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Osan American seeking title it missed last year

Christian Segarra of Okinawa's Kubasaki Dragons gets the upper hand on Scott Metts of American School In Japan during Thursday's 101-pound weight-class finals of the Far East High School Wrestling Tournament's individual freestyle portion at Capps Gym, Yokota High School, Yokota Air Base, Japan. Segarra won 13-4 to become one of 10 wrestlers to earn their first weight-class gold medal.

DAVE ORNAUER / S&S

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 2004

Their bid to match the record for consecutive Class A Far East High School girls championships was well within Osan American’s reach a year ago.

The Lady Cougars led Faith Academy 28-17 with 6:50 left in the third quarter of the championship game but wound up losing by 10. Fifty-one weeks later, Osan enters this year’s Class A battle with a renewed sense of dedication and hope.

“We want it badly, a lot,” said junior forward Mina Davis, a member of Osan’s 2002 championship team and last year’s runner-up. “It’s unbelievable. We been working hard lately and so the team has really come together. I think we’ll pull together this year and we’ll win.”

Added junior guard Alyssa Kopp: “We’re confident. We’re not going to come in thinking we’re going to finish second to a team like Faith. We’re coming in there with a goal in mind.”

Osan can still make a bit of history when the tournament tips off Monday at the Camp Hialeah Sports & Fitness Center at Pusan, South Korea. By winning at center court Friday, Osan would capture its third championship in four years — something that’s never been done.

“We’ll try to get there, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome,” said Bruce Barker, bidding for his record fourth Class A crown as a coach, to go with titles won by Osan in 2001-02 and Pusan American in 1994. “On a given day, we can play well. Anybody can be beat, but when we’re playing together, it’s hard to beat us.”

This is a drastically different Osan team than last year’s version, which leaned heavily on the inside play of Jessica Hagmaier and Kim Gulley, now departed, and 6-foot-2 freshman Margaret Nurse. The 2004 club is a guard-oriented lot, fueled by newcomers Whytne Fellows and Elizabeth Juergens, who complement the returners nicely.

“We have more ballhandlers, and we have girls who aren’t afraid to shoot outside,” Barker said.

Then, there’s Nurse, the biggest thing in South Korea who has improved her play dramatically this season but still has limitless potential, Barker said.

“She should be dominating and someday she will,” he said. “She’s young. It takes a while to gain that confidence. She’s developing more confidence every game. If she gets better position, she could be dominating the boards. She’s scoring better, and that’s because she’s close to the basket.”

Barker isn’t overly concerned about competition from the peninsula — Osan’s only losses this season came against Seoul American, a Class AA team. But Taegu American could make some noise with its guard tandem of Lynette Grant and Ashley Gooch.

E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry of Japan are rebuilding this winter, along with Taiwan’s Morrison Christian Academy. But the Lady Mustangs won a championship in 2000 in their only other visit, and Osan is certainly leery of the unknown.

“You don’t know about the ones you haven’t seen,” Barker said. “It’s hard to play teams you haven’t seen before.”

Still, the Lady Cougars like their chances.

“It’s all how we communicate and work together on the floor,” Davis said. “I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but I know we can come together and win this.”