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Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson slides to knock the ball away from Kadena’s Aaron Zendejas as Kubasaki’s Jacob Hess looks on during Friday’s Far East Boys Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Kadena shut out Kubasaki 3-0 to win its third championship in four years.

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson slides to knock the ball away from Kadena’s Aaron Zendejas as Kubasaki’s Jacob Hess looks on during Friday’s Far East Boys Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Kadena shut out Kubasaki 3-0 to win its third championship in four years. (Vanessa Gempis / Special to S&S)

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson slides to knock the ball away from Kadena’s Aaron Zendejas as Kubasaki’s Jacob Hess looks on during Friday’s Far East Boys Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Kadena shut out Kubasaki 3-0 to win its third championship in four years.

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson slides to knock the ball away from Kadena’s Aaron Zendejas as Kubasaki’s Jacob Hess looks on during Friday’s Far East Boys Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Kadena shut out Kubasaki 3-0 to win its third championship in four years. (Vanessa Gempis / Special to S&S)

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson (5) and David Motu (18) go up to head the ball as Kadena’s Austin Copeland (12) watches during Friday’s Class AA title game at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson (5) and David Motu (18) go up to head the ball as Kadena’s Austin Copeland (12) watches during Friday’s Class AA title game at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Vanessa Gempis / Special to S&S)

Kadena senior striker Aaron Zendejas, the tournament MVP, and senior Ted Awana, the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper, celebrate after Friday’s Far East Class AA title game at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Kadena senior striker Aaron Zendejas, the tournament MVP, and senior Ted Awana, the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper, celebrate after Friday’s Far East Class AA title game at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson, left, and Kadena striker Aaron Zendejas chase the ball during Friday’s Far East Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Kubasaki’s Lee Robeson, left, and Kadena striker Aaron Zendejas chase the ball during Friday’s Far East Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Kadena’s Kingsley McLeod, left, and Derek Bailey of Kubasaki chase the ball during Friday’s Far East Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Kadena’s Kingsley McLeod, left, and Derek Bailey of Kubasaki chase the ball during Friday’s Far East Class AA championship match at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Vanessa Gempis / Special to S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Rather than cave in after losing two key starters to injury, the Kadena boys soccer team rose to the challenge, capturing its third Far East Class AA championship in four years.

Anthony Soroka scored twice, Nathan LaGrave tallied on a penalty kick and the reworked Panthers defense shut down high-scoring Chris Monroy and the Kubasaki Dragons 3-0 in Friday’s championship match at Yokota High School’s Bonk Field.

LaGrave moved from center-midfielder to sweeper in place of starter Alex Mierzejewski (fractured eye socket). Left-midfielder Kingsley McLeod was shifted to the middle to replace LaGrave and speedy defender Dean Harkum was assigned to mark Monroy for a Panthers team also missing starting striker Ben Zendejas (sprained right ankle).

“We have a versatile squad of players who can play different positions,” coach Mike Callahan, architect of the revamped lineup, said. LaGrave was the best option, he said, to step in for Mierzejewski. Neutralizing Monroy “was important” and LaGrave “is the type you can put anywhere.”

“They did a good job of putting pressure on Chris. … They cashed in on the opportunities they had,” Kubasaki coach Chris Kelly said. “They had some key injuries. Moving LaGrave back to sweeper gave them a chance to win.”

The missing starters, Callahan said, “may have been a rallying cry for us. The kids took it upon themselves.”

And they wasted no time doing so, going ahead in the fifth minute. LaGrave converted a penalty kick over the head of goalkeeper Justin Martinez, a shot set up when Kubasaki defender Lee Robeson tripped tournament MVP Aaron Zendejas in the area.

Just before halftime, Soroka headed LaGrave’s free kick through Martinez’s hands. Then, in the 77th minute, he tapped a through ball from Aaron Zendejas into the left side of the net.

The Dragons had their chances, including a flurry of shots just before halftime and another early in the second half. But goalkeeper Ted Awana denied them repeatedly. Awana has allowed just three goals in Kadena’s last seven matches.

Kadena earned its region-record fourth Class AA tournament title but its first in three tries with Callahan at the helm. Kadena lost the 2001 final to Kubasaki and the 2005 title game to Christian Academy In Japan.

“He’s done so much for this team, and for soccer on Okinawa in general,” Kadena assistant coach John Reay said. “I’m pleased for him. I’m glad he brought me along for the ride.”

It also was the third time the Panthers beat the Dragons in five matches this season. The teams tied 0-0 in the March 17 opener and Kubasaki edged Kadena 2-1 on March 29. Kadena then won 2-0 on April 22 and 2-1 on May 10.

“You never know what will happen in a Kubasaki-Kadena match,” Kelly said. “It was their day.”

“I have all the respect in the world for Kubasaki,” Callahan said. “I’m really happy for my kids.”

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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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