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For six years, Mat Luebbers has brought the Okinawa Dolphins to the annual American Swim Council at Japan’s Junior Olympic swim meet in Tokyo, knowing his outnumbered team has little chance of winning the overall championship.

“We go there with the idea in mind of improving personal bests, looking at how much better we can do as individual swimmers, comparing themselves to themselves,” said Luebbers, whose Dolphins placed eighth among 14 teams in the 2003 meet at St. Mary’s International School.

It was the highest finish for a Department of Defense school or youth team. With 46 swimmers, the Dolphins garnered 326 points, well ahead of their nearest DOD competitor, the Yokosuka Seahawks, who ended with 62, but far behind the host International Buccaneers, with 1,376.5 points.

That’s to be expected, Luebbers said, from a team like the Buccaneers, composed of 110 swimmers from St. Mary’s and Seisen International schools who stay in the program for many years.

“It would be more fun if you can win a bunch of events, but we’re still not there yet,” Luebbers said.

“We’re in a military situation, where kids aren’t around long enough to get into a routine, but they improve every year and they have fun up there every time they go. You can’t make somebody else go slower, but you can make yourself go faster.”

Among DOD swimmers, Sarah Arant of the Yokota Stingrays placed highest, finishing third in the 15- to 18-year-old girls individual high-point standings. She also took third in the 50-meter freestyle.

The Dolphins’ top performer was Connor Cackovic, who wound up ninth among in the 9-10 boys division. Cackovic posted second-place finishes in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races.

Charles Zoboblish, 11th in the 15-18 boys high-point standings, had the only other top-three finish for the Dolphins in an individual race, claiming third in the 100-meter backstroke.

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