CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — So, Kubasaki’s girls cross-country team lost island champion Alle Robles to transfer?
At one time, that would signal yet another downturn for a Dragons team used to playing second fiddle to Okinawa rival Kadena, which has won nine island titles and four Far East Division I championships since 2003.
Not anymore. Times have changed for the Dragons, who last year claimed the first Okinawa Activities Council and Far East D-I titles on coach Paul Campbell’s 11-season watch and appear primed for a repeat run.
“We’ve been poor for a while; now, we’re pretty solid and we have so many new kids,” Campbell said.
Among the newbies sliding into Robles’ vacancy is Jessica Freedman, a junior who ran in last year’s state finals out of Hickory High in Portsmouth, Va.
“She [Freedman] will definitely be an asset,” said reigning Far East boys champion Erik Armes.
“She’s having an easy time of it,” Campbell added. “She feels comfortable running in front of the pack, and is well adjusted to Okinawa.”
Freedman finished fourth in the first OAC race of the season on Wednesday.
Excepting Robles, Campbell’s lineups return virtually intact. Half are underclassmen and two are juniors.
“What’s different is this year some of our fastest kids are back,” he said.
Still, Campbell will only say he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the season.
“ ‘Confident’ sounds too cocky,” he said. “You never know what somebody else will do. Who’s to say Korea or Kadena hasn’t improved since last year? Somebody might get his buddies to run and they have a competitive team. And you never know whether an injury will happen.”
It’s not as if Kadena is on the outs, though. Coach Tom McKinney welcomes back All-District and All-Far East runners Andrew Kilkenny, Ana Hernandez and Rachel Burchill.
“A great group of experienced runners returning,” McKinney said.
Up north, Yokota sports no “elite” runners but enough who might sneak into the Far East top 20 and steal team points, first-year coach Dan Galvin said.
Kinnick welcomes back All-Far East runners Robert Beard and Carydaliz Fontanez, and added sophomore twins Aaron and Ethan Russ, who transferred from Guam, to one of the deepest Red Devils lineups in years.
That weakens the Panthers boys, but the girls remain strong with three All-Island runners, Emma Martin, Isabella Oveido and Quincy Tougher.
Perennial D-I title contender Seoul American looks headed for the first total rebuilding campaign on coach Steve Boyd’s watch.
At Misawa Air Base, Andre Thibert enters his 10th season coaching defending Division II champ Edgren, which has returning wealth similar to that of Kubasaki and Kadena.
Senior Forrest Rodeman and sophomore Wesley Belleman headline the boys lineup, while Texas transplants Elaine and Madeline Cotton, each juniors, front the girls roster, with plenty of depth behind each pair.
Thibert said his team can contend, “but we have a lot of work to do.”
“It just happened that way,” Thibert said of his team’s depth and experience. “If we can keep them healthy, don’t overdo it early and keep that family thing going, we’ll be OK.”