KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Their first meeting was pretty much like most of Kennedy Allen’s tennis singles battles the past two years with Seoul American. She pounded Osan American’s top singles seed, Laura Konecne, 8-0 on Sept. 10 at Allen’s home Yongsan Garrison courts.
But their next meeting 21 days later was a different tale. Allen had been ill and didn’t play the previous week. Konecne got the first point off Allen en route to taking five games off the defending Far East singles champion.
Though Allen won the match, it served as a wakeup – as did her 8-6 defeat in Thursday’s Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference tournament final to Sejin Paik of Korea International. Both may be a harbinger that things may be just as tough, if not more so, in next week’s Far East Tournament at Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base.
"She played really well," Allen said of Konecne, a senior in her first year in a Cougars uniform. "She was hitting well. I was making mistakes, not on top of my game. All she had to do was keep the ball in play and she did. She did what she needed to do."
Konecne will be one of a handful of rivals, including three-time Okinawa Activities Council champion Elissa Mason, looking to unseat Allen in the three-day Far East Tournament, which runs Monday-Wednesday at Kadena’s Risner Tennis Complex.
Kyle Sprow of Kadena is also looking to make it two straight boys singles titles, and is hoping to team with fellow junior Eliott Mason to capture the boys doubles.
Is either of the singles champions beatable?
Though Allen totes an unblemished record into next week, Konecne says there is a way, starting with keeping Allen on the baseline and hitting it to her backhand.
"Hit a few nice shots that she can’t touch, get her frustrated and keep her frustrated the entire game," Konecne said.
For her part, Allen says she’s not overly worried. "Just do my best, do the best I can and that’s all I can do."
What does Kennedy Allen feel a foe has to do to beat Kennedy Allen?
"Being solid, having consistency and your mental game being up to par," she said. "Getting the ball back over the net consistently, make me play the ball and make me make the mistakes."
On the men’s side, Kubasaki senior Jared Knox knows it is possible to beat Kyle Sprow, having done it twice over the three years he’s faced him.
"I have to be on top of my game. It has to be a good day, no wind, the sun," Knox said. "I always have to be on my toes, aim for the corners and make him work for the ball, not me working for the ball."
Sprow says the burden of defending a championship is relative. "I don’t mind it," he said. "There are times you feel the expectations, but if you’re going to repeat, you have to welcome it and play with it."
As to which school will capture overall team honors, most coaches canvassed agreed that three-time defending champion Seoul and 2004 champion Kadena are the teams to beat.
"Kadena has the heads up on everybody," Seoul American assistant coach Robert Victoria said. "But I think we’ll be competitive. We have a lot of potential. Our problem is consistency."
"You always have to look at the team in Korea that starts with an ‘S,’ " Kadena coach Robert Bliss said. "Until somebody can be just as consistent as they are, of all the teams, yes, their performance the last three years, they’ve been the team."