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Kadena guard Dianne Abel, one of five Panthers seniors, goes up for a shot during an intrasquad scrimmage at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
Kadena guard Dianne Abel, one of five Panthers seniors, goes up for a shot during an intrasquad scrimmage at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

(See capsule summaries of the teams at end of story)

The cheering barely had subsided at Falcon Gym on Feb. 26 when a grim reality began to set in for Seoul American girls basketball coach Charlotte Hicks.

After 19 years of trying, she’d finally captured a Far East Class AA crown — and on her home court to boot. But that championship also marked the last game for her two cornerstone players, point guard Amy Bakameyer and MVP Janel Daniels.

Fast-forward to early December, when Hicks and the Falcons hit the court having cobbled together enough parts — including the region’s tallest player, Margaret Nurse — to replace the departed stars, make a run at another Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference title and possibly back-to-back Class AA titles.

“But we can’t compare this year to last year. It’s two different groups,” Hicks said. “It’s a different type of a team, a different year.”

For starters, no amount of new players can replace the attitude and passion that Daniels and Bakameyer brought to the table, Hicks said.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have that same gut feeling — ‘You’re not going to beat me no matter what the cost,’ that Amy and Janel had,” Hicks said. “They refused to take anything less than first place. That will take time” to replace.

It doesn’t hurt that Hicks acquired Nurse, a 6-foot-5 center, via transfer from Osan American, where she helped lead the Cougars to three Class A tournament Center Court appearances, including a championship last Feb. 25 at Pusan, South Korea.

Having Nurse, sophomore Avianca Manning and freshman Taqavia Randolph gives Hicks “a nice, tall team ... the height that I did not have last year.” Senior Germany Tillman and sophomore Angye Law can score anywhere on the court; senior Whitney Grandy takes over at point.

While not possessing Bakameyer’s intensity, Grandy “is the type of player who does nothing flashy but is in the right place at the right time,” Hicks said. Even though Grandy spent last year in the States, the coach said, “She’s got that senior leadership and knows the system.”

The Falcons’ schedule will be tough, with regular-season games against Taegu American expected to be close. Seoul American also will play Korean high school teams that run and gun. And the Falcons have entered the Yongsan Pacificwide Holiday Tournament for military teams starting Dec. 14 at Collier Field House on Yongsan Garrison’s South Post.

“Those will help,” Hicks said. “If we can continue to get Korean games, then I’m optimistic about what we can do.”

Having captured the school’s second Class AA championship, Hicks is all too aware the Falcons will carry the bull’s-eye on their backs entering Far East in two months.

Runner-up Nile C. Kinnick of Japan wields a strong starting five and could contend, as might Kadena of Okinawa, fourth place a year ago but with five returning seniors and junior transfer Zori Drew from Hawaii. Yokota and Zama American of Japan are building but will pose problems for any opponent, especially Zama with All-Class AA senior center Tiffani Wright.

It will take time for the entire group to come together, Hicks said, but what she’s seen so far pleases her. “They’ll still have the tenacity that I have with all my teams,” she said. “I have height, I have ball movement. The team will mold and jell well together.”

Class AA girls basketball capsulesOkinawa

Kadena Panthers,Kadena Air Base

2004-05 record: 20-10 overall, 4th place in Far East Class AA tournament; 4-0, Okinawa Activities Council champion; 3-5 Okinawa-American League.

Head coach: Ken Hudson, fourth season.

Key returnees: Dianne Abel, Sr., G; Alicia Larson, Sr., F; Pattie Adkins, Sr., F; Alison Montes de Oca, Sr., F-G; Liz Cotto, Sr., F; Jennifer Abel, Jr., G.

Key newcomers: Zori Drew, Jr., G-F (transfer from Hawaii); Monica Hayes, So. G (transfer from Robert D. Edgren, Japan).

Outlook: Contending. Bringing Drew aboard bolsters a lineup already dotted with competitive, battle-tested veterans. A second straight OAC season sweep of Kubasaki and a fourth straight Class AA Final Four finish are well within the equation.

Kubasaki Dragons,Camp Foster

2004-05 record: 10-16 overall; 0-4 Okinawa Activities Council; 3-5 Okinawa-American League.

Head coach: Bob Driggs, 15th season.

Key players: Kristi McNair, Sr., G; Kelly Robinson, So., F; Raelene Tajalle, So., G; Jessica Deleon, Sr., F; Kyera Tennyson, So., F.

Outlook: Rebuilding. Huge tumble from 2003-04 Class AA championship season. Majority of team is freshman and sophomore, helped along by small core of veteran leadership.

Japan

Zama American Trojans,Camp Zama

2004-05 record: 21-13 overall, fifth place in Far East Class AA tournament; 6-6, 3rd place in Japan Basketball League; 11-4, 2nd place in Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools.

Head coaches: Parish and Veronica Jones, third season.

Key returnees: Kate Shicks, Sr., G; Tiffani Wright, Sr., C (2005 All-Far East Class AA).

Outlook: Rebuilding. Although Wright brings a dominating presence underneath and Shicks a solid offense force and on-court leaders, there’s not a whole lot around them.

Yokota Panthers,Yokota Air Base

2004-05 record: 29-4 overall, third place in Far East Class AA tournament; 12-1, Japan Basketball League champion; 11-2, Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools champion.

Head coach: Ricardo Cabral, fourth season.

Key returnees: Cecily Roach, Jr., G; Daniya Nixon, Jr., PG; Allora Bellanger, Jr., C; Jena Koning, Sr., G; Tiffany Lide, Sr., G; Taurea Leflore-McCary, Sr., G.

Key newcomers: Stephanie Dolby, So., G (transfer from Zama American); Kayla Taylor, Fr., G; Diante Blakey, Jr., F; Kimberly Wright, So., C.

Outlook: Rebuilding. Guard-oriented team. Pressure defense and how quickly younger players develop will dictate how season goes. Panthers will learn from one of the best; Cabral is a former three-time All-Air Force guard.

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils,Yokosuka Naval Base

2004-05 record: 26-7 overall, Class AA tournament runner-up; 10-4, 2nd place in Japan Basketball League; 11-6, 3rd place in Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools.

Head coach: Henry Falk, seventh season.

Key returnees: Lualhati Johnson, Sr., G (four-year starter); Sarah Greenert, Sr., G; Ashley Melin, Sr., F; Charlemagne Cameron, Jr., G; Are’l Brown, Jr., F; Stephanie Francisco, Jr., G.

Outlook: Contending. Sharp dropoff in experience level from starting five to bench, but Falk feels his youngsters will improve over the season, while his front-line players can still chase the Kanto, JBL and Class AA crowns.

Korea

Seoul American Falcons,Yongsan Garrison

2004-05 record: 27-5, defending Far East Class AA tournament champion; 14-0, Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I champion.

Head coach: Charlotte Hicks, 20th season.

Key returnees: Germany Tillman, Sr., G; Erica Anglade, So., F; Whitney Grandy, Sr., PG; .

Key newcomers: Margaret Nurse, Sr., C (transfer from Osan American).

Outlook: Reloading/contending. Falcons have the biggest player in the region, still have the Class AA homecourt advantage and have acquired enough parts to replace graduated senior stars Janel Daniels and Amy Bakameyer and make another KAIAC and Class AA title run.

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