Tom McKinney refuses to take anything for granted, even if Kadena’s recent success in cross country might tempt him to think otherwise.
The Panthers have won four overall team championships since 2002 and has had four individual champions. In November at Kadena’s Banyan Tree Golf Course, the Panthers placed all four boys and girls runners in the top 20 of the 3.1-mile races.
All eight return to the 2008 edition of the Panthers. But McKinney says he and his team won’t rest on their laurels, and they are getting accustomed to the virtual bull’s-eyes adorning their black-and-gold uniforms.
"We’re always a marked team," said McKinney, in his fifth season as Kadena’s coach. "But teams mark us to do what they have to do to improve and figure out how to make their teams better. That’s common for Kadena."
Defending Okinawa Activities Council island champions Brant Casteel and Chasity Cordova will set the pace as Kadena aims to repeat its OAC and Far East team titles of the past two years. They lead a school-record group of 70 runners out for cross country this season.
"Every year, we do well at OAC and Far East," McKinney said. "Kids see that and want to be part of a champion team. They ask what they can do to make the varsity better. You push them just by being out there and maybe someday, they’ll step in and be part of the travelling team."
Casteel will also be trying to unseat defending boys champion Andrew Quallio of Zama American, who beat Casteel by a minute in last year’s race. "There’s always somebody out there better," Quallio said.
While Kadena appears loaded and Quallio returns, the good news for small schools is there are now two team titles to chase, Class AA for large schools and Class A for small. That change was passed during last spring’s Far East Activities Council meeting and takes effect in November.
Schools with enrollments of 300 and above take five boys and five girls runners with the top four in each division scoring team points, while schools of 299 and below take four to the Far East meet with the top three scoring points, meet organizers said.
The top 10 finishers regardless of class still make the All-Far East team. But Class AA and A champions will also be crowned in the 3.1-mile individual and the team relay.
"I’m looking forward to that," said Far East host coach Andre Thibert of Robert D. Edgren. "It will be revealing. I think it would be more fair to the small programs to recognize both large and small."
"It needed to be done," McKinney said. Small schools historically "didn’t have the numbers to compete. This gives them a chance, knowing they only need three or four runners instead of five to compete."
Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base
Coach: Tom McKinney, fifth season
Key performers: Boys, Brant Casteel, Sr. (defending Far East runner-up); Patrick Edwards, Jr. (ninth at Far East last year); Jacob Sizemore, Sr. (16th at Far East last year); Will Mackey, Sr. (18th at Far East last year); Jacob Bishop, So. (transfer from Zama American); Jacob Schmiege, Jr.; David Crespo, Jr. (transfer from Menwith Hill in Europe, 9th in DODDS-Europe Division IV). Girls, Chasity Cordova, Jr. (defending Far East runner-up); Cassie McDonald, Sr. (fourth at Far East last year); Andrea Grade, So. (ninth at Far East last year); Brittni Dougherty, Jr. (15th at Far East last year).
Overview: Contending, contending, contending. Simply may be the strongest team in the history of a school that’s won four Far East team titles since 2002 and is primed to win another.
Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster
Coach: Paul Campbell, sixth season
Key performers: Scott Wood, Sr.; Danny Fisher, Sr.
Overview: Rebuilding. Most of the talent that led Dragons to a school-best Far East runner-up finish is gone. Youngsters showing promise, but replacing names such as two-time All-Far East senior David Krievs (transfer to Nile C. Kinnick), junior Jacob Hess (transfer to States) and senior Stephanie Gamboa (graduation) will be a tough chore.
Guam High Panthers, Asan, Guam
Coach: Joseph Taitano, fourth season
Key performers: Boys, Michael Tougher, Jr. Girls, Susan Smith, So. (seventh at Far East last year); Auriaunna Fry, Sr. (16th at Far East last year); Brittany Albe, Jr.
Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. Taitano remains a coaching force, and he’ll have his work cut out for him with a youngish boys contingent. Smith and Fry will keep the girls strong.
Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison
Coach: Steve Boyd, first season
Key performers: Boys, Thomas Kim, Jr. (returns after one year at Seoul Foreign); Sean Kincaid, Jr.; Max Lee, Jr.; Tyler Bittner, Sr.; Josh Ecker, Jr.; Erik Hyska. Girls, Allie McCormick, So. (12th at Far East last year); Dorothy Krebill, So. (18th at Far East last year); Rachel Perry, Jr.; Pam Code, So.
Overview: Contending, especially the girls. Departed John Lohr’s shoes filled by returning veteran Kim; girls placed all five of their runners in the Far East top 20 last year, with two returning. Boyd sets high standards for any team he coaches. Many are members of Seoul Track Club, which trains year round.
Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base
Coach: Vincent Szilagyi, third season
Key performers: Boys, Trey Sauls, Sr. (third at Far East last year); Jimmy Niescier, Jr.; Chris Cournoyer, Sr. Girls, Genel Abordo, Jr.; Miranda Beard, Fr.; Anneka Heimlich, Fr.; Erika Ettl, Fr.; Lexus Perez, So.
Overview: Reloading. Sauls and Niescier head an experienced boys contingent, while the girls are loaded with plenty of promising underclassmen who could contend in coming years.
Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama/Naval Air Facility Atsugi
Coach: Mitch Moellendick, sixth season
Key performers: Boys, Andrew Quallio, Sr. (defending Far East champion); Luke Barrett, Sr.; Michael Palomino Sr. (back after one-year layoff); David Hernandez, So. Girls, Mallarie Ashliman, So. (fifth at Far East last year); Melody Brown, So.; Shelby Harper, Fr.; Page Ingram, Jr.; Jessica Bailes, Jr.; Ariana Range, Jr.
Overview: Contending. Palomino and Barrett should ably fill holes left by three departed runners, and girls squad shows plenty of potential. Moellendick’s dream of building a Japan power is starting to take root.
Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base
Coach: Philip Bailey, fourth season
Key performers: Boys, David Krievs, Sr. (transfer from Kubasaki, fifth at Far East last year); William Trauffler, Sr. (17th at Far East last year; Devin Lewis, So.; David Bailey, So. Girls-Nadine Mulvany, Sr. (2006 Far East champion); Jackie Perez, So.; Brittany Evans, So.
Overview: Contending. Losing 2007 Far East girls champion Gee Mi Jorde hurt, but Mulvany’s return along with the addition of Evans, sister of 2005 Far East champion Matt Evans, keeps the girls strong. Krievs and Trauffler bring experience to the table and Bailey and Lewis are rising stars.
Matthew C. Perry Samurai, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni
Coach: Shannon Helvey, first season
Key performer: Boys, Cole Miller, Jr. (12th at Far East last year).
Overview: Rebuilding. Third coach in as many seasons comes to a team that lost most of its performers from a season ago. Working to improve week to week.
E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval Base
Coach: Tom Heitstuman, fifth season
Key performers: None
Overview: Rebuilding. His best two runners, Dominique Johnson and David Heitstuman (two-time All-Far East) have graduated, leaving a core of green youngsters trying to build anew.
Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air Base, Japan
Coach: Andre Thibert, sixth season
Key performers: Boys, David Blevins, Sr.; Rye Sperl, So; Diante Edwards, So.; Jacob Sterry, Fr. (top five Kanto Plain middle school); Ken Clark, So., and Justin Arrington, So. (transfers from Kadena). Girls, Audrey Haltli, Sr.; Angel Lemon, Sr.; Kate Grimm, Fr. (top 10 DODDS-Japan), Quiana Garner, Fr.
Overview: Reloading in DODDS-Japan, contending for Far East Class A crown. Wealth of returning veterans infused by move-ups from eighth-grade ranks and transfers from Okinawa portend good things.
Osan American Cougars, Osan Air Base
Coach: Johnny Windhom, fifth season
Key performers: Boys, Joel Lane, Sr.; Brian Raab, So.; James Connes, Fr.; Richard Mejia, Fr. Girls, Christine Yim, Jr.; Angel Harris, Jr.
Overview: Rebuilding. Windhom lost four boys from a lineup that otherwise might have contended for an overall Far East meet team title, not just Class A. So it’s back to the drawing board for Windhom and the Cougars.
Daegu American, Camp George
Coach: Larry Knierim, third season
Key performers: Boys, Evan Lobeto, So.; Thomas Congdon, So.; Moon-soo Choi, So.; Daniel Dudley, Fr.; Joshua Ray, Fr.; Noah Downey, Fr.; Thomas Slate, Fr. Girls, Katheryne Ordillas, So.; Melia Lagat, Fr.; Carlota Cepria, Fr.
Overview: Rebuilding. Perhaps as young a squad as any team fields in the entire Pacific. Knierim has nary a junior nor a senior among his ranks, which bodes well for the future but makes for a long 2008 season.
Thursday, Oct. 16
Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam All-Island Championship, site TBD
Saturday, Oct. 18
Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools championship meet: St. Maur International, Yokota, International School of the Sacred Heart, Christian Academy In Japan, Zama American, Yokohama International, American School In Japan, St. Mary’s International, Seisen International and Nile C. Kinnick at Tama Hills Recreation Center, Tokyo, 9 a.m.
Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference championship meet, International Christian-Uijongbu, 10 a.m.
Friday, Oct. 24-Saturday, Oct. 25
Asia-Pacific Invitational Meet, site TBD, Guam
Monday, Nov. 3-Tuesday, Nov. 4
DODDS-Pacific Far East Meet, Gosser Memorial Golf Course, Misawa Air Base, Japan