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RAF ALCONBURY — It could be a banner year for winter sports at Alconbury High School.

The wrestling squad features three athletes who coach Rodney Lucas thinks can compete for European championships, and the boys basketball team returns four starters from a team that finished third in last year’s tournament.

“We are very excited about this season and what our kids can do,” athletic director Bud Foutz said.

The following is a brief overview of the four winter sports at the home of the Dragons.

Boys basketballThird-year coach Ron Behr’s team has come a long way from his rookie season.

“We were mercy-ruled almost every game,” he said. “We were playing a lot of inexperienced and young players and had a lot to learn.”

But after last year’s third-place finish in the Division IV European championship tournament, Behr is optimistic his team can compete for a title in 2006. The Dragons are 1-2 early in the campaign, and look to improve on a 9-14 record last season.

“We don’t have a lot of height, but my first five players are very strong, including four returning starters that had a great season last year,” Behr said.

Behr hopes 6-foot-1 senior Ben Davis, 5-9 junior Xavier Ferguson, 5-7 junior Andrew Hunt and 5-8 junior Nigiel Kelly can lead the Dragons against tough competition in the United Kingdom and to a title in Germany.

Without a strong post presence, Behr said his scheme will include lots of full-court defensive pressure and trying to convert turnovers into easy baskets.

“We want to try and do a lot of transition basketball and move up and down the court quickly with our speed,” Behr said.

Girls basketballCoach Tom Stafford has coached basketball for four decades and is in his second season at Alconbury. In his rookie season at AHS, he led the Lady Dragons to the Division IV championship.

Last season, the team finished 15-3 and 4-2 in the conference.

Drained of its rich talent from a year ago, the Lady Lancers are off to a 0-4 start thus far.

“We lost 10 out of 12 players. Four of our sophomores are now juniors helping their teams back in the States,” Stafford said.

With his team lacking experience, Stafford has returned to the building blocks to prepare his team.

Stafford is counting on 5-5 senior Ounjaniese Pegues and 5-8 sophomore Ashley Lane to lead the upstart Lady Dragons.

“[Pegues] is a great defensive player and is improving in her offensive output,” Stafford said of his lone returning letter winner.

WrestlingLucas isn’t a teacher at Alconbury High School. He’s a U.S. Air Force master sergeant who simply loves wrestling and teaching students.

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoy watching these kids go from not knowing anything when they first walk in this gym to competing for European championships,” he said.

In his third year leading the squad, Lucas is beaming with optimism.

Junior Doug Bagnall at the 189-pound division, sophomore Kyle Lucas at 160, and freshman John Cunningham at 103 all seem to have the skills and drive to compete with students from the biggest schools in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice in this sport, and these kids are willing to make those sacrifices,” he said.

CheerleadingSophomore captain Meaghan Kelly leads a nine-girl squad that cheers for both the football and basketball teams. The team has been practicing every day after school hoping to win the European cheerleading championships.

“We work on dancing, stunts, tumbling and choreographing our routines,” Kelly said. “We work hard to become a better team.”

Her only complaint about being a cheerleader is not getting to travel with the basketball team to the away games. That leaves the team competing blindly come tournament time.

“It’s always tough because we don’t get to see our competition until we compete,” she said.

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