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Not since the 1996-97 season have the E.J. King boys and girls basketball teams won Far East Class A tournament championships in the same season.

At least on paper, this could be the year, the teams’ coaches say. Each squad has a wealth of experience, particularly at guard. But international schools, which long have dominated the tournament, again could loom as roadblocks.

Among them are:

¶ Faith Academy of the Philippines, which won the 2003 girls Class A title and came in second behind defending champion Taegu American last year. Sacred Heart captured the title in 2004.

¶ Faith’s boys won the past two Class A titles, while St. Paul Christian of Guam edged E.J. King in 2004, and Morrison Christian Academy of Taiwan won in 2002.

“Those are championship teams,” said Cobras boys coach Daren Schuettpelz. “And this year, we want to be a championship team, not just a middle-of-the-road team. It will definitely be a challenge.”

Bridget Vertin, in her third season at the Cobras’ girls team’s helm, said she asked her players to name their season’s goal, “and the answer was unanimous: They want to win Far East. With our senior leadership, they’re more focused than ever.”

The Cobras teams have five Class A tournament titles, the girls winning in 1993, ’95 and ’97 and the boys in ’97 and 2000. And their rosters are heavy with both talent and experience.

Vertin’s backcourt has not just one Suriben but two: two-time All-Class A tournament junior Kristia and freshman Rizalina. Add the leadership and strong inside play of seniors Christina Renick, Denise Artillaga and All-Class A senior Yudia Johnson and the Cobras have perhaps their strongest roster since that last 1997 champion team.

“We have a lot more quickness. We’re a better defensive team,” Vertin said, citing Riza Suriben’s addition as a key factor. “She covers the floor and is quick. She’s an awesome defensive player and she’s learning the offense.”

Is this the year? Vertin expressed optimism, coupled with a sense of urgency: She plans to marry a Naval officer in December and will transfer in June.

“My senior season,” she joked. “We have a lot to work on. We can’t peak too early. [But] they have the talent and skills to be that team.”

Schuettpelz’s boys roster is laden with juniors, including veterans Fernando Rico and Dominique Johnson in the backcourt and Marquis Singletary in the paint. Of Schuettpelz’s 12 players, only four will graduate.

But waving an experience-loaded roster won’t frighten the likes of Faith or St. Paul, he said.

“They come out really aggressively, put you on the defensive,” Schuettpelz said. “You have to limit what they do, good passing, hit your shots, play aggressively on offense and defense ... throw them off their game so you can work on yours.”

Benefitting both Cobras teams will be regular play against Yokota, Zama American, Nile C. Kinnick and Robert D. Edgren — all Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Japan teams that will be in the Far East tourney.

“If we can do well against those schools, it will give the team more confidence going into Far East,” Schuettpelz said.

Far East Class A basketball capsulesJapan

Boys

Matthew C. Perry SamuraiIwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan2005-06 season record: 7-20, 1-13 Japan Basketball League, 6th at Class A tournament.Coach: Scott Sanders, first season.Key returners: Justin Narciso, Sr., PG; Daniel Clark, Sr., F; Mike Duncan, Sr., G.Key newcomer: Carlton Hayes, Fr., C.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Good experience, strong inside; key will be guard play, getting ball inside or hitting outside shots when zone defenses collapse on big men.

E.J. King CobrasSasebo Naval Base, Japan2005-06 season record: 13-12, 3-6 JBL, 7th at Class A tournament.Coach: Daren Schuettpelz, third season.Key returners: Fernando Rico, Jr., G; Dominique Johnson, Jr., G; Marquis Singletary, Jr., F.Key newcomers: Josh Julias, Sr.; Thomas Clayton, So.Outlook: Contending. Most experienced squad the Cobras have had since winning last Class A title in 2000.

Girls

E.J. King CobrasSasebo Naval Base, Japan2005-06 season record: 16-12, 6-5 JBL, 7th at Class A tournament.Coach: Bridget Vertin, third season.Key returners: Kristia Suriben, Jr., G; Christina Renick, Sr., F-C; Denise Artillaga, Sr., F; Yudia Johnson, Sr., F-C.Key newcomers: Rizalina Suriben, Fr., G; Casey Alexander, Fr., G; Arlexia Gray, Fr., C.Outlook: Contending. Strong mix of senior leadership and athletic underclassmen make Cobras good bet to make run at first Class A title since 1997.

Matthew C. Perry SamuraiIwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan2005-06 season record: 13-19, 2-13 JBL, 8th at Class A tournament.Coach: Nikki Flick, second season.Key returners: Cristina Sindac, Sr., SG; Ashley Taylor, Sr., F-C; Kiara Lacey, Sr., F-G; DeAndrea Taylor, So., F-G.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Made great strides in Flick’s first season and could pose an outside threat to return to Class A title game for first time since taking second in 2002.

South Korea

Boys

Taegu American WarriorsCamp George, South Korea2005-06 season record: 10-16, 6th in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I, 8th at Class A tournament.

Coach: Phillip Loyd, first season.Key returners: Will Galbreath, So., G; Angel Hickman, Jr., G.Outlook: Rebuilding. Team’s fortunes will rest largely on quick development of squad comprised largely of newcomers.

Osan American CougarsOsan Air Base, South Korea2005-06 season record: 7-16, 7th in KAIAC Division I, 5th in Class A tournament.Coach: James Corrigan, first season.Key returners: Eddie DeChristopher, Sr., F; Brian Elkins, Sr., G.Outlook: Rebuilding. More than half the squad is sophomores, no players taller than 6-foot-1.

Girls

Osan American CougarsOsan Air Base, South Korea2005-06 season record: 13-13, 4th in KAIAC Division I, 6th at Class A tournament.Coach: Bruce Barker, 12th season.Key returners: Dawn Moore, Jr., G; Celine Baldevia, Jr., G; Andrea Pace, Jr., F-G.

Key newcomer: Starlet Davis, So.Outlook: Rebuilding. Losing freshman Jessica Richert to transfer last spring served crushing blow to Cougars’ inside game.

Taegu American WarriorsCamp George, South Korea2005-06 season record: 24-9, 2nd in KAIAC Division I, defending Class A tournament champion.Coach: Michelle Chandler, eighth season.

Key returner: Lisa Rios, So., G.Key newcomers: LaShae Denson, Fr., F; Jamie Cheinault, Fr., F; Ashley Smith, So., G-F; Sarah Eades, So., PG.Outlook: Rebuilding. After best season in school history, Warriors starting from scratch.

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