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E.J. King junior Kristia Suriben is probably feeling a little like George Armstrong Custer likely did when seeing all those Native Americans coming at Little Big Horn. But Suriben’s opponents will wield tennis rackets.

As defending tournament singles champion, Suriben enters next week’s Far East High School Tennis Tournament bearing a virtual bull’s-eye on her uniform.

“Totally nervous,” she said Sunday. “Everybody’s going to Far East saying, ‘There’s Kristia, she’s the one to beat.’ Definitely, that puts a lot of pressure on me.”

So how does a defending champion go about business knowing the entire 48-player girls field is gunning for her?

“I just go in and play,” Suriben said. “I think about it right now but when I’m on the court, those thoughts disappear.”

Suriben, her Cobras teammates and players from 11 other Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific teams will take to the courts for four days starting Monday at Guam’s Ninete and Tiyan Tennis Centers, in a tournament that almost entirely mirrors 2005’s event, also on Guam.

The schools first will engage in 1½ days of Fed Cup/Davis Cup-style team play. Each school will designate two singles and two doubles players in championship- and consolation-bracket play.

That’s followed by 1½ days of doubles. The event concludes Thursday with singles play; the 15 players with the best win-loss records in the team competition qualify for singles.

On paper, E.J. King’s team — Suriben, her freshman sister Rizalina and doubles teammates Bria Smith and Melissa Williams — appears to be the one to beat.

“I’m confident,” Suriben said. “Our team is a lot stronger than it was last year. We have a lot of depth. All four of our girls can really play tennis.”

Kubasaki Rick Kendall, who coached Suriben for two seasons, agrees. “I’ve not seen any team top to bottom as good as that one,” he said. “They’ll really be hard to beat.”

Bu the boys competition could be a free-for-all:

¶ Defending team champion Seoul American returns half of the reigning doubles champion team in Aesop Lee and the doubles runner-up pair of Chris Paek and Song Ho Downes.

¶ With Garren Dial and Dennis Hirata, Nile C. Kinnick of Japan could have a say in things, as could Yokota’s Kenta Takahashi and Ken Brophy.

¶ Okinawa champion Kadena, with freshmen Kyle Trenor, Kyle Sprow, Alex Davis and Eliott Mason, could be a force.

Although Kinnick potentially is stronger now, Kadena’s “future looks very promising,” Kendall said. “If they have those players back, they’ll be hard to beat.”

Two Robert D. Edgren seniors feel the boys competition is up for grabs

“Anybody can win … one bad day can ruin it,” Thomas Harwell said.

“It’s wide open, especially in a sport like this,” Nathan Fine said.

A sampling of coaches and players supported this year’s format change. In 2005, coaches could substitute players at will during the team competition. Such a format could let a coach boost his chances of winning by going with only his better players.

This year, coaches must submit their singles and doubles rosters in advance, and they will be frozen.

“You should play all four players to see who’s the best team,” Fine said.

“It does change the dynamic,” Harwell said. “A coach has to … take a risk. But you get a truer measure of the team.”

Said Don Hobbs, DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council chair: “We don’t want to spend money to send four players to a tournament but play only two. … Winning is important but the focus should be on winning (and) participation.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Kendall said. “Now, everyone’s on the same page from Day 1.”

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