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Defending champion Kubasaki and fellow Final Four finishers Seoul American and Kadena have obstacles to overcome before they can return to the 2005 Far East Girls Class AA Tournament semifinals.

Each has plenty of talent but also some important parts to replace and some adjusting to do along the way:

¶ Kadena must make up for the loss of do-everything point guard Theresa Gittens, three-point sharpshooter Katie LaGrave and defensive specialist Kim Lyle.

¶ Charlotte Hicks and Seoul American must replace the height that helped carry the Falcons to a fourth straight third-place Class AA finish: Whitney Blain graduated, and Ashley Grandy transferred.

“We’re going to have to run,” said Hicks, who said she’s seeking some tune-up games with Korean schools who “can come in and run us to death.”

¶ And a season after capturing its first Class AA crown since 1993, Kubasaki finds itself reduced from trees to shrubs. Tall post players Shanea McDaniel, Shanon Sumter and Monique Pearson graduated and Atana Grady transferred, leaving the Dragons also without much height.

“Last year, we had six impact players and a big back line,” Driggs said. “It’s going to take some adjusting and playing a different style.”

That appears to be a common theme among title contenders.

Kadena and Kubasaki broke out of the gate smartly: After dropping their Okinawa-American League openers to Japanese teams, the Panthers took first place and the Dragons third in the 35th Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament.

It gave Driggs, especially, a good look at what he thinks can be a ballclub that can challenge for a repeat Class AA crown, but not without a great deal of work.

“We’re back to that puzzle,” the four-time Class AA title coach said. “It was nice having those dominant backliners, the rebounding, the shot-blocking. We have to put the parts together and play differently from the way we did.”

That will mean having junior Kristi McNair and senior Erin Foote in the backcourt and senior forward Ka’leen Mathieu get out and run the floor to try to force opponents into mistakes — a far cry from last season’s half-court offense and tight zone defenses.

“I don’t think we’ll sweep them off the court, but we have the potential,” Driggs said. “Last year was one of those premium years. Hopefully, we’ll get some things together.”

Seoul American will host the Class AA tournament this season, giving Hicks and her players an advantage they have never had.

“It’s wonderful to say we’re going to be here, we don’t have to worry about the hassle of catching planes, get up at 6 a.m. to get to wherever they have to be by 8 p.m. It’s nice,” she said. “They can be relaxed, they can be in an environment that they’re used to.”

Though short on height, the team has the experience and skill of seniors Amy Bakameyer in the backcourt and Janel Daniels up front.

But for the first time since Seoul International’s three-year title run ended in 1992, the Falcons face formidable league opponents in Osan American and Taegu American. “We may get beat a few times, which will be good for us,” Hicks said.

In one practice, she ran her charges until they were gasping.

“And they never gave up, which was nice,” she said. “But it’s a young group of kids. They have potential. It’s how it develops.”

Nor is Kadena’s cupboard bare, with Britney McCauley and sisters Dianne and Jen Abel in the backcourt and experienced veterans Sherlissa Dukes, Alison Montes de Oca and Liz Cotto up front.

But how to replace such key components as LaGrave, Gittens and Lyle?

“You don’t try,” said Panthers assistant coach Chrystal Smith, herself an All-Air Force player. “You just be thankful for the talent that you have and press on with the season.”

A look at the teams ...


Seoul American Falcons,Yongsan Garrison, South Korea

Coach: Charlotte Hicks, 19th season.

Last season: Overall, 24-4; league, 14-0; first in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference; third in Far East Class AA tournament.

Key returners: Amy Bakameyer, senior, guard; Janel Daniels, senior, forward; Chivonne Floyd, junior, guard-forward; Colleen McNulty, sophomore, guard; Whitney Smith, senior, center.

Key newcomers: Erica Anglade, freshman, guard; Angelae Law, freshman, guard; Germany Tillman, junior, guard.

Outlook: Not much height, so will have to run the floor. May find league opposition to be stronger than in past years, but should contend for their 13th straight league title and a Final Four Class AA finish on their home court.


Kubasaki Dragons,Camp Foster, Okinawa

Coach: Bob Driggs, 14th season.

Last season: Overall, 22-6; Okinawa-American League, 6-2; Okinawa Activities Council, 1-3; defending Far East Class AA Tournament champions.

Key returners: Erin Foote, senior, guard; Kristi McNair, junior, guard; Ka’leen Mathieu, senior, forward; Kimi Cece, sophomore, guard.

Key newcomers: Brandi Amos, junior, guard; Raeanne Tajalle, freshman, guard; Raelene Tajalle, freshman, guard; Serafina Smith, senior, post.

Outlook: Quite a change from a lineup packed with tall trees to one bereft of such height. Driggs will adjust accordingly, run the floor and play pressure defense to compensate.

Kadena Panthers,Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

Coach: Ken Hudson, third season.

Last season: Overall, 18-9; Okinawa-American League, 5-1; Okinawa Activities Council, 3-1; fourth in Far East Class AA Tournament.

Key returners: Dianne Abel, junior, guard; Jennifer Abel, sophomore, guard; Sherlissa Dukes, senior, guard; Britney McCauley, senior, guard; Alison Montes de Oca, junior, forward; Liz Cotto, junior, forward.

Outlook: Panthers will miss leadership of Theresa Gittens, defense of Kim Lyle and shooting of Katie LaGrave, all graduated, but Kadena has gotten out of gate smartly with Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament title. Panthers have moved on.


Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils,Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan

Coach: Henry Falk, sixth season.

Last season: Overall, 29-4; Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 17-0; Japan League, 8-0; first in JBL and Kanto Plain, fifth in Far East Class AA Tournament.

Key returners: Lualhati Johnson, junior, guard; Jasmine Jordan, senior, guard; Corinne Ray, senior, forward; Ashley Melin, senior, forward; Charlemagne Cameron, sophomore, guard.

Key newcomers: Tomika Lynce, freshman, guard; Sarah Greenert, junior guard.

Outlook: Athleticism and leadership of graduated Carol Tully will be missed, but incoming Lynce has potential to be key ingredient to complement Johnson’s shooting and Jordan’s ballhandling. Good mix of veterans and new blood. Likely to contend for league and Class AA titles.

Yokota Panthers,Yokota Air Base, Japan

Coach: Ricardo Cabral, third season.

Last season: Overall, 13-13; Japan League, 5-5; Kanto Plain, 9-6; fourth in JBL, second in Kanto.

Key returners: Cari Bruschuk, senior, guard; Darlene Seeley, senior, guard; Naima Ham, senior; Jena Koning, junior; China Roach, junior; Victoria Sanders, junior.

Key newcomers: Andrevia Thomas, senior; Kiki Howell, freshman; Charlotte Taylor, freshman.

Outlook: Panthers will again lack height, but plenty of athleticism in incoming Thomas, who also starred in volleyball. Bruschuk and Seeley provide leadership and experience. Pedigree comes into play regarding coaching; Cabral was a three-time All-Air Force player. Good mix of veterans and youth, all coachable.

Zama American Trojans,Camp Zama, Japan

Coaches: Parrish and Veronica Jones, second season.

Last season: Overall, 13-14; Japan League, 7-4; Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 7-9; second in JBL, fourth in Kanto.

Key returners: Kate Shicks, junior, guard; Elli Legaspi, junior, guard.

Key newcomers: Tiffany Wright, junior, center; Savannah Stockland, junior, center-power forward.

Outlook: Trojans boast a good balanced lineup, but seven players from last year’s team have left. Handful of players who haven’t played much ball and a lack of experience on the bench might hinder them.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles,Misawa Air Base, Japan

Coach: Sarah Richardson, 15th season.

Last season: Overall, 15-14; Japan League, 11-7; third in JBL.

Key returners: Samantha Johnson, senior, forward; Kalilah Gaines, junior, center; Gerralyn Calhoun, junior, forward; Stephanie Patrick, junior, guard; Brandi Calhoun, sophomore, guard; Krystine Horsley, sophomore, guard.

Key newcomers: Monica Hayes, freshman, guard; Ashley Aldana, senior, forward, Latriva Calhoun, sophomore, forward.

Outlook: A few nagging injuries have hindered development in practice, but Richardson foresees a young team that will work hard and be more competitive and experienced than last year.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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