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(Detailed tournament information at end of story. Follow the tournament online at: www.yokota-hs.pac.dodea.edu/index.html)

Kadena’s girls may have picked the right year and assembled the right team to pursue a three-peat in the Far East Class AA soccer tournament. Kadena’s boys might have picked the wrong year to regain what they lost unceremoniously last season.

The Okinawa powerhouses, which have won a combined seven Class AA championships, set out Monday on their tournament journeys. The Panthers boys are at Yokota in Japan, where they lost last year’s title match 2-1 in overtime to Christian Academy In Japan. The Kadena girls are at Camp Foster, where they edged Okinawa rival Kubasaki in a shootout last May.

Memories of CAJ ending their championship run still burn in the minds of the Panthers boys. But this year’s 10-team field, coaches say, is as deep as any Class AA tournament they’ve seen.

“We’ll know more after the first day of play,” Yokota coach and tournament director Tim Pujol said, “but on paper, it looks very strong. … Really competitive.”

Kadena (10-1-1) is veteran-heavy. CAJ (7-0), fresh off its Kanto Plain championship, is loaded with promising freshmen. Rejuvenated Kubasaki (7-3-1) is over .500 for the first time since 2003. Then there’s Yokota (14-3-1), the Japan Soccer League champion.

They’ll be joined by first-time entrant Taejon Christian International (8-6-1), which was the Class A tournament champion in 2003 and 2004 and the runner-up last season.

“[There are] multiple teams that on any given day can win it,” CAJ coach Sean Collier said. “I've told the guys that they’re not going to get a break. Every one of these teams can do something.”

Fine by him, Kadena coach Mike Callahan said. “If you want to win Far East, you might as well beat strong teams along the way.”

The Panthers will have their hands full from the start during round-robin play: CAJ, TCIS, 2005 JSL champion Nile C. Kinnick and newcomer Hong Kong International are in their pool.

“It’s good to have them all there,” Callahan said.

Despite that Kanto Plain title, Collier said he and his players don’t view themselves as wearing a bull’s-eye. “I still think everybody thinks the Okinawa teams are the ones to beat,” he said.

Kubasaki hasn’t won a title since its two-year run in 2001-02.

“I hope we’re there to make a statement,” coach Chris Kelly said. “But in a week of soccer, anything can happen and it usually does. … I like that they’re going in hungry and wanting to win.”

On the girls’ side, Kadena coach Hoa Nguyen said he’s very mindful of the 11 other teams’ desire to knock the Panthers (14-0) off their pedestal.

“The bull’s-eye gets bigger every year,” said Nguyen, whose team carries two straight titles into the tournament. “It’s harder to stay at the top than to get to the top. … All 11 teams want us badly and that’s our fear.”

Looming as threats are three of the usual suspects: perennial final four finishers American School In Japan (8-1-1), Seoul American (12-2) and Nile C. Kinnick (15-0-1), which won the JSL and Kanto titles and, like Kadena, boasts an array of scoring threats.

“A lot of our games will be focused on defense,” Seoul American coach Lori Cannon said. “We’ll try to shut them down rather than try to outscore them.”

Major assets for Nguyen are the Abel sisters, senior Dianne (35 goals, 32 assists), who holds the Pacific records for goals in a season and career; and junior Jennifer (42 goals, 16 assists).

“Stats and players don’t guarantee a title,” Nguyen said. “Will and determination and having leaders on the field, that’s what it takes.”

Far East Boys Class AA Soccer TournamentDates-May 15-19, 2006.

Host-Yokota High School, Japan.

Site-Bonk Field, Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Participating teams-Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea; Guam High Panthers, Nimitz Hill, Guam; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo (champions in 2005); Taejon Christian International Dragons, Daejeon, South Korea; Hong Kong International Dragons, Hong Kong.

Returning All-Far East players-Aaron Zendejas (three-time selection), Nathan LaGrave (two-time selection), Kadena; Chris Monroy, Kubasaki; Billy Cramer, Guam High; Allen Chin (two-time selection), Seoul American; Stefan Welch, Yokota; Jonathon “Taro” Evans, Nile C. Kinnick.

Format-Single round-robin, two pools of five teams each, first two days. Victories count for three points, tie for one point and loss for no points, plus one point for teams scoring up to three goals regardless of outcome. Tiebreaker procedure for seeding purposes: 1) Head-to-head, 2) goal differential among teams involved in tie, 3) goals against among three teams involved in tie, 4) coin toss. Single-elimination tournament with consolation bracket last three days. Overtime involves two 10-minute halves, no “golden goal,” followed by penalty-kick shootout, if necessary. All matches 40-minute halves, 10-minute intermission.

Schedule-Opening ceremony 8 a.m. Monday at Bonk Field. First round-robin matches 9 a.m. Monday. Last round-robin matches 5 p.m. Tuesday. First playoff matches 9 a.m. Wednesday. Championship match at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by awards ceremony. All-Star game against Tokai Sugao High School, a Japanese team, at 6 p.m. Friday.

Awards-Trophies to top three teams, banner and traveling trophy to champion team, medals to playes on top three teams, Team Sportsmanship Award, individual MVP, Golden Boot, Outstanding Defender and skills competition awards, 16-player All-Tournament team.

Far East Girls Class AA Soccer TournamentDates-May 15-19, 2006.

Host-Kubasaki High School, Okinawa

Site-Upper Field, Mike Petty Stadium, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Participating teams-Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea; Guam High Panthers, Nimitz Hill, Guam; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo; Taejon Christian International Dragons, Daejeon, South Korea; Hong Kong International Dragons, Hong Kong; Seisen International Phoenix, Tokyo; Okinawa Christian International Dragons, Yomitan, Okinawa.

Returning All-Far East players-Dianne Abel (reigning two-time MVP), Jennifer Abel, Sara Ragland, Kadena; Kristi McNair, Kubasaki; Lisa Murray, Frances Zukowski, Nile C. Kinnick; Angela Vandersys, Seoul American (Class A last year).

Format-Single round-robin, two pools of six teams each, first two days, 30-minute halves, 5-minute intermission. Wins count for two points, ties for one point and losses for no points, plus one point for teams scoring up to three goals regardless of outcome. Tiebreaker procedure for seeding purposes: 1) Head-to-head, 2) goal differential among teams involved in tie, 3) fewest total cards, yellow (caution) and red (sent off), 4) coin toss. Single-elimination tournament with consolation bracket last three days, 40-minute halves, 10-minute intermission. Overtime involves two 5-minute halves, no "golden goal," followed by penalty-kick shootout, if necessary. Mercy rule applies to all matches; match will end if one team takes 10-goal lead, regardless of time remaining.

Schedule-Opening ceremony 8 a.m. Monday at Kubasaki Gym. First round-robin matches 9:15 a.m. Monday. Last round-robin matches 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. First playoff matches 8 a.m. Wednesday. Championship match 3 p.m. Friday, followed by awards ceremony.

Awards-Trophies to top six teams, banner and individual awards to champion team, Team Sportsmanship Award, individual Most Outstanding Player, Golden Boot and Outstanding Goalkeeper awards, 15-player All-Tournament team.

author picture
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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