldn't have a better partner than the Navy on Okinawa."

Aside from the 296th Army Band, Kadena High School for the first time brought its marching band to the proceedings. Elana Read gave a stirring rendition of the Japanese national anthem, "Kimi Ga Yo," and the Star Spangled Banner. Soldier and Sailor of the Year Kevin Oppelt and Caleb Hunter and the FC Ryukyu soccer team's Bombers cheerleaders brought the game ball to the officials in a Humvee.

And cheeerleaders ranging from FC Ryukyu to the Eagles youth program to a combined group of NFL cheerleaders performed throughout the game. Nice touch, by the way, by the NFL cheerleaders, who instead of their team uniforms wore T-shirts that said "I (heart) our troops."

Plenty of prizes were given away, including $1,000 vouchers for travel on Delta Airlines, along with dinner vouchers and overnight stay vouchers at Tokyo Dai-Ichi hotel resorts on Okinawa. Nobody, however, came close to netting the $10,000 football toss through a small hole in a wooden board; will anybody ever win that? ... Didn't think so.

We'll do this again next year.

 

Kadena-Kubasaki season-opening hoops just like old times

For the first half of Wednesday's Okinawa Activities Council season-opening boys basketball game, it looked as if things would be very  much like last year, when eventual Far East Division I champion Kubasaki seized a 17-point second quarter lead and went into intermission leading 2010 Far East D-I champion Kadena 43-28. At Kadena.

For Wednesday's Pacific high school sports results and photo gallery, click here.

Muttered to myself, "This isn't doing it for me." Almost as if on cue, a spectator turned to me and said, "Where's all the excitement?"

To which I spent the next 10 minutes, almost until second-half tipoff, recounting a game played by the same two teams nearly 10 years ago, only with far more at stake. Like, the Far East Tournament title. Not just the game itself, but the fans, the noise, the intensity, the total fun everybody had that night, Feb. 29, 1992, when Kadena edged Kubasaki in double overtime.

Somebody's ears must have been burning. On both teams.

For that second half evolved into exactly what I remembered that night. Maybe with not as many spectators, but just as much noise. The feel. The intensity of play on the court and the way the fans -- on both sides -- responded. The cheerleaders and the way the fans responded to them. How inspired players on both sides looked, particularly the home team, which erased that 17-point deficit and went on to win 80-73.

It didn't quite measure up to the "game to end all games" lo those many years ago. Nor Kadena's D-I semifinal win over Kubasaki in 2005, which many argue was even more intense than the 1992 clash. But boy, did it come close.

Sort of the same way Kubasaki's 41-20 season-opening dual-meet victory resembled all those years that the Dragons dominated the Panthers on the mat, before Kadena became something of a power in its own right in 2006. Especially at the lower weights, led by reigning Far East champion Steven Walter, the Dragons look primed to make some serious noise at next month's "Beast of the Far East" and "Rumble on the Rock" tournaments.

When was the last time you saw Yokota -- or anybody else in the Kanto Plain, for that matter -- steamroll American School In Japan by 44 points? The Panthers, featuring a blend of skilled veterans and fresh, hungry blood, demolished the Mustangs 51-7. Just a question now of what happens during Saturday's ASIJ Invitational; will Yokota or St. Mary's International, winner Wednesday at Zama American, gain early Kanto bragging rights?

Nice bounceback by Seoul American's girls basketball team, which saw its 137-game Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I regular-season win streak snapped last weekend. Mecca Perkins (19 points) and the Falcons rebounded by beating Osan American 42-27 on the road.

And it's getting to be as common as snow showers and frigid cold in January -- Seoul American's boys, 4-0 to open the KAIAC D-I season, has played every player in all four games and every player has scored in all four games. Again, seems like old times for last year's Far East Division I runner-up.

Enjoy the weekend, compete hard and travel safe!

Yokota spikers cheer Team USA at World Cup matches

Rarely does Team USA men's volleyball team see a friendly American face in the stands when it ventures overseas for international competition, such as the World Cup, completed four days ago in Japan.

But while Team USA dropped a straight-set match to Serbia to finish sixth overall with a 6-5 mark, the Americans got quite a bit of vocal support from the Yokota Air Base Warriors varsity volleyball team, which ventured an hour or so each way into town to cheer Team USA in its last three matches.

After the the loss to Serbia,  acting captain and outside hitter Ryan Priddy acknowledged the presence of the Warriors in the tournament's final news conference. "We're very proud for their service and proud to play in front of them," said Priddy, who donned an Air Force shirt for the occasion.

"It was a big overwhelming for our national team since, surprisingly, they don't get fans cheering for them at the same intensity that we (Americans) can do," Warriors coach Michael DeGuzman said in an e-mail to Stripes.

Took me back to when members of Yokota's volleyball team (then the Raiders), including former All-Air Force spiker Terry Williams and All-Marine Joe Magana, teamed with ex-Pacific greats such as Jacques Chung Hee of the Misawa Jets and Moli Etimani of the Hawaii Flyers to form a military team that participated in the 1987 Peace Cup in Hiroshima. They were coached by former Zama American High School coach and USA Volleyball referee commissioner Gene Newman, now retired and living in Alabama.

Team USA got smoked during the three-day event. But with their team spirit and little cheers and chants after every play, they soon became the darlings of the tournament, cheered appreciatively whenever they stepped out on the court.

Looks as if Yokota's volleyball team hasn't forgotten that spirit. Cheer on, fellas!

 

Navy goat to don Army apparel at Torii on Saturday?

Usually, mascot abductions prior to any football game are conducted in covert-operation secret manner.

Thus, it came as quite a surprise when I saw an e-mail message from my friend Chip Steitz up at Torii Station two days before Saturday’s Army-Navy flag football game that said, in effect, that Navy’s mascot has apparently defected to the other side!

Billy the Navy Goat has formally announced his official departure from the Navy and his concurrent enlistment in the Army. He will apparently be stationed at Torii, Steitz said in the e-mail statement.

Whether true or an eight-month-delayed version of the many April Fools’ stories that grace newspaper front pages from sea to shining sea wasn’t immediately known; attempts to reach Steitz by phone were unsuccessful.

Whatever. If Navy needed any more motivation to win its second straight game in Saturday’s next installment of the Commander’s Trophy series after losing six in a row, the following should provide plenty:

Sailors everywhere were shocked about this apparent betrayal from the beloved former Navy mascot. 

“He was my only friend, I had no one else, why would he do this,” Petty Officer 3rd Class I.M. Squidward said.
“Billy was the only one that would ever listen to me,” Ensign F.A. Flounder added.
Rumors about the apparent abandonment are rampant across all services from those that believe Billy left over a dispute about the Navy over uniforms. Others believe Billy just got tired of the service. However, some speculate that Billy just wanted to get back to his roots and join a service that actually spends time outdoors.

“I think Billy just wanted to do some hard-core field exercises on land,” Staff Sgt. D.J. Rock said.
The majority of soldiers and their family members think Billy left over the upcoming Army-Navy game in an apparent bid to be part of the winning team. Raider, Ranger, and Scotty, the current U.S. Army mascots are thrilled to have the new recruit, expressing interest in training the newcomer.
“He’ll have to pay his dues, but were excited to have him,” said Army mascot Raider, the Mule.
Billy’s first assignment will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Torii Field during the Army-Navy game where he will cheer on his new service, wearing his new uniform.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Expect the usual full slate of pomp and pageantry, military band music, plus Samy Fineman of MCCS Okinawa TV’s Samy on the Street and former AFN DJ Samy fame, in the booth.

While all that’s going on, Navy also visits Army in the 10th anniversary of their Japan showdown, only this time, featuring sailors from Naval Air Facility Atsugi instead of Yokosuka Naval Base. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. there as well. No word if any similar pre-game shenanigans have taken place. *smile*

Nominations sought for military brat all-star team

The website Military.com is accepting nominations for its All-DOD team of high school football players worldwide who are dependents of active-duty service people.

The all-star team, which according to a news release is a joint project of Military.com and All-American Games and is purely honorary, is to be composed of 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players, a punter and a placekicker.

Free admission to FC Ryukyu soccer match for DODDS students

FC Ryukyu, Okinawa's lone premier soccer club, will end its season with a special treat for DODDS students -- free admission to Sunday's match against MIO Biwako Kustasu, according to Mari Matsumoto of FC Ryukyu sales department.

Gates open at 11:30 a.m. and kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Koza City Stadium, the sports park just outside of Kadena Air Base Gates 2 and 5 on Route 23.

DODDS students may approach the ticket booth and state the name of their school and will be given free tickets to the match. Parents will get a special discounted ticket, normally worth 1,000 yen ($13.33) but on Sunday worth 800 yen ($10.67).

Come and enjoy.

Soccer fellowship this weekend at Camp Lester

From my friend Chris Vaden of the Okinawa Diplomats, the youth development soccer program which serves as a feeder for schools like Kubasaki and Kadena High:

The Okinawa Diplomats under-15 team will host a friendship tournament Saturday and Sunday on Camp Lester. This tournament will included five Japanese teams. Opening ceremonies are slated for 8:30 a.m. with the first-match kickoff at 9 a.m. Three teams each in two pools will compete in round-robin play on the first day, with the top two teams moving into the second-day's playoff round. Semifinal matches on Day 2 (Sunday) will again kick off at 9 a.m. Trophies will be awarded to the top three teams. Following the awards ceremony will be a friendship barbeque and Taiko show oganized by one of our club parents. This is a wonderful cultural exchange between the American and Okinawan communities.

 

Things learned, observed in Pacific winter sports Week 3.0

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer stumbles and bumbles toward the start of the New Year Classic (this year for both boys and girls) and toward the holiday break, which this year he’ll sorely need:

Time was when the only two sheriffs on the Okinawa high school boys basketball block wore black and gold (nine-time Far East Division I Tournament champion Kadena) and green and white (10-time champion Kubasaki).

Best look out, for there’s a new group of basketballers in town. They wear black with white trim. They’re very much like Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s Japanese counterparts, in that they run the floor, press like crazy and shoot like it’s nobody’s bid’ness. But this bunch also has height. And they have a shooter wearing No. 4, about whom Will Rogers might have remarked: “He never saw a shot he didn’t take.”

I speak of the Zion Christian Academy Lions. Prior to Friday, they were better known for their track exploits, specifically the girls distance runners such as Sarah Wilson and Teauna Baker.

But it turns out Zion’s boys are a track and cross-country team with a serious basketball problem. Mashu Wakita, Akira Shavers do more than rack up long-distance times, and Craig Hollins – gad, has HE trimmed weight and gotten svelte and quick! – is far more than just a discus thrower and shot putter. And that Markese Bohanon! Can that kid shoot or what?

In just their first varsity basketball game in school history, Zion threw a major scare into the reigning Far East D-I champion Dragons on Kubasaki’s home court. Trailing by 20, the Lions roared back to get within 87-85 in the final seconds before settling for a 91-88 defeat.

In time, they’ll get even better. And if they can develop depth beyond their starting five, they’ll have more staying power.

Memo to Zama American athletics director Tom Allensworth, Far East Division II Tournament director: Invite the Lions to Far East. Like, now. Like, yesterday.

I guess this year, we won’t be counting Kubasaki’s consecutive victories to start the season, as we did all the way into the New Year Classic at American School In Japan. That went by the boards Wednesday, when Chatan hit a buzzer-beating three-point basket to squelch a Kubasaki rally from a 14-point second-half deficit. Chatan beat the Dragons 86-84 in just the third game of the season for Kubasaki.

Kadena gave Chatan some American payback a couple of nights later, and it was the Panthers’ new folk who stepped up to the plate in their season-opening 86-73 win at Chatan. Preston Harris (22 points), Derrick Taylor (14) and Jalen Amos (10).

It may have seemed like a one-sided outcome, but there was a silver lining for Kubasaki’s girls in their 68-27 home loss to Naha Commercial. It was the fourth quarter, in which the Dragons scored 17 points, Sydney Johnson netting 11 of those points of her 13 total. And their heads weren’t down after being dominated by their Japanese counterparts. After the game, the two teams posed for photos and enjoyed snacks and cold drinks together. Fun afternoon.

Speaking of ASIJ, it didn’t take long for new coach Brian Kelley’s heroes to make an opening statement – last Tuesday on the road, they poured it on against Zama American, with the Mustangs’ Big Three of Sam Hopkins (27 points), Hayden Jardine (12) and Sam Olson (10) leading the way. Not bad for three football players.

But Zama answered right back three nights later on the Trojans’ home court against a Robert D. Edgren team that sported Japan’s best record last season (25-6). David Coleman’s 19 points helped Zama burst ahead by eight after one quarter, then hang on to beat the Eagles 60-55.

And Jacob Sterry and the Eagles answered the challenge one night later, again on Zama’s home court. The lanky senior scored 19 points and Edgren downed Nile C. Kinnick 53-48.

Side note here – Those two games, and Zama’s and Kinnick’s girls victories over Edgren at Zama, got off to very late starts and the last games didn’t get over with until 11 p.m. I understand Saturday’s late starts due to SAT exams, but … why couldn’t Edgren’s teams have left Misawa Air Base at 9 p.m. Thursday instead of 5 a.m. Friday? The Eagles arrived at Trojans Gym at 3 p.m., with the first games slated to start an hour later. A 7 a.m. arrival would have given the Eagles a chance to sleep prior. Somebody needs to revisit the bus departure schedules.

Down south at Sasebo Naval Base, Yokota’s defending DODDS Japan champion boys and girls teams got off to solid starts, taking two games each from E.J. King, the girls behind the inside and outside play of Trinity Davis and Erika Ettl. And the boys didn’t seem to miss guard Warren Manegan too awfully much (stayed behind to take SATs), and just imagine how much better they’ll be when he’s back in the lineup?

How many times have you seen brothers post triple-doubles in the same game? That was the case at Kobe, where Jon and Sam Cadavos turned the trick in points, boards and assists to spark Matthew C. Perry to an easy sweep at Marist Brothers International. The second day, the Cadavos brothers and two others, Malik Hale and James Kerr, each posted double-doubles.

And the girls won two more games, and showed they’re not just the Rebekah Harwell show. Sophomore Courtney Beall averaged double figures in rebounds and freshman Briana Drake scored in double figures in Saturday’s game.

All told, the Samurai boys and girls are a combined 11-3, the best start in school history. In preceding seasons, one team or the other would start out strong, but never both teams this strongly at the same time. The girls have won five straight since dropping their first two at E.J. King.

Want to keep an eye on somebody on the girls side? De’Asia Brown, a freshman, tossed in 27 points as the Red Devils girls throttled Edgren 61-31. Brown will bear considerable watching throughout her years at Yokosuka Naval Base. She’s a star in the making.

Among other teams getting off to rousing starts, Seoul American’s boys opened by winning their first three games. Tomi Akinbayo did much of the damage over those three games, but I mean that performance during Saturday’s 93-59 win at Seoul Foreign by Bryant McCray … 29 points, 20 rebounds, six steals. Plus the steady play of Mark Elliott. When people say the Falcons are back, they know what they’re talking about. I’m hearing many folk suggesting they’re the “team to beat” this season.

Daegu American’s boys didn’t have it quite as easy as the Falcons, but they still won the week by a total victory margin of five points, one of the wins coming in overtime at Taejon Christian International. Darius Wyche usually has the hot scoring hand, but the steady inside play of Richard Buck (averaging 17 points and eight rebounds) helped make the difference.

On the wrestling mats opening weekend, DODDS Japan tournament at Edgren and the initial DODDS Korea tri-meet at Osan American, the usual suspects broke out of the gate smartly.

But especially where Korea was concerned, the three teams nearly filled all their weight classes, unlike a year ago when Osan was barely half full and Daegu High fielded just three wrestlers. The wrestling was “a whole lot better this year” than the season-opening three-way last year, Daegu coach Luke Spencer said.

Seoul American won its two dual meets, with Robert Rhea, last year’s fifth-place 129-pounder, scoring two victories. “Robert’s worked on some counter moves,” Spencer said. “He’ll be tough to beat.”

Much of the talk revolved around Osan’s new heavyweight, “Tiny” Tim Cuthbertson. “He moves well,” Spencer said. “He impressed the heck out of me.”

Yokota edged out Nile C. Kinnick 139-136 to win the Edgren tournament and won four weight classes despite leaving a handful of starters behind. Trenton Traylor, Stanley Speed, Ed Peterson and Jesse Hogan won weight golds for Yokota, as did Marcus Boehler of Kinnick. Wrestling at 122 pounds, Boehler was “outstanding,” Yokota coach Brian Kitts said of the Red Devil star trying to become just the third to win a fourth Far East weight-class gold.

Edgren won four weights and reigning Far East Division II champion Zama American won a pair of golds.

The first big test for Kanto Plain schools comes Saturday in an invitational tournament at American School In Japan, where Kitts feels it will come down to his Panthers against the reigning Far East Division I champion St. Mary’s International Titans. “We’ll know who by next weekend,” Kitts said.

Time to select Stripes' Pacific fall sports Athletes of the Quarter

Stripes will announce its Pacific high school fall sports season Athletes of the Quarter, one boy, one girl, a week from today, covering the tennis, cross-country, volleyball and football seasons. Who do you feel deserves the honor? Click here for the list of All-Far East teams, which contains this fall's nominees. Then, shout it out! Or if you don't see somebody whom you feel deserves to be on the list, shout that out, too. Be true to your school, and remember, you've entered THE "No-Hate Zone." :)

Pacific high school wrestling season preview

Coaches and athletics programs throughout DODDS Japan got the same e-mail message not too long ago: 15 sets of wrestling headgear being sought by Matthew C. Perry High School. Headgear came in from far and wide in response, and the Samurai have taken the first steps to putting a full-fledged program on the map, working out under the watchful eye of Frank Macias, a transfer coach from Mannheim, Germany, and senior 141-pounder R.J. Traylor, who lobbied school administration long and hard to get the program going. Click here to read the Samurai’s story.

Pacific high school girls basketball season preview

The team of the decade is no more, with Destinee Harrison, Jordan Elliott and two-time Far East High School Girls Division I Basketball Tournament MVP Liz Gleaves now a distant memory. And already, Seoul American’s nearly nine-year regular-season winning streak ended just three games into the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I season. What can the two-time defending D-I champion Falcons do to right the ship? Click here to find out.

Pacific high school boys basketball season preview

Some years, the PCS Plane hits harder than others. In the case of the last two Far East High School Boys Division I Tournament champions, Kadena and Kubasaki, the Freedom Bird whisked away no fewer than four non-seniors who had been counted on to be key cogs in the two teams’ battle to return to Center Court in February on Guam. What do the Panthers and Dragons plan to do about it? Click here to find out their story and those of the rest of the Pacific’s high school boys teams.

No feeling in the world like that first slam dunk

Having never dunked in a game in my entire life, I can only surmise that that first one must be something. Michael Benson, an Osan American Cougars junior varsity player, experienced that feeling in front of the home crowd last Wednesday in the Cougars' 47-12 victory over Korea International. Varsity coach Geoff Starron photographed the electrifying moment and gives his view of things:

He is actually just a 10th grader (despite being so tall). It was his first dunk in a competition. The crowd went nuts – fans standing up, pumping arms and screaming. I was so proud of him, not just for his dunk but also for his presence on the court the entire game. He scored 25 points and five steals, but more important he led his team to victory. When he made mistake a kept his confidence. When a team member made a mistake he encouraged them. And when he made a steal, outran everyone on the court to the hoop and saw his chance to put the game away, he dunked it!

Seoul American girls suffer rare regular-season loss

You don't see this every day of the week:

Seoul American, the two-time Far East High School Girls Division I Basketball Tournament champions, lost for the first time in 137 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I regular-season games dating back to the 2002-03 season.

Having won or shared the last 19 consecutive KAIAC regular-season titles, the Falcons saw their lengthy winning streak end Saturday, 39-30 at Seoul Foreign School.

Here's Crusaders coach Jim Milliken with his view of the contest:

After a lethargic outing Friday, a 35-15 loss to Daegu High, the Lady Crusaders turned it around turned around and handed SAHS their first KAIAC regular-season defeat in nine seasons.

Seoul Foreign was ready for Seoul American's early full-court man press and forced them out of it with some easy over-the-top passes.

But after an even first quarter, the Falcons looked like they were starting to run out front with a couple steals and layups. Jasmine Thomas hit some smooth jumpers from the left and Mecca Perkins was a dominant presence in the middle.

But the Crusaders showed resolve and came back with full-court pressure to earn an easy bucket, helping close the gap to 18-13 at halftime.

Continued pressure in the second half forced Falcons turnovers, sparking an 18-5 run to end the third quarter with the Crusaders up 31-23.

SFS then cooled, failing to convert for more than five minutes in the fourth and the Falcons crept back to within 31-30 with under three minutes left. They would not score again.

Continued pressure from SFS' platooning guard pairs wore down the Falcons as SFS finished with the last four buckets, including the final by Kathy Lee with three seconds left on a layup.

 
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Ornauer on AFN

 

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

 

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

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

May 23: A look back at the Far East track championships and a look ahead at the ongoing baseball finals.