It bordered on serendipitous, the way Kubasaki’s boys and girls soccer teams found tailor-made replacements, courtesy of two San Diego-area schools, for players who departed and left key positions open.

The boys team needs a midfielder and sweeper to replace graduated Michael Derr (11 goals, 7 assists) and transferred Brent Foote? Fallbrook High struck just the right note in sending to Kubasaki senior sweeper Colton Sadler and his junior brother Cody at right-midfield.

Sophomore center-forward Kara Koeneke and her 48 goals in two seasons has left? No problem, not when senior Bridget Ramirez comes in from Paloma Valley High and notches 12 goals and puts the Dragons in position to defend their Far East title.

"They’ve been perfect fits for the team all year," boys coach Chris Kelly said of Kubasaki’s San Diego discoveries.

"California’s been very good to us, definitely," girls coach Terry Chumley said.

It’s just the latest flurry of talent coming from California, which along with Virginia and North Carolina are soccer hotbeds and home to thousands of Marines, many of whom make their way to Okinawa.

"We’ve been fortunate in that respect to get great move-ins who compliment what we have. They fill a need that we have. Sure, you worry about what goes out the door, but it all comes together the next year."

Ramirez, with a strong left foot, speed and quickness, has more than stepped into Koeneke’s role, Chumley said.

"She’s a team player, unselfish and the kind who picks up the whole squad," Chumley said. "She’s filled the gap and taken on a lot of responsibility."

In Colton Sadler, Kubasaki received a 6-foot-1 physical and quick defender with a strong right leg and a throw-in that nearly reaches the far post. Cody isn’t a Derr-like scorer, but he sets up goals by Jacob Hess (8), Mitch Shibley (6) and Rimar West (5).

But more than that is the way the two fit into the team’s chemistry, Kelly said. After three matches, in fact, Colton was named one of the team’s three captains.

"His leadership has been a perfect fit," Kelly said. "They’ve been accepted totally. You play a few games and you’re accepted when you’re great individuals as they are."

"They fill in very nicely for when Derr and Foote left," Kadena boys coach Tom McKinney said. "Those kids brought what they learned from California and took what coach Kelly had to offer. Colton has nice size in back of the defense. Cody brings speed, and he understands the game."

While the competitive level within the California Interscholastic Federation can be higher than that of DODDS-Pacific, the Sadlers and Ramirez say Kubasaki’s sense of togetherness is stronger.

"You have better players and more teams there. It was strictly business. The team was divided into cliques, groups," Colton Sadler said of CIF.

"Here, the team is a lot closer. You hang with the team in school, outside of school. It’s more of a family. You miss the atmosphere back there. It is a lot bigger. But I’ve had fun here. I never expected to be accepted like this, being a team captain and all."

"When I came here, people were like, ‘Oh, you play soccer? You going to try out?’ " Ramirez recalled of her early days on Okinawa. "They were very excited. I’m happy I came here."

Ramirez’s teammates say they welcomed her immediately, and at least one opposing coach feels Ramirez is a "key player" on Kubasaki.

"She’s solid," longtime Kadena coach Hoa Nguyen said. "She has the fundamentals. They taught her well in the States. She has the basic skills. She adds a key player to Terry’s program."

One might be misled by Kubasaki’s boys’ 4-10 2008 season mark, down from 14-5-10 last year. But seven of those losses – and two victories – came against experienced adult teams, Mil United and Peru Nikei, and the Dragons are firm in the belief they’ll be competitive at Far East.

"We’re ready. We’ve been training hard. Coach has put us through a lot," Colton Sadler said.

Likewise, Ramirez says the Dragons girls (10-6-1) are primed for a deep Class AA run and perhaps a second straight title.

"I really want to win it more than anything," she said.

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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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