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Zama American junior Kevin Blackburn returns from last year's All-Far East cross-country team.
Zama American junior Kevin Blackburn returns from last year's All-Far East cross-country team. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)
Zama American junior Kevin Blackburn returns from last year's All-Far East cross-country team.
Zama American junior Kevin Blackburn returns from last year's All-Far East cross-country team. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)
Junior Song-ho Downes is one of four returnees who bolster the roster of a Seoul American team that will defend its Far East tournament title in November on Guam.
Junior Song-ho Downes is one of four returnees who bolster the roster of a Seoul American team that will defend its Far East tournament title in November on Guam. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

(See tennis and cross country team previews at end of story.)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — No pressure; just perform. Forget last year; this is a new season with new challenges.

That’s the attitude of Seoul American tennis players and cross country runners as the 2006 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference season begins — with the added burden, for the first time in school history, of defending their respective Far East tournament titles.

“There’s an expectation,” Seoul American junior doubles player Aesop Lee said. “We won last year. The thinking is, we should win it this year.”

Still, the Falcons appear more intent on focusing on what’s ahead.

“I’ve told them, it’s not so much about winning but competing and feeling good about everything, that they’re in good, physical shape and they take care of their academics. If they worry about those things, the winning will come,” Falcons tennis coach Emilia Flores said.

Winning may be the ultimate goal, said new cross country coach Itza Baker, but “it’s also important for them to strive to do their best.”

Three Seoul American boys tennis players — Lee, Song-ho Downes and Chris Paek, all juniors — return, along with junior girls tennis player Esther Kim.

Five of the Falcons’ 10-member Far East cross country team are back: seniors David Kincaid and Sarah Yance, junior John Lohr and sophomores Alicia Furner and Jillian Busby.

There’s enough for the tennis team to worry about in the regular season, players said, when KAIAC threats Seoul Foreign and Seoul International will provide plenty of fire-testing.

Once at Far East, Seoul American will encounter strong teams and individual stars. Among those luminaries:

¶ Junior Kristia Suriben will defend her girls singles and doubles championships and is the flagship player of a strong E.J. King girls squad from Japan.

¶ Doubles tandem Justin Clemente and Dennis Hirata and promising singles player Garen Dial headline Nile C. Kinnick’s solid boys team, also out of Japan.

¶ Zama American returns senior Cristina Eustaquio, in tennis’ Elite 8 in 2005. In cross country, junior Kevin Blackburn looms as a threat to win the Far East boys 3.1-mile individual race.

¶ Robert D. Edgren boasts two-time Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Japan junior girls runner Jade Thrasher and senior boys singles player Nathan Fine.

¶ Kubasaki of Okinawa is deep in veteran talent in each sport, perhaps returning its most experienced collection of runners and tennis players in school history.

Still, Downes said, their presence “doesn’t worry us. All of our players have talent, too.”

Said Baker: “We won the championship last year and that should be motivation for them.”

Yance said the Falcons will have plenty of time to get antsy about Far East. Tennis takes place Nov. 6-10, again on Guam, while cross country will be run Nov. 6-7 at Camp Hansen on Okinawa, for the first time.

“Once Far East comes up, that’s when we’ll get more serious, because that’s what it’s all about,” Yance said.

“We’re confident in our chances at Far East as a team,” Lee added. “Whatever individual awards come, will come.”

Tennis previewsJapan

E.J. King — Head coach: Andrew Bogen, first season. Players to watch: Junior Kristia Suriben returns as defending Far East singles and doubles champion, two-time defending DODDS-Japan champion. Joined by freshman sister Riza Suriben. Melissa Williams transfers from Nile C. Kinnick, Chelsea Smith transfers from South Carolina. Strong girls squad; rebuilding boys squad, Adrian Beato is only returnee.

Robert D. Edgren — Head coach: Robert Victoria, second season. Players to watch: Senior Nathan Fine, lead boys singles and doubles player, returns along with Thomas Harwell and other veterans John Zindash, Jordan Spencer, Eric Rice and Robert Santos. Young girls squad; only Emely Vallee returns.

Matthew C. Perry — Head coach: Mark Lange, first season. Players to watch: Senior lettermen Abraham Lagarde and Richard Naseer return to head a team of mostly newcomers.

Yokota — Head coach: Tommy Palmer, first season. Players to watch: Boys squad senior-laden with Kenta Takahashi, Ken Brophy and Robert Rodell leading the way. Junior Sharon McInstry is lone returnee on retooling girls squad.

Zama American — Head coach: Joy Osterhues, third season. Players to watch: Senior Cristina Eustaquio reached Far East Elite 8 quarterfinals last year; twin juniors Phillip and Alex Roper headline promising boys squad.

Nile C. Kinnick — Head coach: Nicolas Hindie, fourth season. Players to watch: Strong senior class headed by doubles pair Justin Clemente and Dennis Hirata, plus Will Elizalde, Paolo Arimado and Jonathan Clements and athletic sophomore Garen Dial. Girls team rebuilding, must replace graduated Joyce Cao among others.

South Korea

Osan American — Head coach: Bruce Barker, ninth season. Players to watch: Rebuilding team returns only juniors Kevin Herrere and Leslie Stake; must replace former Far East and Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference singles star Amanda Reiff.

Taegu American — Head coach: Ed Thompson, third season. Players to watch: Strong girls squad, All-KAIAC singles stars Lisa Rios and Amy Kim (transfer from Pusan American) return along with Agnes Choi. Only All-KAIAC star Thomas Qian returns to boys squad. Strong in singles, rebuilding in doubles.

Seoul American — Head coach: Emilia Flores, third season. Defending Far East tournament team champion. Players to watch: Junior Aesop Lee, defending Far East doubles champion, returns along with juniors Song-ho Downes and Chris Paek on a solid boys team, while junior Esther Kim is the lone girls returnee. Still strong at least on the boys’ side; girls may need work.

Okinawa

Kadena — Head coach: Robert Bliss, first season. Players to watch: Starting over, with only senior Serena Swanland and sophomore Selyssa Ordorica returning. Senior Jace Taylor transfers from Decatur, Texas.

Kubasaki — Head coaches: Kathryn Nielsen, third season, Rick Kendall, first season (transfer from E.J. King in Japan). Players to watch: Senior doubles pair Ronnie Maston and Tim McFarland and sophomores Jared Knox and Mark Diaz return for the boys, while veteran girls Cait and Tanya Frandsen, Roxanne Diaz and Megan Roy are back. Plenty of promise.

Cross countryJapan

E.J. King — Head coach: Tom Heitstuman, second season. 2005 Far East team placement: Did not place. Runners to watch: Rebuilding year, juniors David Heitstuman, Dominique Johnson and Rodye Johnson and sophomore Randy Rivera return, as does senior Sarah Dutcher; none placed near the front at Far East. Newcomers include junior Marquice Singletary and freshman transfer Arlexia Gray from Rota, Spain.

Robert D. Edgren — Head coach: Andre Thibert, fifth season. 2005 Far East team placement: Fourth. Runners to watch: Strong veteran squad, two-time DODDS-Japan champ junior Jade Thrasher, fifth at Far East, returns along with All-League runners Mia Angelella and Audrey Haltli among girls, plus Chris Tobiere, 10th at Far East, and All-League Brandon Green among boys. Thibert’s patient building might pay off this year.

Matthew C. Perry — Head coach: Michael Brust, first season. 2005 Far East team placement: Did not place. Runners to watch: Manny Martin and Richy Redick return to a boys squad that must replace departed Brent Schuck, fourth at Far East last year. Freshman Heather Hyson transfers from Okinawa to strengthen girls lineup; solid middle-distance track and top 10 cross-country runner on Okinawa last two years.

Yokota — Head coach: Vince Szilagyi, first season. 2005 Far East team placement: Seventh. Runners to watch: Three-year senior Tony Elbert and two-year junior Cameron Shelton for the boys and second-year junior Jamie Myree among girls. Sophomore newcomer Lauryn Thomas has impressed early.

Zama American — Head coach: Mitchell Moellendick, sixth season. 2005 Far East team placement: Did not place. Runner to watch: Junior Kevin Blackburn, eighth at Far East last year, returns and is primed for a shot at DODDS-Japan and Kanto Plain championships, as well as Far East.

Nile C. Kinnick — Head coach: Philip Bailey, eighth season (after one year off). 2005 Far East team placement: Sixth. Runners to watch: Strong boys contingent led by senior twins Tyler and Graham Will and junior Matt Duncan, but otherwise rebuilding.

South Korea

Seoul American — Head coach: Itza Baker, first season (transfers from Würzburg, Germany; replaces retired longtime coach Clark Bean). 2005 Far East team placement: Champion. Runners to watch: Senior Sarah Yance, third at Far East, headlines a strong girls squad that lost Far East runner-up Cathryn Furner but returns sophomore Jillian Busby, eighth at Far East, and sophomore Alicia Furner. Boys lose Billy Groves but still return junior John Lohr and senior David Kincaid from Far East team. Can make strong bid for team title repeat.

Taegu American — Head coach: Larry Knierim, first season. 2005 Far East team placement: Did not place. Runners to watch: Seniors Sarah Thill and Sonja Chartier return along with junior Linda Boshans and sophomore Brett Vodvarka, bolstered by newcomers Nicko Kim (junior) and Greg Jones (sophomore). Building team with much potential.

Osan American — Head coach: Johnny Windhom, fifth season. 2005 Far East team placement: Eighth. Runners to watch: All-KAIAC senior Kristina Sagstetter transfers from Pusan American and joins freshmen Mark Caine and Alex Morgan on a very young, beginning team.

Okinawa

Kubasaki — Head coach: Paul Campbell, sixth season. 2005 Far East team placement: Third. Runners to watch: Twins Beth and Lisa Nielsen have graduated, but All-Far East sophomore David Krievs, seventh at Far East, returns along with sophomore Matt Coon and senior Chris Workman, plus All-Far East junior Stephanie Gamboa, 10th at Far East. Freshman Julie Monti consistently ran top-three league finishes as a middle-schooler last year. Strong team.

Kadena — Head coach: Tom McKinney, third season. 2005 Far East team placement: Second. Runners to watch: Rebuilding, must replace the last two Far East individual girls champions Niki Kauzlarich and Victoria Lyle, former Stripes Athlete of the Year Dianne Abel and boys stars Aaron Zendejas and Tim Nabonne. Senior island champion Anthony Tillman returns along with Andre Tillman, Jacob Bloom and Jake Sizemore for boys and Taylor Carver, Jen Abel and Michelle Castillo for girls.

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