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The Kadena High School cross country team, including, from left, Alex Trayer, Anthony Tillman, Tim Nabonne, Aaron Zendejas and Ben Zendejas, enters next week’s Far East meet as the two-time defending champion.
The Kadena High School cross country team, including, from left, Alex Trayer, Anthony Tillman, Tim Nabonne, Aaron Zendejas and Ben Zendejas, enters next week’s Far East meet as the two-time defending champion. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — On paper, at least, Kadena appears to have much in its favor as it aims for a third consecutive Far East High School cross country team title.

Of the 10 Panthers who swept the 2004 awards at Misawa Air Base, Japan, seven returned to help the team win its fifth straight Okinawa Activities Council team championship last month.

The Seoul American Falcons and Robert D. Edgren Eagles have been hot on the Panthers’ trail in the past two Far East meets. And several individual talents, two of whom posted the best times in the region this season, could steal valuable team points from Kadena.

“That doesn’t even faze me,” said Tom McKinney, in his second year as coach of the two-time defending Far East team champion. “They’ve trained. … They know what they can do when the pressure’s on. … We’ve taken No. 1 on the island. Now it’s time to look toward Far East.”

Kadena begins its bid for another title against 12 other Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific teams starting Monday with the 3.1-mile boys and girls individual races at Misawa’s Gosser Memorial Golf Course. The 31.5-mile team relay concludes the meet on Tuesday.

Coach and runners say the Panthers have stressed that strong individual runners push each other to team success — which in turn motivates individuals.

The advantage of operating as a team, senior Aaron Zendejas said, “is psychological. If you’re a lone runner out there … you’re going to lose your wind. But if all five of you on the team are together, it’s like you’re propelling each other. We feed off of that. … And it’s intimidating to other teams.”

He’s one of five Kadena runners who won an OAC race this season. Challenging them is a group including Guam champion Matt Evans, whose 17:03 this season stands as the region’s top time, and DODDS-Japan champion Peter Kamau of Edgren.

Leading the girls is defending Far East champion Niki Kauzlarich, a senior who won two OAC races this season.

She faces a Falcons girls team that includes Korea champion Cathryn Furner; two-time DODDS-Japan champion Jade Thrasher, an Edgren sophomore; and Okinawa champion Beth Nielsen, who has the region’s best time of 19:58.

“I’m worried about my own race,” said Kauzlarich, the only holdover from Kadena’s 2004 champion team. “Of course there’s pressure being defending champion but. … if you do worry about it, you lose your focus.”

Seoul American may be the biggest threat to Kadena’s chances.

Joining Furner is fellow 2004 All-Far East runner Sarah Yance. Billy Groves, 13th in 2004, transferred from Taegu American and joins returnee Paul Moreau on the boys squad.

“Last year, it was pretty much Kadena and Seoul American. This year, there’s a lot of good individual runners out there,” Seoul American coach Clark Bean said. “The competition is going to be fantastic.”

Runners to watch:Tim Nabonne, Kadena, Okinawa — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa Activities Council, fourth in Far East boys 3.1-mile individual race, 17 minutes, 46 seconds; finished second in 2005 All-Island championship in personal-best time of 17:26.Aaron Zendejas, Kadena — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, fifth in boys 3.1-mile individual race, 18:05; finished fourth in All-Island championship.Peter Kamau, Robert D. Edgren — 2004 All-Far East team, All-DODDS Japan, ninth in boys 3.1-mile individual race, 18:19; won DODDS-Japan championship, placed third in 2.9-mile 2005 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools meet in personal-best time of 15:54.Niki Kauzlarich, Kadena — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, girls 3.1-mile individual race champion, 20:45; finished second in 2005 All-Island championship, ran personal-best 20:03 earlier this season.Cathryn Furner, Seoul American — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Korea, girls 3.1-mile individual race runner-up, 21:01; won 2005 Korea championship, running 3.1-mile International Christian-Uijongbu course in 20:42.Dianne Abel, Kadena — Stars and Stripes co-Athlete of the Year, 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, third in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 21:13; finished third in 2005 All-Island championship, ran personal-best 20:21.Sarah Yance, Seoul American — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Korea, fourth in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 21:14; took second in 2005 Korea championship in 21:17.Beth Nielsen, Kubasaki — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, fifth in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 21:29; won 2005 All-Island championship, clocking a region-best 19:58.Victoria Lyle, Kadena — All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, sixth in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 21:35.Katelin Kennedy, Kadena — 2004 All-Far East team, All-Okinawa, eighth in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 21:46; finished ninth in 2005 All-Island championship.Carl-Meisha Wourman, Nile C. Kinnick — All-Far East team, All-DODDS-Japan, ninth in girls 3.1-mile individual race, 22:09.Jade Thrasher, Robert D. Edgren — Two-time DODDS-Japan champion, went unbeaten this season, posting personal-best time of 20:53 in DODDS-Japan meet at Sasebo Naval Base, and a 13:51 in the 2.1-mile Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools championship meet.Billy Groves, Seoul American — Finished 13th in 2004 Far East 3.1-mile individual race; placed second in 2005 All-Korea championship with personal-best time of 17:56.Matt Evans, Guam High — 2004 All-Far East team, finished eightn in 3.1-mile individual race in 18:17; won 2005 Guam All-Island championship after finishing second the last two years, posted region-best time of 17:03 earlier this season.2005 Far East High School Cross Country Meet

Dates: Nov. 7-8.

Site: Gosser Memorial Golf Course, Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Host: Robert D. Edgren High School, Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Format: 3.1-mile individual race on Monday. Top four finishers score points for their teams. Ties to be broken in favor of team with fourth-place runner who finishes with best time. 31.5-mile team relay on Tuesday. Teams run in pairs, with one boy and one girl running two 2.5-kilometer legs each, total of 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles per individual. Ties to be broken in favor of team with fifth pair that finishes with best time. Overall scoring determined by combined placement in boys and girls 3.1-mile individual races and team relay. Ties broken in favor of team that places highest in team relay.

Schedule of events: Opening ceremony 8:30 a.m. Monday, Robert D. Edgren High School. Girls 3.1-mile individual race 10 a.m., boys 3.1-mile individual race 11 a.m. Team relay 10 a.m. Tuesday. Awards ceremony 1 p.m. Richard Bong Theater.

Participating teams: Robert D. Edgren, Yokota, Zama American, Nile C. Kinnick, Matthew C. Perry, E.J. King, Japan; Kadena and Kubasaki, Okinawa; Seoul American, Taegu American, Pusan American, Osan American, South Korea; Guam High.

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