The Kadena Panthers soared to new Far East tournament heights this fall, and players and coaches say the success stems from the three C’s — consistency, continuity and confidence.

Kadena became the first Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific squad to win every title in a Far East cross country meet and the first to repeat as overall team champion.

The Panthers tennis team became first DODDS-Pacific squad to capture the team title — it’s first in 15 years — and have a player win an individual gold medal — sophomore Amy Lopes.

“We all felt like we should win it,” senior tennis player Anthony Soroka said of the Panthers’ 55-53 team victory over Seoul American.

Following a second-place finish in 2003, Soroka said, “We gave extra hours of practice. ... We had a chance to win. We gave it our all.”

“We just had a confidence. Not cocky, just confident,” said junior runner Niki Kauzlarich, who joined senior Jon Turner as individual cross country champs and led Kadena’s overall team title victory over Nile C. Kinnick and Yokota of Japan.

Kadena also won the team relay and boys and girls team titles and placed a record eight runners on the All-Far East team — every honor up for grabs in the cross country meet.

The foundation for the Panthers’ dual 2004 championships might have been laid in 2001, when runners Turner and Devon Copeland and tennis players Lori Kanikkeberg and Travis Dang entered Kadena as freshmen.

The tennis team then was “struggling,” coach Hoa Nguyen said. “We had to rebuild from scratch.”

Nguyen was able to hang on to Dang and Kanikkeberg their entire high school years — unusual for a community in which transfers are the norm. Along the way, Soroka, Lopes and others joined the mix.

“Having the same players for three or four years makes a lot of difference,” Nguyen said.

More players also came out for the team — 33 this year compared with 10 in 2001. Attracting players, he said, “is easier when you have a winning program.”

Lopes and Kanikkeberg put the Panthers over the top.

“They sparked them, gave them more confidence than some other teams had,” said Bruce Barker, whose Osan American team placed fourth. “On any given day, anybody can be beaten. But they were the dominant players in the tournament.”

That Far East would be limited only to DODDS-Pacific teams this year just gave the Panthers’ teams an even bigger confidence boost, Kanikkeberg said.

“I knew Amy and I worked on our game a lot and we were pretty confident,” she said. “But when we found out about the international schools [not participating], we felt we could do really well.”

The cross-country team has consistently won island championships but has come up short in Far East meets. A sign that could change this year was when 56 runners came out for the team — more than Kadena’s two football teams combined.

“Teams that win, you get more runners to come out, and they push each other to do better,” coach Tom McKinney said.

Kadena’s cross country team has won and gotten better. With Turner, Kauzlarich and Copeland, the Panthers have a 27-meet unbeaten streak that started in the 2002 Far East meet. They entered this year’s championships expecting to win.

“We’ve raised the standard,” Turner said.

“Kadena’s definitely a cut above the rest,” agreed John Thek, who has coached Yokota since 1978. “They’ve given notice to the rest of the DODDS teams: If you want to beat us, you’re going to have to train and give it everything you’ve got.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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