SHIRAKO, Japan – Kentaro Ishihara buzz-sawed his way through the Far East High School Tennis Tournament a year ago, winning all four of his matches, dropping just seven games and blanking former champion Kent Shikama 6-0, 6-0 in the boys singles title match.

But this season, Ishihara can’t be found among the single seeds at next week’s Far East. That’s because he’s playing doubles and mixed doubles, partly because of the skill and power of teammates Len Kamemoto and Yosuke Higashi, the latter a nationally ranked juniors player in Japan.

“That’s just how deep they are,” said Nile C. Kinnick coach Nico Hindie, one of many coaches and observers who feel the international-school boys field headed to Okinawa for Far East may be the strongest ever.

Aside from American School In Japan’s Ishihara, Higashi and Kamemoto, there’s Shikama of St. Mary’s International “who in any other year could be the champion,” Hindie said. “We’re just really deep this year in the Kanto.”

Higashi, who beat Kamemoto 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday in the Kanto Plain tournament, “looks untouchable,” Hindie said. “His groundstrokes are great and he has a lot of experience outside of our Kanto and DODDS leagues.”

Higashi puts his game on display starting Monday at Kadena Air Base’s Risner Tennis Complex. All players must play doubles and have the option of choosing singles or mixed doubles.

“They’re either going to live up to their billing and just going to tear it up (but) we’re going to have upsets along the way. We still have to play the matches,” coach Mark Lange of Matthew C. Perry said.

“We’re going to see some of these (players) face each other and knock each other off, and you’ll see a darkhorse or surprise from DODDS come in and make some noise at the tournament.”

Most of that noise should be made on the girls side, Hindie said, where a Guam High singles player could make school and tournament history. Senior Chloe Gadsden has won the last two singles titles and is going for a hat trick, and Hindie doesn’t see anybody stopping her.

“She’s incredibly strong,” Hindies said. “Chloe has this combination of groundstrokes, a lot of spin, a lot of power, good serve and she plays (year-round), so she has a lot of game experience. I don’t think there’s anybody going to Far East who can hold their own against her.”

Lange says he appreciates the fact that new tournament director Ed Thompson has published the bracket and lists of the teams’ Nos. 1 and 2 singles players and doubles pairs five days before the tournament starts.

“It actually builds excitement,” Lange said. “I’m able to tell my players and … they can already start thinking about and preparing for it.”

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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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