ASIJ QB Hernandez takes his game to higher level

David Hernandez, who quarterbacked American School In Japan to its first unbeaten season in 32 years, has been accepted by Bentley University of Massachusetts as a walk-on and will play football and run indoor and outdoor track for the Falcons, the university confirmed Friday.

“We are very excited to have him as a part of our program and we believe that he is going to be a great competitor for us and our program,” said Rob Velasquez, Bentley football’s recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. “We know that he is an athlete and loves to compete and it should be great to see what he can do at this level.”

Hernandez, a senior, went 68-for-124 for 1,441 yards and 14 touchdowns, and ran 50 times for 479 yards and 11 scores as the Mustangs went 8-0 during the last Japan football season, including a 6-0 record and the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools title.

Bentley, an NCAA Division II school, competes in the Northeast-10 Conference. Among its noteworthy former students are comedian Jay Leno and Liberia’s 22ndpresident Charles Taylor.

Three Pacific gridders opt to play in States next fall

Coaches and athletics directors had expressed concern following last month’s announcement that Pacific high school sports seasons would be reduced and shortened, that star players would opt to return to the States and play there, to get more games and potentially better exposure to college scouts, in the event they were potential college material.

In the last couple of days, it’s been learned that two Nile C. Kinnick players, Kyle O’Brien and Japan single-season rushing record-holder Dre Paylor and Kubasaki linebacker Steven Hunt plan to play football in the States next fall.

“Going back to the states for football season I can't wait!!!” was posted to Paylor’s Facebook page on Wednesday. Paylor, who will be a junior next year, confirmed via Facebook message that he will either play in Houston or Omaha, Neb., where he has relatives. Paylor set the Japan single-season record of 2,002 yards on 250 carries in 11 games last season. The Pacific record remains 2,088, set in 2001 in 10 games by Corey Dunlap-Buckmon of Guam’s Simon Sanchez High, a record that presumably should stand for a long time, given the cap of seven games placed on length of football seasons by DODDS.

Kyle O’Brien, a senior-to-be who also played some running back, plans to head to either Georgia, North Carolina or at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi, in home state of Texas, he also said via Facebook. He added that he wanted more than a seven-game season, “and also, I need to take my game to a different level.

Kubasaki football coach and athletics director Fred Bales said on Tuesday that Hunt had withdrawn from Kubasaki and is returning to Virginia, from where he transferred over the summer. Hunt confirmed via Facebook that he’s going to back to Mountain View High School in Stafford, Va. Bales said he had planned to use Hunt at linebacker and at fullback next season.

First take on Pacific wrestling’s new landscape

A few things have become clear as the Pacific’s high school wrestling season hits the first checkpoint, the two-week Christmas holiday break:

-- Kubasaki and Nile C. Kinnick, the teams that finished 1-2 in the Far East Division I Tournament last February at Yokosuka Naval Base, appear primed to hold those top two spots at this year’s Far East, Feb. 13-15 at Yokota High School.

-- Bouts on average are far shorter, given the new rule changes to international-freestyle wrestling implemented in June by the sport’s governing body, FILA. Cumulative scoring replacing period scoring and reducing the points lead needed for a technical fall to seven are two of the major reasons. On average, bouts are ending at just over 1 minute. And there have been far more techs than pins thus far.

-- Gauging how each of the districts’ top wrestlers compare, always a tough guessing game even with inter-area events, will be even tougher now that the “Beast of the East” and “Rumble on the Rock” in-season invitational tournaments have been taken off the table.

-- That said, the 148-pound weight class stands to be the toughest of them all at Far East, if one bout staged Wednesday was any indicator.

Kinnick features a strong complement of wrestlers who competed against and lost by razor-thin margins to Kubasaki last February in both the individual and dual-meet tournaments. So, too, does Kubasaki possess a wealth of talent and experience that helped the Dragons edge the Red Devils 78-77 in the individual team standings and 32-26 in the dual-meet final.

Particularly from 148 pounds up, the Dragons field what some observers are calling the most loaded upper portion of a lineup in Far East history: reigning 148-pound gold-medalist Austin Cyr, Virginia transfer Tanner Stamper (158) and veterans Sho Green (168), Tyshon Butler (180), Josiah Allen (215) and Christian Fernandez at heavyweight. The lower weights can make some noise as well, what with reigning champion Daniel Mora at 115. This after Kubasaki extended its Pacific record for Far East team banners in any sport to 23.

Sidebar to this: Don’t read too much into Kubasaki’s 53-6 rout of Kadena on Wednesday. The Panthers did not have starters Tasi Duenas (101), James Alexander (158) and former Far East gold-medalist Justin Duenas at 115, among others.

From top to bottom, the Red Devils also have a bit of everything – mostly Far East silver medalists hungry to take that last step to gold, including Dustin Wilson (168), Charlie Gann (158) and Ian O’Brien (215). Nate Abrenilla is solid at 115, as is Brady Yoder at 135. In seven dual meets, the Red Devils remain unbeaten, most of the time by comfortable margins.

While they’re team lineups are solid, Kubasaki and Kinnick also must take heed of individual talents on the not-so-stacked teams who will still take valuable points.

There are the aforementioned Duenases and Alexander. St. Mary’s International brings back two reigning champions, Jeffrey Koo at 180 and Ryan Vasconcellos, a second-generation gold medalist who’s at 135 pounds. Mora and Duenas could find St. Mary’s Kentaro Hayashi a formidable roadblock at 115. Eric Overton, another returning champion, could make it a repeat at 129 for Christian Academy Japan.

The middle of the lineup for Robert D. Edgren can’t be ignored, either. Hunter Matthews at 129, Kaleb Atchison at 141 and, further up the line, Brandon Gleason at 215, could challenge for gold. Sky Phillips has also looked solid at 135. The question for Edgren, as always, is getting enough competition to prepare for Far East; same goes for Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King to the southwest.

Even Zama American, Daegu High, Humphreys High and Seoul American in Korea are likely to deny a handful of points to the Red Devils and Dragons. Jake Scott of Zama looks strong so far at 148, as does Morgan Baek of Daegu, whom Seoul American assistant coach Julian Harden calls the best wrestler on the Warriors team. Jack Barnes of Seoul American possesses potential at 215, Harden says, as does Sam Kim of Osan at 122. Humphreys is but a start-up, but Austin Rudd has won six times at 180 thus far.

Given the names and pedigree in that weight class, 148 could be an all-out wrestling version of a battle come February at Yokota’s Capps Gym.

Key example was what occurred on Wednesday at Kadena’s Panther Pit. The Panthers’ Elijah Takushi seized an early 6-0 lead on Cyr, and one of those typically fast and quick technical falls seemed to a foregone conclusion.

But Cyr rewrote that script and gradually chipped away at Takushi’s lead. Finally, with partisans on both sides screaming themselves hoarse, Cyr scored a two-point tilt on Takushi, then holding on in the final few seconds for a thrilling 17-16 decision. Imagine what it will be like when names like Baek and Scott are thrown into that mix.

That said, it’s not taking very long for many a bout to get finished, especially when we’re talking a veteran against a novice. From just after the Athens Olympics in 2005 when period scoring was introduced, a wrestler could lose the first period and have a fighting chance of rallying in the last two.

Not any more. With takedowns now worth two points instead of one, a winner has even less work to do. In Wednesday’s Kubasaki-Kadena dual, six of 13 bouts ended on technical falls in the first period, and only one of the vanquished scored even a point. Takedown and three tilts, be they by leg lace, crotch lift or gut wrench. That’s all it takes.

It will be interesting to see how the wrestlers will be seeded at the upcoming Far East in February. Far Easts last year were shortened to three days, instead of four as they had been. Pool-play wrestling is out. Strictly an elimination tournament, followed by the dual-meet tournament.

Seeding wrestlers for elimination bouts by win-loss record could be tricky, because the level of experience and talent in each district varies widely, Okinawa and Kanto loaded with veterans, while the majority in Japan’s outlying schools and in Korea are new to the sport. And though the new FILA rules bring wrestling somewhat more in line with U.S. collegiate folkstyle, any Guam schools in attendance will be wrestling out of season (theirs ends Saturday), and freestyle is what it is.

Seeding by keeping common opponents apart might not work, either; depending on who gets seeded where, one pool could field a relatively inexperienced group while the other would resemble a World Cup pool-play “group of death.”

Regardless, it will be a difficult task without the luxury of having a “Beast” or a “Rumble” where these wrestlers might meet each other and give organizers a better gauge of who is truly better than whom.

Ex-Dragon XC, track stars reunite in California

They still wear their old Kubasaki school colors, green and white, but now compete hundreds of miles apart in the western United States, Jessica Ircink at Lakeside High near Spokane, Wash., and Erik Armes for Coronado High near San Diego.

And they picked up right where they left off, as reported by media in their area. Armes was a league champion and took second in the San Diego Regional Championships, took wins at the Mount Carmel and Mount San Antonio College invitationals and fourth in the Stanford Invitational.

Ircink helped lead the Eagles to the State 1A championship, finishing sixth overall after taking fourth in the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association regionals for districts 6, 7 and 9.

The two reunited last weekend at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., where they had the opportunity to race in the Footlocker U.S. Western Regional Championships.

Armes’ mother, Karla, says the two are looking forward to track and field season. The two broke longstanding records in the 1,600-meter events last spring for Kubasaki. Armes won the Far East cross-country meet in 2011.

Guam High's Yatar given soccer All-Island honorable mention

Guam High junior defender Hunter Yatar was the lone selection from the school to the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam's All-Island team as an honorable-mention pick. The All-Island teams were released Wednesday by league President Martin Boudreau.

The Panthers went 2-7-1 in the regular season, just missing out on the eight-team single-elimination playoff,which begins this week.

Three Guam High baseball players accorded All-Island honors

Three Guam High baseball players were honored in the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam's All-Island team, announced Wednesday by league President Martin Boudreau.

Pitcher Reynaldo Garza, a senior,was named to the All-Island second team and alsogivenhonorable mention at shortstop. Second baseman Travis Pinaula, a juniorandcenter fielder Lewis Harris, a junior were each named All-Island honorable mention.

The Panthers finished 3-10 in the IIAAG regular season, seventh in the league. They were knocked out of the playoffs by second-place Notre Dame on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.

Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter season Week 3.0

Loud. Just loud.

Head-splitting loud.

Ground-shaking loud.

CenturyLink Field in Seattle loud.

That was the atmosphere Friday in the Panther Pit, where Kubasaki’s and Kadena’s boys and girls basketball teams opened the Okinawa Athletics and Activities Council season with a couple of games that ESPN would have called instant classics had the Worldwide Leader telecast the games.

Two huge comebacks, in games that yawed back and forth like a teeter-totter gone wild, cutting on dimes and giving back nine cents’ change, enough momentum swings to make one dizzy. Two games that featured a combined 10 ties and 10 lead changes; it seemed like so many more. A girls game in which neither side led by more than eight points. A boys game in which each side led by 11.

And more noise than most folk could possibly stand, the crowd erupting vociferously with virtually every basket.

If Friday’s games, Kadena’s girls’ 46-39 win over Kubasaki and the Dragons’ boys’ 61-58 squeaker against the Panthers, were any indicator, this season’s four-game series, to invoke a 1950s expression, should be a humdinger.

It shouldn’t be any other way, given that these are the most decorated programs in Far East Division I Tournament history. Kadena’s boys and girls have nine and six; Kubasaki’s boys and girls can claim 11 and 9. Granted, the Dragons girls haven’t been in that conversation in 10 years, but Friday’s game could be viewed as the vanguard of a turnaround coming for Kubasaki basketball nation.

For one, the team has more talent and depth than it’s had the past few years. For another, Bob Driggs, the guy with five D-I titles to his credit, is back on the bench after a five-year hiatus for his third Dragons coaching tenure. What happened the year of the last time Driggs came out of retirement? Yup, a D-I championship in 2004.

And for another, starting with the first couple of minutes of the game after Kadena seized a 6-0 lead, Kubasaki announced it would not go quietly into the night and not go down without a fight. The Dragons scored the next seven points. And the see-saw battle was on. Kadena up 17-9. Game tied 17-17. Kubasaki up 24-18. Kadena 10 straight to lead 35-28. Kubasaki 10 of its own to lead 38-35. Montaya Jones’ two foul shots with 59.5 seconds left, Kadena scores eight straight to close it out.

Such momentum sways are old hat in a Kadena-Kubasaki boys series that has seen its share of classic confrontations, such as the rivalry game with the most on the line, the 1992 Far East D-I championship game, won by Kadena 70-69 in double overtime.

Friday’s game was no different. Kadena up 6-3. Kubasaki up 13-10. Kadena 15-2 run to lead 27-25. Kadena pushes out to a 52-41 lead early in the fourth. Kubsasaki scores 14 straight to lead for good 55-52. DeQuan Alderman’s driving layup and Jarrett Mitchell’s two foul shots in the closing seconds iced it.

The game featured three intentional fouls, two in the last minute as the Panthers battled desperately to stay in it.

Next installment: Dec. 20 at Kubasaki.


Why are the crowds at Kadena home games typically louder than just about anywhere else?

Longtime observers of Panthers home games point to the metal sidings that rise above the stands and ring the upper reaches of a gym that’s octagonal in shape, instead of rectangular. The same noise levels can’t be achieved at Kubasaki home games, fans say, because the Dragons’ gym is much larger in diameter and the acoustics don’t lend to a super-noisy environment.

The teams next tee it up at the Panther Pit on Jan. 10. Expect more than a handful of foam earplugs to be deployed by some of the fan base.


As the Dragons girls season will likely be different, so, too, E.J. King’s boys season began with a bang in the Western Japan Athletic Association tournament at Senri-Osaka International School. After going 36-94 the last five seasons, including an 0-26 record in 2011-12, the Cobras broke out of the gate by capturing the WJAA tournament and bursting to a 4-0 record, their best start since 2007-08. This is a big team heightwise, something that’s been absent from E.J. King in recent years. This could be the launch of something big.


Henry Arnold V has been a difference-maker for Seoul American as the Falcons have also opened by winning their first four games. The great-great-great grandson of Gen. Hap Arnold had 37 points and 17 rebounds over the weekend as Seoul American scored victories Friday at Seoul Foreign and Saturday vs. Yongsan International-Seoul.


Not as good a start for Ashley Gooch as Humphreys High girls basketball coach as she had when the Blackhawks boys volleyball team upset Daegu High on Sept. 27 in Humphreys’ season opener. Gooch, who starred for the Warriors in the early 2000s, returned to her longstanding home as the Blackhawks’ girls basketball coach, and they took one on the chin 51-24.


Army-Navy flag football games near at Misawa, Okinawa, Atsugi

Friday’s historic first Army-Navy flag football game at Misawa Air Base could very well conjure up images of a 1960s NFL game played in whiteout conditions at the old Bloomington Stadium in Minnesota, with CBS broadcaster Ray Scott intoning, “Now, this is football weather.”

Snow and frigid temperatures are in the cards for Friday’s contest scheduled at Hillside Stadium, pitting the small Army and Navy detachments assigned to the all-service base. Kickoff is set for noon, and the forecast calls for 60 percent snow with temperatures hovering around freezing.

“We’re pretty stoked,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Sanford of Misawa’s Navy public affairs office. “It is truly our hope that it is both cold and snowy, which, for better or worse, are Misawa Staples.”

It’s the second of four scheduled Army-Navy flag rivalry games, designed to parallel the stateside service-academy rivalry game scheduled for 3 p.m. EST Saturday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Army won the Korea game easily 62-0 on Nov. 30 at Seoul American High School’s Sims Field on Yongsan Garrison’s South Post.

The two remaining games are scheduled for Saturday, at 11 a.m. at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan and 1 p.m. at Torii Station on Okinawa. Good weather, if not a tad chilly at Atsugi, is forecast for both locales.

These games feature plenty of pomp, pageantry, collar brass, bands, cheerleaders and even a $10,000 football-toss contest at some. The theme intertwining all these games is rivalry on the field but comrades in arms off it, remembering what the military services are here for.

Two Guam High girls get All-Island honorable mention

While it’s been a less-than-successful campaign for the winless Guam High Panthers girls basketball team, two of its players have been named to the league’s All-Island honorable mention list.

Junior forward Asia Smith and senior forward Tiffani Unsiog were accorded that honor in an email released on Sunday by Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam President Martin Boudreau.

Daegu AD on mend after heart procedure

Ken Walter, longtime athletics director and football coach at Daegu High, suffered a scare last week in the form of a mild heart attack. He underwent a procedure to unblock an artery and have three stents put in his right ventricle. He was released from the hospital on Friday. Sports Blog Nation wishes the best to Ken and as DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs said in an e-mail, take your time coming back to work.



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.