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CAMP GEORGE, South Korea — While cross country and wrestling coaches last school year voted to divide into small- and large-school divisions for team title purposes, tennis chose to keep the status quo.

The reason: Most Class A coaches say they feel their teams can keep up with their Class AA brethren, and Far East High School Tennis Tournaments dating back to 2004 seem to bear out their arguments.

"I like the idea that we can go up against a Kadena or a Seoul American in a good year," Daegu American coach Ed Thompson said. "This is the only sport where you can do it. If you have some dedicated, non-seasonal players, you have a chance."

In 2006, his Warriors, led by Vanessa Fernandez-Torres and Lisa Rios, strengthened that argument by finishing second in the girls team standings. Daegu’s boys and girls combined to finish fifth, best among small schools, in November at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Daegu’s enrollment hovers around 240. E.J. King’s is even smaller, just over 100, but its girls, powered by sisters Kristia and Rizalina Suriben, racked up two singles and doubles gold medals the past two years and as a team finished third in 2006.

Even Pusan American enjoyed its turn in the spotlight in 2004, despite an enrollment of about 50. James Edwards won the boys singles and teamed with sister Mary to win the mixed doubles and Pusan placed in the top five as a team as a result.

"Small schools can do it," Thompson said.

"Daegu has always had strong teams," said coach Robert Bliss of Kadena on Okinawa. "Sometimes, a few players is all you need to build a good team. The ones who put in the most time are the most successful ones."

The vote to keep things as they are came after last year’s Far East tournament, and was "nearly unanimous," Osan American coach Bruce Barker said.

"We feel we can compete against other DODDS schools," he said of taking on powerhouse teams such as Kadena and three-time defending team champion Seoul American.

The next chance for schools large and small to square off comes Nov. 3-5, at Kadena’s Risner Tennis Complex.

After three years of dominating the team standings, Seoul American faces an uphill climb — defending girls singles champion and doubles runner-up Kennedy Allen is the Falcons’ lone headliner.

"We’re starting over," assistant coach Robert Victoria said of a squad that lost its entire boys Far East lineup. "We are going to be rebuilding this year. Our goal is for improvement of all the players’ games, mental and physical, and hope to be competitive."

That may make Kadena the team to beat. Defending boys singles champion Kyle Sprow returns, along with fellow juniors Elliot and Elissa Mason and seniors Eric Rice, Ashley Grugin and Selyssa Ordorica.

The Masons and Sprow "worked hard over the summer," Bliss said. While the rest of the squad isn’t as experienced, "they’re working hard. Hopefully, we can improve this year and make a run at the title."

Team capsulesSouth Korea

Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison Coaches: Chae Yi, first season; assistant, Robert Victoria, second seasonKey performers: Boys, Michael Ross, Sr.; Joshua Kim, Sr.; Joshua Kim, So.; Joshua Colson, Sr.; Brian Harkness, Jr. Girls, Kennedy Allen, Jr. (defending Far East singles champion, Far East doubles runner-up); Teresa Kim, Sr.; Melissa Bruhnke, Sr.; Jennifer Murphy, Sr.; Alice Kim, So.Overview: Rebuilding-reloading. After running the team title table the last three years, entire boys Far East lineup graduated and many girls transferred. Still, much new talent to be molded by Yi, and the chance of the team championship returning to Yongsan in future seasons appears very real.

Daegu American Warriors, Camp George Coach: Ed Thompson, fifth seasonKey performers: Boys, Russell Midamaru, Fr.; Lee-le Gill, Fr.; Patrick Buehl, Sr. Girls, Amy Kim, Sr.; Agnes Choi, Sr. (recovering from foot injury), Betty Lee, So.Overview: Rebuilding. Boys will be stronger with Midamaru leading the way (he beat all of Thompson’s varsity boys as an eighth-grader), but they and the girls are young and inexperienced. Replacing departed Vanessa Fernandez-Torres, Lisa Rios and Nic Dunsmore, among others, will be a tough chore.

Osan American Cougars, Osan Air Base Coach: Bruce Barker, 11th seasonKey performers: Dustin Caranci, Sr.; Laura Konecne, Sr..Overview: Rebuilding. How Barker must long for the days of perennial Far East singles contender Amanda Reiff and other greats long gone. Very inexperienced lot. While Osan’s new tennis courts are being built, the team must also bus to Camp Humphreys to practice and play home matches.

Okinawa

Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base Coach: Robert Bliss, third seasonKey performers: Boys, Kyle Sprow, Jr. (defending Far East singles champion, doubles runner-up); Elliot Mason, Jr. (Far East doubles runner-up with Sprow); Eric Rice, Sr.; Wayson Nakahara, Jr. Girls, Elissa Mason, Jr. (third in Far East singles, doubles); Ashley Grugin, Sr. (third in Far East doubles with Mason); Christin Gentz, So.; Selyssa Ordorica, Sr.; Katie Mundie, So.Overview: Contending. Much firepower returns from a team that has finished second overall to Seoul American the past three years, and is vying for a return to the team title throne it last held in 2004.

Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster Coach: Stephanie Davis, first seasonKey performers: Boys, Jared Knox, Sr.; Shingo Douglas, Jr.; Dakata Ratliff, Jr.; Ben Grondin, Sr. Girls, Cait Frandsen, Sr.; Caitlin Arnot, Sr.; Megan Roy, Sr.; Katelynn Knox, So.; Amanda Norris, Sr.; Alyson Helfert, Sr. (transfer from Oceanside High, California); Tammi Ragan, So. (transfer from Wiesbaden, Germany); Chelsea Bligh, So.; Sydnie Bligh, Fr. (move-up from Lester Middle School), Michelle Weinstein, So.Overview: Rebuilding. Third coach in three seasons. Some experienced veterans returning, but still a way to go before the Dragons can catch the likes of Kadena and Seoul American.

Japan

Matthew C. Perry Samurai, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Coach: Shawn Ryan, fifth seasonKey performer: Boys, Andre Bugawan, Jr.Overview: Rebuilding. Five of six varsity boys are first-year players; five of seven girls players are second-year, the other two are rookies. More players out than last year, but a lot of growing and learning yet to do.

E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval Base Coach: Daren Schuettpelz, first yearKey performers: Boys, Alex Puyot, Jr. Girls, Bria Smith, Sr.; Joni and Bridgit Fatora, Sr. and So., transferred from Stonington High School in Connecticut.Overview: Rebuilding. Cobras enjoyed a nice run with the Suriben sisters, Kristia and Rizalina; we’ll see if the Fatoras can fill their shoes. Losing John Bogen to Nile C. Kinnick stings.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air Base Coach: Scott Milanovich, second seasonKey performers: Boys, Zach Spaduzzi, Mister Murphy, team captains; Rico Adams, inspirational leader. Girls, Jennifer Brent, captain.Overview: Boys reloading, girls rebuilding. Boys are a year more experienced, but girls have much replacing to do.

Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base Coach: Tommy Palmer, third seasonKey performers: Aoi Karino, Sr.; Regina McDaniel, Sr.Overview: Rebuilding. Panthers lose two-time Far East tournament doubles champions Kenta Takahashi and Ken Brophy and three-year veteran Jason Stroup. Girls team should be stronger. Only two seniors on the roster, bodes well for better outlook the next two years.

Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air Facility Coach: Wanda Finley, second seasonKey performers: Geraldine Nicdao, Jr.; Carrie Waltemeyer, Jr.Overview: Rebuilding. Finley returns none of last year’s Far East tournament squad. Ten more girls out for tennis this year than last, could even field a junior varsity team. Boys are virtually starting from scratch.

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base Coach: Nicolas Hindie, seventh seasonKey performers: Jay Pothula, Jr.; Daniel King, Sr.; Nate Rivera, So.; Patrick Perez, Jr.; John Bogen, Jr. (transfer from E.J. King). Girls, Chelsea Keolanui-Wilson, Sr. (back after year layoff); Arisa Hirashima, Jr.; Emi Barron, Sr.; Katie Mooney, Jr. (transfer from Naples, Italy).Overview: Reloading. Solid players, maybe the best in DODDS-Japan, but still must overcome Kadena and Seoul American players who play year-round. "We’re seasonal. It’s hard to contend, but we aim to make our name known," Hindie said.

Key dates

Significant dates

Thursday, Oct. 30-Friday, Oct. 31 KAIAC Boys Tournament, Yongsan International School-SeoulKAIAC Girls Tennis Tournament, Seoul Foreign School

Friday, Oct. 31 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools varsity tournament, Yokota Air Base

Monday, Nov. 3-Wednesday, Nov. 5 DODDS-Pacific Far East Tournament, Risner Tennis Complex, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

Thursday, Nov. 6-Friday, Nov. 7 Asia-Pacific Invitational Tournament, Chiba Marine Park, Chiba, Japan

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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.
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