CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Rarely is the word “rebuilding” heard from the lips of the coaches of Okinawa’s powerhouse high school soccer teams.

There’s good reason for that. Only twice have non-Okinawa teams won Far East Class AA Tournament titles — Christian Academy in Japan’s boys in 2005 and 2007. Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s girls have run the table, winning all eight titles.

So, is there such a thing as a rebuilding year in Panthers or Dragons soccer country?

“We call it reloading,” said Terry Chumley, coach of defending Class AA girls champion Kubasaki.

Okinawa, with its temperate weather and many playing opportunities, is built for soccer, Dragons boys coach Chris Kelly said.

“You have great talent, you have great weather, you can play year-round and for the most part, they are,” Kelly said.

If they’re not kicking the ball around among one another, they’re playing six-on-six tournaments at Camp Schwab. Some matriculate with the Diplomats U-14 program on island. Others play for Japanese club teams in town.

“They get their touches. They come in to the season in shape,” Kelly said. “We have homegrown talents, and we get some great move-ins.”

For every Kara Koeneke (22 goals) and Natalie Monti who transfer to the States, along comes a Bridget Ramirez from California or a Maya Lowe from one of Okinawa’s developmental programs.

Combined with holdover senior Jessica Osborne (15 goals) and junior Rina Ihu (11), a run at the school’s fourth Class AA title is within the conversation.

“They’re committed, surely,” Chumley said.

Similarly, Kubasaki’s boys were blessed by the PCS plane in the form of junior midfielder Cody Sadler and his senior defender brother, Colton.

They come from Fallbrook High near San Diego, tailor-made to replace graduated midfielder Michael Derr (11 goals, 7 assists) and transferred midfielder Brent Foote.

“Cody is a playmaking midfielder-forward who can help us at any position,” Kelly said. “Colt is a big, strong, physical guy, just like Brent. He gives us that right back.”

On the Kadena side, for every Alex Mierzejewski who moves on to Brigham Young-Hawaii, along comes a Patrick Reynolds, a junior who moved in from England, where the sport is somewhat popular.

Even without Reynolds, coach Tom McKinney refuses to buy into the notion that teams rebuild from time to time, especially at Kadena, which has won three Class AA boys titles, and expectations are high.

“They’d better have some skill, or they won’t make the team,” he said. “They have to already have the skill; we just need to work on the team’s chemistry.”

A secret to Kadena’s success, two titles and two runner-up finishes since 2004, has been turning athletes from other sports into stars on the pitch. Jamil Barney is better known for basketball, as is Jacob Bloom for wrestling; Barney doubles as a fullback and Bloom a midfielder.

“If they’re athletes, you can teach them pretty much what you want” in soccer, McKinney said.

Rebuilding may come closest to applying to Kadena’s girls, five-time Class AA champions who, for the first time since 2002, won’t field a player named Abel. Dianne graduated in 2006 and Jen, with Pacific season and career goal records (83, 192), left last June.

But fielding nine freshman, six of whom will be starting, bodes well for Kadena’s future, Panthers’ 10th-year coach Hoa Nguyen said.

“We will be competitive. We will not fold,” Nguyen said. “These young players, I expect them to reach that next level if they want to be competitive. We have to work hard to make sure those new players learn my system.”

So, who might reach up and take down Kadena and Kubasaki?

Seoul American’s girls, with 13 returnees including senior Erica Anglade (26 goals) and Daegu American transfer Sarah Eades (16) could be the best team on Lori Rogers’ seven-year watch.

“I expect a lot of success this year,” Rogers said.

Zama American’s girls return six players, including Japan season scoring record-holder Aubrey Ashliman (50). Her freshman sister, Mallarie, and sophomore midfielder Whitney McWherter headline a mostly underclass squad with a full year under coach Vanessa Little.

“They’ve worked together on the same teams for so long,” Little said of the Ashlimans and McWherter.

On the boys side, Yokota bids farewell to four-year star Stefan Welch, but with a solid cadre of returnees plus the addition of sophomore Jimmy Niescier and freshmen Andre Gomez and Yuuki Chase, the Panthers feel they’re built for now and the future, coach Tim Pujol said.

The youngsters are “pretty talented, similar to Stefan when he came in” in 2004, Pujol said. “They have good experience and a good feel for the game. We have a pretty promising team for now and years to come.”

Far East Class AA soccer capsules(Click to jump ahead to girls team capsules)



Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base

2007 record: 23-6-1, DODDS-Japan Soccer League champion, third in Far East Class AA tournament.Coach: Tim Pujol, seventh season.Key returners: Riki Byrnes, Sr., midfield (8 goals, 11 assists); Tony Presnell, Jr. midfield (6 goals); Jason Stroup, Sr., midfield (13 goals, 9 assists); Kenta Takahashi, Sr.; Jaybie Kurishima, Sr.; Jon Bernardo, Sr.; Jimmy Vosti, Sr.; Trey Sauls, Jr., goalkeeper.Key newcomers: Yuuki Chase, Fr.; Andre Gomez, Fr.; Jimmy Niescier, So.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Panthers will again be in the mix with a good senior veteran core; must replace four-year starting center-midfielder Stefan Welch (28 goals, 12 assists). Sauls gives Panthers the same goalie in back-to-back seasons for the first time in five years. Addition of already skilled youth, including Chase, mirrors the arrival of Welch in the 2004 season.Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base

2007 record: 6-13-3, 10th in Far East.Coach: Shane Hernandez, second season.Key returners: Shane Thrift, Sr., goalkeeper; Rafael Friedenfels, Sr., fullback; Will Garroutte, Sr., fullback; Lyle Bacaltos, Jr., fullback; Jay Pothula, So., midfielder; Ivan Rivera, Sr., midfielder; Jon Tisue, Sr., midfielder; Pornchai Nonphayak, Jr., forward (7 goals); Dylan Haug, Jr., forward.Key newcomers: Seth Bell, So.; Chris Del Toro, Fr.; Devery Williams, Jr.; Kyle Wessells, Jr.; David Bailey, Fr.; Collin Garroutte, So.; Breaden Stanford, Fr.; Robert Miranda, Fr.; Nat Rivera, Fr.; Daniel King, Jr.Outlook: Rebuilding. Plenty of youth to mold into a new power. Skills of departed seniors Daniel Appleman (7 goals, 14 assists) and Sam McAvoy (6 goals) will be tough to replace.Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Naval Air Facility Atsugi

2007 record: 12-8-1, seventh in Far East.Coach: Michael Pope, first season.Key returners: Daniel Polaski, Sr., forward (10 goals); Jon Kimball, Sr., midfielder-fullback (8 goals); Hoon Patterson, Jr., wing-fullback; Keith Barrett, Jr., fullback; Shawn Kee, Sr., midfield (7 goals, 9 assists); Josh Johnson, Sr., goalkeeper-fullback; Daniel Dulay, Jr., goalkeeper-midfielder; Spenser Clark, Jr., wing (6 assists).Key newcomers: Zachary Woods, So., forward; Tyler Myers, Fr., forward; Rafael Keiji, Fr., forward-wing.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Good, solid veteran core ready to take the next step.Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base

2007 record: 8-9-5, ninth in Far East.Coach: Justin Edmonds, first season.Key returners: Brandon Massie, So., forward (27 goals); Daniel Draper, Sr., midfielder; Andrew Verbeek, Sr., midfield; Trent Kurek, So., midfield; Jamaal Dennis, So., goalkeeper.Key newcomers: Andrew Blankenship, Sr., sweeper; Cheston Nurial-Dacalio, So., forward; Charles Artiles, So., defense.Outlook: Reloading. Massie’s scoring touch will keep the Eagles in every match, but losing sweeper Chris Tobiere (transfer) and midfielder Nathan Fine (graduation) will hurt. Blankenship brings experience as a football and wrestling wrecking ball to the pitch.Okinawa

Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster

2007 record: 14-5-10, fifth in Far East.Coach: Chris Kelly, third season.Key returners: Rimar West, Jr., forward (11 goals); Mitch Shibley, Jr., forward (12 goals); Jacob Hess, Jr., midfielder (8 goals, 4 assists); Eddie Balfour, Jr., midfielder (6 goals); David Krievs, Jr., fullback; Brian Shibley, Sr., defense.Key newcomers: Colton Sadler, Sr., defense; Cody Sadler, Jr., midfielder; transferred to Kubasaki from Fallbrook High in north San Diego County, Calif.Outlook: Contending. Mike Derr and Corey Harter depart, the Sadler Bros. slide right into the rotation; Kubasaki takes aim at first Class AA tournament title in six years. School-record 10 tied matches last season.Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base

2007 record: 12-5-6, second in Far East.Coach: Tom McKinney, second season.Key returners: Stanley Schrock, So., forward (19 goals, won Class AA tournament Golden Boot award); Jacob Bloom, Sr., midfielder-forward; Jamil Barney, Jr., fullback.Key newcomer: Patrick Reynolds, Jr., forward (transferred from England).Outlook: Contending. Panthers remain strong in the middle, relying on solid veteran core and athletes from other sports McKinney continues to mold into soccer players.South Korea

Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison

2007 record: 13-7-2, sixth in Far East.Coach: Robert Victoria, first season (coached previously at Robert D. Edgren and E.J. King in Japan).Key returners: Daniel Burns, Sr. forward; (9 goals); Chris Churchwell, Sr., midfielder-forward (18 goals, 5 assists); Preston Wolford, Sr., forward; (9 goals); Sae Hee Ahn, Sr., midfielder; Shawn Grandy, Sr., sweeper; Charles Mills, Sr., fullback; Matthew Park, Sr., fullback; Greg Pennington, goalkeeper; Jonathan Yi, goalkeeper.Key newcomers: Willie Rios, midfielder-forward; Joseph Han, midfielder; Nate Brant, midfielder; Seok Hwa Ko, midfielder-forward.Outlook: Contending, at least within Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference. Third coach in three seasons might cause continuity speedbump, but plenty of veterans hungry for a title.Girls


Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base

2007 record: 15-4-3, fourth in Far East Class AA tournament.Coach: Matthew Whipple, fourth season.Key returners: Lauryn Thomas, Jr., midfielder (18 goals, 16 assists); Julia Martel, So., striker (6 goals, 4 assists); Stephanie Dolby, Sr., midfielder (8 goals); Bethany Rogers, Sr., sweeper (5 assists); Suzie Sundberg, Jr., midfielder (4 assists); Erica McInnis, Sr., stopper.Key newcomers: Courtney Richards, So., striker; Danielle Cournoyer, Fr., defense; Emily Evans, So., striker.Outlook: Contending, at least in DODDS-Japan. Losing All-Class AA seniors Breyana Anderson and Daniya Nixon won’t be easy, but Thomas and a core of experienced players should keep the winning tradition going.Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base

2007 record: 18-4-3, DODDS-Japan Soccer League champion, second in Far East.Coach: Nicolas Hindie, sixth season.Key returners: Liezel Spencer, Chelsea Keolanui-Wilson, Nadine Mulvany, Brittany Evans, midfielders.Outlook: Rebuilding. After years of dominating DODDS-Japan, Tara Barkowski (transfer) and Frances Zukowski and Mariko Wood (graduated) are gone, leaving a freshman-laden group to assemble a new team.Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Naval Air Facility Atsugi

2007 record: 14-12-2, sixth in Far East.Coach: Vanessa Little, second season.Key returners: Aubrey Ashliman, So., striker (Japan-record 50 goals, 9 assists); Whitney McWherter, So., midfielder (12 goals, 7 assists); TaraKay Horlacher, Jr., goalkeeper-defense; Kristen Dulay, So., midfielder; Mei Okumura, So., defense; Anna Park, So., forward (14 goals, 5 assists).Key newcomers: Mallarie Ashliman, Fr., striker; Keily Sasano, Sr., defense.Outlook: Reloading-contending. Trojans enjoyed school-best finish with mostly underclassmen, and Little is looking to do it again; 10 freshmen battling for varsity roster spots. Look for the Ashliman sisters to make serious noise up front, with McWherter setting up the plays.Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base

2007 record: 3-14-4, 11th at Far East Class AA tournament.Coach: Sarah Richardson, second season.Key returners: Alyssa Rodriguez, Jr., striker (7 goals, 4 assists); Lissi Johnson, Sr., goalkeeper; Audrey Haltli, Jr., sweeper; Susan Rollins, Sr., midfielder; Jennifer Stryd, Sr., defense; Chandra Melillo, Jr., forward.Outlook: Rebuilding. While strong and experienced defensively, the Eagles need more scoring power to help Rodriguez on the front end.Okinawa

Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster

2007 record: 14-8-3, defending Far East Class AA champion.Coach: Terry Chumley, seventh season.Key returners: Jessica Osborne, Sr., striker (15 goals); Rina Ihu, Jr., midfielder (11 goals, 4 assists); Sara Harter, Jr., midfielder; Alexis Salmon, Jr., defense; Kassaundra Porres, Sr., midfielder-defense; Stephanie Salmon, So., defense.Key newcomer: Bridget Ramirez, Sr., forward-midfielder (transfer from California).Outlook: Contending. While much must be replaced, including Kara Koeneke’s 22 goals and Natalie Monti’s workmanlike wing approach, there are plenty of weapons left to make a run at a fourth Class AA title.Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base

2007 record: 26-1-3, third in Far East.Coach: Hoa Nguyen, 10th season.Key returners: Cassie McDonald, Jr., striker (13 goals, 7 assists); Taylor Russell, So., forward (8 goals, 5 assists); Stephanie Eik, Sr., sweeper; Ashley Zapp, So., halfback; Tyler Arrieta, So., halfback; Midori Stanford, Sr., defense-goalkeeper.Key newcomers: Britney Wise, So., defense; Andrea Grade, Fr., halfback; Samantha Canty, Jr., defense.Outlook: Rebuilding-reloading. Rebuilding is normally not in Kadena’s vocabularly, but this is the first time since 2003 that the Panthers won’t suit up a player named Abel. All-Far East goalkeeper Helen Schrock is playing softball this season. Strong defensively, but the firepower of Jen Abel (83 goals, 29 assists) will be hard to replace.South Korea

Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison

author picture
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.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now