All season, Sharon Kroening and Brieanna Carroll have played a game of “Can you top this?” in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference.
Now, the super sophomore strikers take their high-octane road show to the biggest stage of all: the Class A Far East High School Soccer Tournament. The three-day event, for boys and girls, begins Monday at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan.
Kroening has 16 goals for defending Class A champion Osan American (8-3-2). Carroll, an All-Far East striker who scored 26 goals in 2002, scored 18 this season to power Pusan American (8-0-1) to the second-best mark in Korea behind Seoul Foreign (11-0-1).
Osan and Pusan are the clear favorites in a four-team girls field. Six boys teams will battle for Class A supremacy. The championship round unfolds Wednesday, with the girls clash at 10 a.m. and boys battle at noon.
The Lady Cougars and Lady Panthers are hardly strangers, having already played once this season, a 1-1 tie on March 14, with Carroll getting the tying goal in the 53rd minute.
While Carroll and Kroening figure to be the focal points in the tournament, neither can win the title alone.
“Like any other game, we’ll need to work as a team and learn to not break down,” Kroening said. “I think all we need to focus on is becoming really aggressive and giving it all our hearts.”
But how do they contain the speedy Carroll, a three-sport standout who’s scored 44 goals over two seasons?
“Man on,” Kroening said. “Someone to stay on her throughout the game.”
Carroll said she’s aware of the attention she’ll likely draw, particularly from the Lady Cougars. “I’ve been watching the tape of our game a lot,” she said.
Knocking off the defending champion, Carroll said, requires a fundamental formula: “We have to shut down the passes in the middle, the crosses, and work it up more on our side.”
In the boys bracket, striker Andrew Wiese of South Korea’s Taejon Christian International — a first-time entry — is also expected to make a splash. The senior exchange student has scored 16 goals and dished out seven assists for the Dragons (8-3), who’ve won seven straight to open the KAIAC season.
Mike Elkins, an All-Far East senior with eight assists for the Osan boys (5-6-1), has seen it before — a Christian school as the token non-Department of Defense Education Activity-Pacific entry bulldozing its way to the title. The Christian Academy in Japan dominated the 2002 tournament.
Will history repeat itself with TCIS?
“I think so,” said Elkins, whose team fell 6-0 to TCIS on March 12 at Taejon in their only meeting of the season. “They are really good.”
Weise, in particular, feasted on the Cougars, scoring goals four minutes apart early in the first half, then getting a third goal in the 63rd minute.
Elkins said the Cougars can’t afford to give TCIS open looks the next time around.
“Every time one of our defenders was out of position or something, they got a goal,” Elkins said. Osan’s title hopes rest on a simple mantra.
“Not giving up,” Elkins said. “Always going after the ball and stuff. We can’t afford to let down, make a mistake or let them have an opening.”