H.S. tennis preview: Expectations higher for Far East champs
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Ask a defending champion what it’s like trying to repeat a Far East tennis title, and you’ll get a variety of responses.
Some say they will enjoy being noticed when the next tournament convenes in November on Okinawa. Others say they feel the weight of the bull’s-eye on their back and the increased pressure that go with the defense.
“Now, it’s almost like an expectation to do well. Before, it was just go do our best,” said junior Josh Colson of two-time defending Far East team champion Seoul American.
It may be easier, Colson said, entering Far East as an underdog because it’s “harder for other teams to know who we are. As defending champion, people go in expecting you to do well.”
Such stature also carries its positives, he said.
“It gives us motivation, pushing us to do better, and it leaves a legacy for us to do as well now as we did then,” he said.
The pressure may be on, but fourth-year coach Emilia Flores, assistant Robert Victoria and the Falcons have the tools to at least make a run at a three-peat.
Six seniors return, including top singles seeds Aesop Lee and Esther Kim. Doubles stalwart Song Ho Downes also is back on the senior-laden boys squad, while the girls have enough underclass talent to do well this year and in the future.
Flores says she feels no added pressure.
“I trust my players,” she said. “They’re experienced and more mature. They’ve been there. They know what the competition’s about.”
Matches against experienced international schools such as Seoul Foreign and Seoul International during the regular season will leave the Falcons more than ready, Flores said, for Far East, which has been a DODDS-only event since 2004.
“We have tough testing against good opponents,” Flores said.
While Seoul American goes for its third straight team title, individual stars also are poised to make runs at more gold.
Senior Kristia Suriben of E.J. King will shoot for a girls singles three-peat and a second straight doubles title with her sister, sophomore Rizalina.
“Everybody’s expecting me to win again,” Kristia Suriben said. “Everybody’s probably out there thinking it’s a piece of cake, she’s going to win it again. But it’s not the same being out there. There’s a lot of talent out there and I’m expecting there to be a lot of competition.”
Aside from Kim, there’s senior Lisa Rios of Korea-rival Taegu American, junior Cait Frandsen of Kubasaki and sophomore Elissa Mason of Kadena on Okinawa and others.
Suriben feels Mason presents the biggest threat.
“Her groundstrokes are pretty strong and consistent. It’s hard to hit a winner on her. She’s like a wall, she’s always returning it. Lisa’s groundstrokes are also pretty good, but Mason has a pretty amazing serve compared to Lisa.”
Basking in the thrill of defending a championship are seniors Kenta Takahashi and Ken Brophy, who won the boys doubles title — a school first for Yokota of Japan.
“Tennis was never very good at Yokota,” said Brophy, who along with Takahashi heads a senior-laden boys squad. “It’s nice for us to have that first championship. I hope people are gunning for us.”
Thanks to that championship, “going into the new season, we’ll be confident,” second-year Yokota coach Tommy Palmer said.
Team capsulesSouth Korea
Seoul American, Yongsan Garrison Coach—Emilia Flores, fourth season.Key performers—Boys, Aesop Lee, Sr.; Song Ho Downes, Sr.; Chris Paek, Sr.; Jason Harkness, Sr.; Matt Kwon, Sr.; Josh Colson, Jr.; Matt Fisher, Jr.; Jason Harkness, Jr. Girls, Esther Kim, Sr.; Rebecca Cho, Jr.; Sarah Park, Jr.; Melissa Bruhnke, Jr.; Jiwon Kim, So.; Michelle Kwon, So.Overview—The Falcons retain some of the vital cogs from their runs to two consecutive Far East titles. They’ll remain a force to be reckoned with, and the girls have enough returnees to keep them competitive next season as well.
Osan American, Osan Air Base Coach—Bruce Barker, 13th season.Key performers—Boys, Kevin Herrera, Sr. Girls, Leslie Stake, Sr.Overview—This might be the youngest team that Barker has fielded. Stake will be playing left-handed early in the season; she had surgery on her right wrist.
Taegu American, Camp George Coach—Ed Thompson, fourth season.Key performers—Boys, Nick Dunsmore. Girls, Lisa Rios, Vanessa Fernandez-Torres, Amy Kim, Agnes Choi.Overview—The boys’ ranks are thin and inexperienced, while girls retain all but one of the players who paced them to the Far East girls team title.
Kadena, Kadena Air Base Coach—Robert Bliss, second season.Key performers—Boys, Kyle Sprow, So., Elliot Mason, So.; Eric Rice, So. (transfer from Robert D. Edgren). Girls, Elissa Mason, So. (Far East singles runner-up); Ashley Grugin, Sr.Overview—The Panthers lost a few from their Fab Freshmen squad, but Sprow (island singles and doubles champion), the Masons (island doubles champions) and Grugin (island doubles champion) should make plenty of noise on island and while hosting Far East for first time since 2004.
Kubasaki, Camp Foster Coach—Janet Wells, first season.Key performers—Boys, Jared Knox, Josh Rankin, Jr.; Shingo Douglass, Mateo Sanchez, So. Girls, Cait Frandsen, Megan Roy, Caitlin Arnot, Jr.; Tanya Frandsen, Sr.Overview—This might be the most experienced and skilled Dragons team in quite some time. At the very least, the race for the island championship should be the most competitive in years, and Okinawa should represent well at Far East.
Matthew C. Perry, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Coaches—Shawn Ryan, fourth season; Scott Sanders, first season.Key performers—Boys, Tyler Marple, Sr.; Andre Bugawan, So. Girls, Jamiliah Gomez, LaShea Redick, Fr.; Rebeckah Winsler, Jr.Overview—Although Bugawan and Marple, the latter unbeaten in regular-season singles play, helped Samurai to an eighth-place Far East finish, the team is short on experience and depth. They could be competitive as more players turn out.
E.J. King, Sasebo Naval Base Coach—Andrew Bogen, second season.Key performers—Boys, Michael Whalen, Fr.; John Bogen, Jr.; Fernando Rico, Sr. Girls, Kristia Suriben, Sr. (two-time defending Far East singles, doubles champion); Rizalina Suriben, So. (defending Far East doubles champion); Bria Smith, Melissa Tolentino, Jr.Overview—The boys team took graduation and transfer hits, but Rico returns after a year’s absence. And the Suribens remain and are hopeful of avenging an upset loss to Taegu in the girls team competition.
Yokota, Yokota Air Base Coach—Tommy Palmer, second season.Key performers—Boys, Kenta Takahashi, Ken Brophy (defending Far East doubles champion team), Ricky Meaders, Jeremy Lester, Peter Langlois, Jason Stroup, Sr. Girls, Aoi Karino, Regina McDaniel, Angelica Sanders, Jr.; Amy Kewler, So.Overview—This might be the strongest team in school history, with Takahashi and Brophy headlining a strong, senior-laden boys outfit. The girls are looking to challenge this season and next.
Zama American, Camp Zama Coach—Wanda Finley, first season.Key performers—Boys, Brian Patterson, Woong Olson. Girls, Geraldine Nicdao, Jen Orona (transfer).Overview—Zama must overcome loss of Cristina Eustaquio and the Roper brothers to graduation. Orona could star and contend for individual Far East honors.
Nile C. Kinnick, Yokosuka Naval Base Coach—Nicolas Hindie, fifth season.Key performers—Boys, Jay Pothula, Victor Ta, So. Girls, Emily Barron, So.Overview—Graduation and transfers virtually cleaned the Red Devils’ house, including the loss of 2006 boys singles champion Garren Dial.
Robert D. Edgren, Misawa Air Base Coach—Scott Milanovich, first season.Key performers—Boys, Andy Verbeek, Clay Markum, Sr.; Mister Murphy, Jr. Girls, Emily Vallee, Abigail Burk, Susan Rollins, Sr.Overview—There is plenty of veterans and experience on the girls side, while the boys will grow and improve as the season progresses.
Thursday, Oct. 11-Saturday, Oct. 13Asia-Pacific Invitational, site TBD.
Friday, Nov. 2Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools varsity tournament, Yokota Air Base.
Friday, Nov. 2-Saturday, Nov. 3KAIAC Boys Tournament, Seoul International School, Seongnam; KAIAC Girls Tournament, Seoul American High School, South Post, Yongsan Garrison.
Monday, Nov. 5-Wednesday, Nov. 7DODDS-Pacific Far East High School Tournament, Risner Tennis Complex, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.