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DODEA-Japan bragging rights at stake as tourneys open

Nile C. Kinnick's Olivia Ouellette shoots against E.J. King's Diamond Williams during Thursday's DODEA-Japan tournament girls playoff game. The Red Devils won 35-18.

DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 7, 2019

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – While the girls title in this weekend’s DODEA-Japan basketball tournament appears to be Zama’s to lose, the boys championship looks to be a tossup.

E.J. King’s, Robert D. Edgren’s and host Nile C. Kinnick’s boys entered the tournament a combined 48-7. The Cobras’ and Eagles’ lone losses came against the Red Devils, while Kinnick lost once to King and twice to Humphreys in the Kanto Classic two weeks ago.

It seemed only right that the Cobras and Eagles opened the DODEA-Japan Tournament at 10:15 a.m. Thursday; of the three favored teams, King and Edgren had yet to face each other this season.

“With the format a true double (elimination), we want to see what they’ve got right away,” said coach Andre Thibert of the Eagles boys, 10-3 this season after losing twice to Kinnick at home last weekend.

“You’re going to end up facing everybody in the tournament anyway.”

Things did not go the Eagles’ way; the Cobras got 26 points - 11 in the second period - from senior Dyson Robinson in a 54-38 win over Edgren. King won its round-robin pool at 2-0; the Eagles finished last at 0-2.

Having waited until February to finally square off, it turns out the Eagles and Cobras will see much of each other the next two weekends. Edgren flies to southwestern Japan to play King on Feb. 15-16.

“This is what it’s supposed to be like,” said Travis Elliott, first-year coach of the Cobras, who at 19-1 entered the DODEA-Japan finals with the best record among DODEA and international-school teams. “These games are fun. We’re really looking forward to it.”

The three-day event began Thursday with pool play for seeding purposes, the six boys and girls teams divided into pools of three teams each. Double-elimination play started Thursday evening and continues through the championship games Saturday afternoon.

The tournament behaves as a dress rehearsal for Far East play, Elliott said. Five of the 10 Division II teams, including King, are in the field.

“Just to learn about them, see how they operate,” Elliott said of the benefits of facing Edgren right away. The Cobras could end up playing Edgren at least three more times in the tournament, plus the next weekend at Sasebo. “We’ll see a lot of them before Far East,” he said.

The Red Devils (20-3 entering DODEA-Japan) and Cobras split a pair of games at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni earlier this season. The last 10 minutes of their second game, which Kinnick pulled away to win 54-34 on Jan. 12, is what Elliott says his team needs to focus on.

“We know we have to go back and take care of what went wrong,” Elliott said. “We’re good, but they’re good also. May the best team win. We’re excited to see Edgren and go against Kinnick again.”

Zama by far and away had the best Japan girls win-loss record at 16-4 entering the tournament, including 10-0 in regular-season games against DODEA-Japan opponents.

But coach Daisy Whitaker-Hayes says that’s no guarantee the Trojans will win this tournament.

“We have to come out, play our ‘A’ game and minimize mistakes,” Whitaker-Hayes said. “Turnovers, missed layups, bad passes. We need to work on those.”

The Trojans swept both games in their pool, pounding King 53-27 and Edgren 39-5. And Whitaker-Hayes said she was pleasantly surprised at the performance of her second-line players.

“They did better than the starters did,” she said. “They (substitutes) played hard and put up a good bit of points. We can always improve, (but) yes, I’m happy.”

For the rest of the region, basketball titles have pretty much been wrapped up. Kadena visits Kubasaki on Friday, the two schools facing each other for the final time this regular season; the Panthers boys and girls teams have each swept their series thus far.

On the mats, Yokota and Zama head north to Edgren for a weekend showdown that includes a pair of Japanese teams. Korea wrestling holds the first of back-to-back weekend quad meets at Humphreys on Saturday.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

E.J. King's Gabi Shultz and Nile C. Kinnick's Kiana Johnson reach for the ball during Thursday's DODEA-Japan tournament girls playoff game. The Red Devils won 35-18.
DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES

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