Support our mission

For three years, Fernando Rico watched as Faith Academy handily won a Far East Class A basketball title trifecta.

The senior point guard hopes this will be the year his E.J. King team finally ends that title monolith and hangs its first such banner since 2000 in the Cobras’ gymnasium at Sasebo Naval Base.

“We want it,” Rico said. “This is our year.”

He is one of four seniors, along with Keith Williams, Gabriel Singletary and Dominique Johnson, who’ve silently suffered while the Vanguards held sway over the tournament title.

So, too, has coach Daren Schuettpelz suffered, one year longer than the others. He was at Osan Air Base, South Korea, when St. Paul Christian of Guam snared the 2004 title.

“I think this may be our best shot, for a while,” Schuettpelz said of his veteran corps, bolstered by the presence of senior Blake Romero, who “fits into the power forward spot that was open.”

But because Schuettpelz’s charges are so senior-laden, “it’s almost as if it’s now or never,” he said. “But the guys have been working for four years for this. They have the confidence. And they’re motivated.”

The Cobras already have two victories under their belt, courtesy of a mid-November trip to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, a prelude to a Japan Basketball League season that gets moving in earnest this weekend.

E.J. King is joined by Iwakuni’s Matthew C. Perry as the two DODDS Class A entities in Japan. In South Korea, the Class A schools are Osan and Daegu American.

While E.J. King’s boys stand as the most experienced Class A team, the rest appear young and green, making it that much tougher for them to compete with the international Class A schools.

In addition to Faith’s and St. Paul’s domination of the boys’ side, Faith captured the girls Class A title in 2003 and 2007 and Sacred Heart won the 2004 crown.

Since 2003, Osan’s boys (2003), Osan’s girls (2005) and Daegu’s girls (2006) have been the lone DODDS entities to win a Class A title.

Coaching and player continuity go a long way toward international school domination, whereas within DODDS, players tend to come and go the way some people change socks, coaches say.

“It’s an uphill battle,” said 13th-year Osan girls coach Bruce Barker, who has four Class A titles to his credit. “You don’t have that luck with keeping kids at a DODDS school the way you do at an international school, teams that have played together for a long time.”

“You need a special group of athletes and hope you get the right transfers at the right times,” Daegu girls coach Michelle Chandler said. “They [international schools] have good coaches and continuity with their programs. It makes a difference.”

Chandler’s transfers this season are more outbound than inbound. Before the end of the year, Chandler will lose junior Destiny Galimore and sophomores Martia Pelmore and LaShae Denson to PCS; that in addition to losing starting point guard Sarah Eades to Seoul American last summer.

So how does a coach deal with those issues?

“You need to build a team. You need the people to play as a team. You can’t rely on just one person,” said Michael Seitz, E.J. King’s longtime girls volleyball coach who is trying his hand at basketball.

Seitz welcomes back experienced senior Kristia Suriben and sophomore Rizalina Suriben, guards who are “excellent athletes who know how to win, how to practice to win,” Seitz said. “My job is to find the right people to mesh with them to put a good team on the court.”

Watching and seeing how those international school teams go about their business also helps, Schuettpelz said.

“They have incredibly good fundamentals and they work really well together as teams,” Schuettpelz said. “They feed the ball to each other and know where everybody has to be.”

It’s a question, then, of whether they’ve learned enough and can apply those lessons to make the Cobras a champion again.

“We talk about that a lot, how we can equate that with us being a winning team,” Schuettpelz said. “I think the guys have learned from that example.”

Class A boys team capsulesOsan American CougarsLast year’s record — 5-19, 1-11 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I (large schools) (seventh).Coach — Linda Concepcion, second season.Key returners — Kevin Herrera, Sr., G; Xavier Whitehead, Sr., F; Warren Beckman, Sr., F; Sean Moye, Jr., G; Dan Arnold, Jr., F.Key newcomers — Adonte’ Murry, Jr., G (transfer from Louisiana); Marcel Palmer, Fr., G (transfer from Georgia).Outlook — Reloading. Solid core of returning players, augmented by Murry and Palmer, should make Cougars far stronger than a season ago.

Daegu American WarriorsLast year’s record — 13-19, 5-5 KAIAC Division I (fourth).Coach — Phillip Loyd, second season.Key returners — Nick Dunsmore, Jr., wing; Angel Hickman, Sr., PG; Antonio Harris, Sr., SG; Josh Proctor, Jr., wing.Key newcomers — Marcus Lee, Jr., SG (transfer from California); Brandon Spencer, Sr., wing (transfer from South Carolina).Outlook — Rebuilding. Loyd continues to assemble talent, but depth still a question mark.

E.J. King CobrasLast year’s record — 20-9, 7-5 Japan Basketball League (third); 4th at Class A tournament.Coach — Daren Schuettpelz, fourth season.Key returners — Fernando Rico, Sr., PG; Dominique Johnson, Sr., PG; Gabriel Singletary, Sr., F; Keith Williams, Sr., F.Key newcomer — Blake Romero, Sr., F.Outlook — Contending. Maybe the best Cobras team since the 2003-04 Class A tournament runner-up. “We’re very senior heavy with players who really want to win,” Schuettpelz said.

Matthew C. Perry SamuraiLast year’s record — 14-18, 1-12 JBL (sixth); 3rd at Class A tournament.Coach — Pete Dill, second season.Key returner — Michael Duncan, Jr., G; Justin Lucas, Sr., F; Scot Seitz, Sr., F; Cory Gibbons, Sr., F.Key newcomers — Justin Clements, Jr.; Ryam Schmidt, Fr.Outlook — Rebuilding. After third-place Class A finish last year, Samurai are starting over with a mostly inexperienced lot. Dill will experiment with several player combinations to try to settle on a consistent starting five.

Class A girls team capsulesOsan American Cougars

Last year’s record — 9-13, 5-6 KAIAC Division I (fourth).Coach — Bruce Barker, 13th season.Key returners — Celine Baldevia, Jr., post; Mina Plourde, Jr., G; Dawn Moore, Sr., G.Key newcomers — Olivia Preisch, So., G; Christina Connolly, Sr., G; Gina Bosworth, Sr., G.Outlook — Rebuilding. Not much height, plenty of athletes and quickness, many upperclassmen who have not played basketball before. Preisch could be one to watch.Daegu American Warriors

Last year’s record — 14-16, 7-3 KAIAC Division I (third); 4th at Class A tournament.Coach — Michelle Chandler, ninth season.Key returners — Ashley Smith, Jr., C; Jamie Cheniault, So., F; Morgan Calisto, Jr., G; Olivia Buford, Jr., G.Key newcomers — Aileen Kim, Sr., G; Rebekah Wyche, Jr., G (transfer from Kadena); Kristina Bergman, Fr., F.Outlook — Rebuilding/reloading. Warriors should take some early-season lumps, with two games each against perennial powers Seoul American and Seoul Foreign, but should become much the better for it right away.E.J. King Cobras

Last year’s record — 27-5, 12-1 JBL (champion).Coach — Michael Seitz, first season.Key returners — Kristia Suriben, Sr., G; Rizalina Suriben, So., G.Key newcomers — Samantha Bossert, Sr., F; Nicole Bossert, Fr., F; Sydnee Mooreland, Fr., F; Amber Seard, Fr., G.Outlook — Rebuilding. Only nine players out for the team, and the only two with experience are the Suribens. Some of the remaining seven have played some youth ball. Seitz, the school’s ninth-season volleyball coach trying his hand at hoops for the first time, has two solid guards in the Suribens. “They’re very quick and good ball handers,” he said, adding that the Bosserts will give the Cobras strength underneath. “We will still be lacking in height, though.”Matthew C. Perry Samurai

Last year’s record — 19-13, 6-7 JBL (third).Coaches — Scott Sanders and Diane Landean, first season.Key returners — Hannah Nash, Sr., C-F; Deandrea Taylor, Jr., C-F.Key newcomers — Sarrah Smith, Sr., G; Megan Landean, Fr., F; Mary Alalay, eighth grade, G; Rebekah Harwell, eighth grade, G; Kelli Clark, Fr., C-F.Outlook — Rebuilding. Only seven players out, two of them eighth-graders, plus a new coaching staff. Sanders and Landean plan to start with fundamentals and “begin the process of gradual improvement as the season goes on,” Sanders said.

author headshot
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.
twitter Email

Stripes in 7

around the web

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