Champs return to defend tennis titles
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 7, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — From all appearances, the stranglehold over the girls Far East tennis tournament field by DODDS Pacific players shows no signs of abating.
Even with the historically strong international schools back in the fold for the third year after a five-year absence, DODDS players — specifically Guam High sisters Amber and Chloe Gadsden, have ruled the roost. Chloe is back, as a junior, and there appears to be no shortage of challengers to the crown.
Start with Zama American, which won its first Far East Division II team title last November. Kanto Plain champion Tia Burke is gone, but her sister, Natalie, a junior, is back along with seniors Keri Prather and boys doubles pair York Morimoto and Anthony James. The Burkes won Far East girls doubles last year.
“They’re coachable. Nice kids. Top-notch,” coach Wanda Finley said.
Up the street at Yokota, Erika Ettl has graduated, but seniors Anju Yamanaka, Emily Beemsterboer and Ashley Hirata make up a formidable top three for coach Tommy Palmer.
“Side by side, Emily is every bit the player Erika was,” he said, adding that his boys lineup, led by junior Shin Clanton, is as deep as he’s had in his seven seasons.
Perpetual contender Kadena is in the same shape girls-wise, with three-time Far East singles semifinalist Erika Youngdahl back, supported by sisters Alex and Kristen Howard and transfer Christina Thompson from Daegu.
“It’s the most amount of depth we’ve had up and down the line,” Kadena coach Robert Bliss said.
If bloodlines have any relevance, senior Carson Allen of Seoul American might also stand a shot. Her older sister, Kennedy, won the Far East and Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference singles titles in 2007.
Coach Chae Yi feels his Falcons girls are “stable and experienced. They will outperform last year’s team.” He doesn’t feel they have the players to challenge Seoul Foreign for the KAIAC title, “but they can contend at Far East.”
All will be chasing the younger Gadsden, last year’s island champion who teamed with her sister to win the Far East doubles crown in 2010.
“You have to be aggressive” to have a chance against Gadsden, said Natalie Burke, whose older sister lost to Gadsden in the Far East singles final last year. “She’s very consistent. You have to make your pace. She’s very steady. You have to play your game, instead of playing her game.”
On the boys side, it may take a monumental effort to overcome two-time Far East singles champion Kent Shikama of St. Mary’s, and Kentaro Ishihara of American School In Japan, who beat Shikama last November for the Kanto Plain title.
“Boys international teams have always been powerful,” Bliss said. “They’re always strong, they always have those year-round players.”