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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Never before has a Far East High School Tennis Tournament seen this much star power, coming to Kadena’s Risner Tennis Complex in November:

Two-time reigning boys singles champion Kyle Sprow of Kadena.Reigning boys doubles champions Sprow and Elliot Mason.Two returning former girls singles champions, Kadena’s Elissa Mason (2008) and Seoul American’s Kennedy Allen (2007).Allen is also one half of last year’s girls doubles champion team."Amazing," Sprow said before Wednesday’s season-opening match against Kubasaki at Risner. "Rarely do you get so much success in one sport, especially in DODDS" where good players come and go frequently. "It’s going to be a fantastic week."

"It’s really exciting," said Allen, who cut her teeth on tennis at Risner when her family was assigned to Okinawa earlier this decade.

Kadena, Seoul American and 10 other DODEA Pacific schools engage in a nine-week regular season, followed by a league tournaments in late October.

Those serve as warmups to the season-ending Far East tournament on Okinawa and the Asia-Pacific Invitational at Osaka International School.

Allen and the Falcons look to build on a run of three straight Far East team titles (2005-07) and a share of last year’s title with Kadena.

But behind Allen are a crop of youngsters, a far cry from the senior-laden squads of past years; coach Robert Victoria’s boys team captains, Chong Lee and Jae Han, are sophomores.

"It’s going to be tricky," Victoria said, adding that overcoming Kadena will be "tough. But Chong and Jae, they know what it’s about, the weather down there and the competition."

Kadena has enjoyed a long run of OAC championships, and won the Far East team title in 2004 and shared it with Seoul American last year. Aside from the returning champions, junior Christin Gentz’s game has improved dramatically and is teaming with Mason in doubles.

"Kyle, Elliot and Elissa all set the example," coach Robert Bliss said of a group of year-round players that attended camps, practiced and played most of the summer.

Bliss’ Panthers get a chance to see where they stand when they travel this weekend to Tokyo to face international-school powers St. Mary’s International and Christian Academy In Japan.

"We look forward to a good year," Bliss said.

Perhaps the Falcons’ and Panthers’ biggest challengers to their title monolith may come from Nile C. Kinnick, which stands to be the top team in DODEA Japan.

Eighth-year coach Nico Hindie returns almost his entire lineup, and welcomes Geraldine Nicdao, who transferred from Zama American. But his squad is almost all seniors, and Hindie acknowledges that it could be all or nothing.

"It’s hard to contend" at Far East, Hindie said of the Kadenas and Seoul Americans of the world. "They have such great kids. But we’re going to try to make a dent at Far East."

No matter who wins, "Far East is always a great event," Bliss said. "This year, we have a lot of good players returning. That’s going to be a fun week."

Team capsulesSouth KoreaSeoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison Coach-Robert Victoria, first season (assistant last two years).Key performers-Boys, Jae Han, So.; Chong Lee, So.; Matt Bruhnke, Jr.; Josh Kim, Jr.. Girls, Kennedy Allen, Sr. (2007 Far East singles champion, defending Far East doubles champion, singles runner-up); Carson Allen, Fr.; Clara Buss, Sr.; Michelle Roh, So.; Jacquelyn Nguyen, Jr.Overview-Contending. Thought to be done after sweeping three straight Far East team titles, Falcons captured a share of it with Kadena last November, so one can never count out Seoul American. Kennedy Allen, especially, returns with a belly full of fire wanting to avenge KAIAC and Far East singles championship losses.

Daegu American Warriors, Camp GeorgeCoach-Ed Thompson, sixth season.Key performers-Boys, Russell Midomaru, So. (third in Far East singles last year); Matthew Hwang, Fr.. Girls, Betty Lee, Sr.; Christina Thompson, Fr.; Isabelle Georges, Jr.Overview-Reloading. Girls are stronger depth-wise but not strong at the top two singles posts; opposite is true for the boys. May take a major effort to better their fourth-place Far East team finish last year.

Osan American Cougars, Osan Air BaseCoach-Bruce Barker, 15th season.Key performers-Boys, Jung-uk Sin, So.; John Flint, So.; Chelsie Stoke, So. Girls, Jiyun Moon, So.; Hannah Moon, Sr.; Kimberly Porter, So.; Hannah Lee, Jr.Overview-The mother of all rebuilding jobs. Replacing Far East mixed doubles champion pair Laura Konecne, Dustin Caranci is a tough chore.

OkinawaKadena Panthers, Kadena Air BaseCoach-Robert Bliss, third season.Key performers-Boys, Kyle Sprow, Sr. (two-time defending Far East singles champion, defending doubles champion); Elliot Mason, Sr. (defending Far East doubles champion with Sprow, defending Far East singles runner-up); Arlo Taylor, So.; Donovan Tracy, Fr.; Ryan Yerger, Sr.; Hiroshi Estrada, Fr. Girls, Elissa Mason, Sr. (defending Far East singles champion, doubles runner-up); Christin Gentz, Jr.; Katie Mundie, Jr.; Emily Zaher, Jr.; Min-jung Kim, Jr. (transfer from Osan American, South Korea).Overview-Definitely contending. Sprow, Elissa Mason look to make Far East tournament singles title history, Elliot Mason gives Panthers solid 1-2 boys punch atop lineup, Panthers primed for successive Far East team title run; they shared title last year with Seoul American, won the crown in 2004. And they’re stocked with youngsters for the future as well.

Kubasaki Dragons, Camp FosterCoach-Stephanie Davis, second season.Key performers-Boys, Cody Everett, Sr.; Joseph Kim, So.; Dale Tubat, Fr.; Reej Buenaventure, So.; Kind Smith, Fr. Girls, Tammi Ragan, Jr.; Katelynn Knox, Jr.; Miasha Nakahara, Jr.; Tiajha Nakahara, Jr.; Monica Saldana, Jr.Overview-Rebuilding. Boys rebuilding, girls reloading. Boys lineup of a year ago was cleaned out by graduation and transfers. Girls bring back some experience.

JapanMatthew C. Perry Samurai, Marine Corps Air Station IwakuniCoach-Chris Anderson, first season.Key performers-Boys, Andre Bugawan, Sr.; Sam Cadavos, Fr. Girls, Shea Riddick, Sr.Overview-Boys reloading, girls rebuilding. Bugawan brings experience, while newcomer Cadavos has shown some sharpness early on. Riddick is the lone returner to a girls deck cleared by graduation and transfers.

E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval BaseCoach-Daren Schuettpelz, second season.Key performers-Boys, Andrew Canady, Jr.; Radiylon Mina, Fr. Girls, Bridgit Fatora, Jr.; Emma Vance, Fr.Overview-Rebuilding again. Cobras will begin with an incomplete girls team; both boys and girls young, developing.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air BaseCoach-Scott Milanovich, third season.Key performers-Boys, Rico Adams, Jr.; Isaac Rodd, Jr.; Scott Cronin, Jr. Girls, Jennifer Brent, Sr., captain.Overview-Boys reloading, girls rebuilding, as was the case last year. Constant search for that solid No. 1 who’ll pick up team points continues.

Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air BaseCoach-Tommy Palmer, fourth season.Key performers-Boys, Great Hord, So.; C.J. Wright, Sr. Girls, Erica Youngdahl, Fr.; Erika Ettl, So.; Emily Beemsterboer, Fr.; Katelyn White, So.Overview-Reloading. Youngdahl has already stepped up as the No. 1 singles. Pieces are in place for a strong run at individual gold and team honors, maybe this year, definitely in 2010.

Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air FacilityCoach-Wanda Finley, third season.Key performers-Nick Jorgenson, Jr.; Abraham Melvin, Sr.; Genevieve Burley, So.; Maia Drubek, Jr.; Reina Staley, Jr.; Kartia Coffey, Jr. (transfer from Edgren).Overview-Rebuilding. Losing Geraldine Nicdao as a transfer to Kinnick hurt.

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval BaseCoach-Nicolas Hindie, eighth season.Key performers-Jay Pothula, Sr.; Nate Rivera, Jr.; Patrick Perez, Sr.; John Bogen, Sr. Girls, Arisa Hirashima, Sr.; Christine Bolduc, Sr.; Geraldine Nicdao, Sr. (transfer from Zama American).Overview-Contending. Perhaps the finest squad in DODEA Japan, but can they take the final step and make a dent against Pacific powers Kadena and Seoul American?

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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