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Seoul American senior Willie Brown, the reigning Far East Class AA Tournament MVP, and the rest of the Falcons will try to repeat as Class AA champions at Yokota. It could be an uphill battle; the host team has won the title 12 times since 1982.

Seoul American senior Willie Brown, the reigning Far East Class AA Tournament MVP, and the rest of the Falcons will try to repeat as Class AA champions at Yokota. It could be an uphill battle; the host team has won the title 12 times since 1982. (Gary Cashman/Special to Stars and Stripes)

By Dave Ornauer, Stars and StripesPacific edition, Sunday, February 15, 2009

Want to win a Far East High School Class AA Basketball Tournament? The record shows that being the event’s host is a good platform toward achieving that goal:

Since 1986, Girls Class AA host teams have reached the title game 17 times; 12 emerged victorious, including the past seven. The boys’ host teams have hit Center Court 19 times, winning 12, since 1982.

"Wow," said coach Paul Ettl of Yokota, which hosts Boys Class AA for the first time since 1997; Yokota lost to Kubasaki in that final.

The Panthers, Ettl said, have wanted to host the tournament for "a long time," and got the support they needed from the school and base services.

"We’ve had a lot of help," Ettl said. "We’re happy to get the chance to host it."

Just what gives a host team an edge over the 15 visiting squads? The fact that the players are enjoying their normal routine is the biggest.

"They should be getting more sleep. They’re sleeping at home. They’re eating at home," said Ettl, who notes from his many years as a visiting coach: "At the end of the week, if you’re not sleeping and eating right, you’re out of gas."

Playing before familiar faces doesn’t hurt, either.

"You get more of a push from the home crowd while playing," said Veronica Tipton-Jones, whose Zama American Trojans are hosting the Girls Class AA tournament for the first time.

Basketball is a game of rhythm and routine, Ettl says. "Hopefully, by playing at home, we can stay in that normal routine and rhythm."

It also means not having to do split duty as surrogate parent, teacher and chaperone while coaching on the road at Far East.

"I’ve never had that before," Ettl said. "So I don’t know what that’s going to be like. I may feel like I’m lost while we’re not playing."

One area where road teams benefit is the chance to bond at Far East, perhaps the one thing working against a host team.

"We’ll do some team meetings and lunches" during the week, Ettl said.

Then, there’s wanting to put on as good a show for visiting teams as Ettl and tournament director Tim Pujol can.

"That puts pressure on the host coach," Tipton-Jones said. "You want to do a good tournament. There’s a lot of legwork to be done."

Zama has hosted DODDS-Japan softball tournaments before, "but that was five teams," she said. "We’ve hosted nothing of this magnitude."

Should Girls Class AA director Ed Fogell or Pujol be busy doing something, Tipton-Jones and Ettl become the answer people.

"I guess that’s the flip side of it," Ettl said.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Panthers boys (26-1) and Trojans girls (17-4) have enjoyed winning seasons, each team’s best record since 2005-06.

But there are dangers lurking in the distance. Seoul American’s boys (35-10) won the tournament last year and are hoping to win their first Class AA title on the road in 13 years.

Winning the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference tournament last week "kind of sets the stage," coach Steve Boyd said. "The way we played last weekend was a positive for us."

Four-time Class AA girls champion Faith Academy (35-0) just completed its first unbeaten regular season and will take aim at its first Class AA title since 2000.

Seoul American’s girls (25-1) may have to do without star senior forward Devanee’ Taylor (ankle), but have sufficient depth to overcome that, coach Billy Ratcliff said.

"She’s definitely making the trip with us," he said, adding that if she can’t play, "we’ll play with somebody else. It’s nice to have that situation."

Class AA tournament capsules

BoysDates: Feb. 16-21, 2009.Host: Yokota High School, Yokota Air Base, Japan.Sites: Capps Gym, Yokota High School, and Samurai Fitness & Sports Center, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Participating teams: Seoul American Falcons (defending champion, other titles in 1996, 2003 and 2004); Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Father Duenas Memorial Friars, Mangilao, Guam; Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan; Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Okkodo Bulldogs, Guam; Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Simon Sanchez Sharks, Yigo, Guam; St. Mary’s International Titans, Tokyo; American School In Japan Mustangs, Tokyo; Guam High Panthers, Asan, Guam; John F. Kennedy Islanders, Upper Tumon, Guam; Southern Dolphins, Agat, Guam; Faith Academy Vanguards, Rizal, Philippines.

Returning All-Far East players: Seaun Eddy, American School In Japan (two-time selection); DeEric Harvin, Yokota; Willie Brown, Seoul American (reigning MVP).

Format: Round-robin, 16 teams split into four pools of four teams each, first two days. Modified single-elimination playoffs with consolation, last four days.

Schedule: First pool-play games 9 a.m. Monday. Opening ceremony 9 a.m. Tuesday, followed by three-point long-distance shootout and free-throw competition, Capps Gym. Last pool-play games, 6 p.m. Tuesday. First playoff games, 9 a.m. Wednesday. Championship game, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Closing ceremony follow.

Awards: Trophies to top eight teams. Most Valuable Player, 16-player All-Tournament team, skills competition winners, Team Sportsmanship Award.

GirlsDates: Feb. 16-21, 2009.Host: Zama American High School, Camp Zama, Japan.Sites: Yano Fitness Center and Trojans Gymnasium, Zama American High School, Camp Zama, and Ranger Fitness & Sports Center, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan.

Participants: Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Faith Academy Vanguards, Rizal, Philippines; Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa (defending champion); Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; John F. Kennedy Islanders, Upper Tumon, Guam; Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea; Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo; American School In Japan Mustangs, Tokyo; Guam High Panthers, Asan, Guam; Simon Sanchez Sharks, Yigo, Guam; Notre Dame Royals, Talofofo, Guam; George Washington Geckos, Mangilao, Guam; Southern Dolphins, Agat, Guam.

Returning All-Tournament players: Devanee’ Taylor (two-time selection), Liz Gleaves, Seoul American; Retsel Alvarez, Kubasaki; Lorien McKinney, Kadena.

Format: Round-robin play, 16 teams divided into four pools of four teams each, first two days. Modified single-elimination playoffs with consolation, last four days.

Schedule: Opening ceremony 6 p.m. Sunday. First round-robin games, 9 a.m. Monday; last round-robin games, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Playoffs begin, 9 a.m. Wednesday. Championship game, 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Closing ceremony to follow.

Awards: Trophies to top eight teams, Most Valuable Player, 15 All-Tournament players, Team Sportsmanship Award, skills competition winners.

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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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