FUTENMA MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Okinawa — Ray Terlaje heard the news a month ago, he said: Six Guam teams were coming to Okinawa to play in the Far East High School Girls Class AA Volleyball Tournament.
Immediately, said the Marine Corps lance corporal, the wheels began turning. “I was already making plans,” he said.
Terlaje’s goal: Provide a slice of home for the teams and servicemembers from Guam assigned to Okinawa. So 80 servicemembers, 30 civilian employees and their families native to Guam have cheered that island’s teams from the stands. They even threw a Chamorro-style welcome barbecue Sunday at Camp Foster.
Also attending the barbecue was Jesse Meno, a senior airman with Kadena Air Base’s 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “No matter where you are in the world, you’re family and we all take care of each other,” Meno said.
Those Guam natives are cheering for an island with a strong winning tradition in the Class AA tournament. Guam has captured 10 championships since it began in 1976, seven of them in the past decade.
Meno, 21, a staff sergeant from Guam’s southernmost village, Merizo, is a 2000 Southern High graduate. He knows few players, he said, but “I know their older brothers and sisters, and it’s fun to sit with them and tell Guam stories to each other.”
“It feels like home,” added Terlaje, 19, of Barrigada, a 2002 George Washington High graduate.
Beside Meno and Terlaje stood Andrew Diaz, 19, another lance corporal at Futenma and a 2002 John F. Kennedy graduate.
He said he didn’t mind the JFK Islanders were playing at Kadena Air Base’s O’Connor Gym. “I don’t know much about the teams,” said the Maina village native, “but I’m out here to watch.”
Being able to meet and greet those from back home is a comfort, said Southern coach Al Garrido, whose team has won two Far East tournament titles in his four seasons.
“We each bring a little feeling of the island to each other,” Garrido said. “It’s always nice to look in the stands and see Guam people. It makes us feel like we’re back on the island.”
Meno and a handful of other native Guam servicemembers spent much of Thursday watching four of the six Guam teams play.
But even after Southern reached the semifinals for the second straight year, Meno, Terlaje, Diaz and others stayed to cheer the two other Guam teams playing at Semper Fit.
“It makes no difference who wins as long as Guam wins,” Terlaje said.
Kadena goes where no Panther team has gone before
Katie LaGrave remembers how three years ago, Futenma’s Semper Fit Sports and Fitness Center served as “purgatory” for the lower-ranked Class AA teams. Bronze and Copper Division round-robin matches were played on its two courts while Silver and Gold Divisions played at Kubasaki High.
But Thursday, LaGrave and the Kadena Panthers ventured into uncharted territory: They reached the semifinals for the first time in the school’s 22-year history.
“That’s something,” LaGrave said after Kadena swept Seoul American in Thursday’s quarterfinal 25-17, 25-17, 25-20. “It shows the heart that we have as a team.”
“These guys are the greatest,” coach Rachelle Smith said. “When they bring their game, nobody can beat them.”
It was a much different Kadena team that looked lackluster in winning its round-of-16 match over Guam High 28-26, 25-20, 25-17 on Wednesday.
Pusan becoming more visible as Class A tourney rolls on
CAMP WALKER, South Korea — Most eyes had been on Osan American and Taegu American as the best hopes for a Department of Defense Dependents Schools team to knock off favored Faith Academy and defending champion Morrison Christian Academy of Taiwan in the Class A tournament.
Thus, it was easy for tiny Pusan American (enrollment 50) to slip under the radar. At least, until the Panthers knocked Osan into the loser’s bracket with a four-set victory Wednesday.
“The girls have played really well,” said coach Laird Small.
Always in rebuilding mode, fortunate to be able to return “about a third of our team” each year, Small said Pusan has battled inconsistency much of the season. “But when they gel and decide to play, we can be competitive with anyone,” he said.
— Kadena High School student-journalist Kelly Helms and Class A tournament organizers Zachary Robinson and Jennifer Sharp contributed to this report.