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Coach Steve Schrock of the defending Far East High School Wrestling Tournament team champion Kadena Panthers demonstrates technique on sophomore 129-pounder Jacob Bishop during Monday's practice at Panther Pit wrestling annex at Kadena High School. Bishop is a transfer from Zama American and last year's 129-pound runner-up.
Coach Steve Schrock of the defending Far East High School Wrestling Tournament team champion Kadena Panthers demonstrates technique on sophomore 129-pounder Jacob Bishop during Monday's practice at Panther Pit wrestling annex at Kadena High School. Bishop is a transfer from Zama American and last year's 129-pound runner-up. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Steve Schrock remembers the last time he entered a season as coach of a defending Far East High School Wrestling Tournament champion team.

Two seasons ago, with high hopes and a loaded lineup, he and the Kadena Panthers roared into Far East at Yokosuka Naval Base, only to come up against a stone wall in the name of Seoul American. The Falcons swept both team titles, leaving Kadena looking up as the runner-up.

Thus, Schrock says he isn’t resting on the laurels his Panthers garnered in February, when they achieved their own sweep of the individual freestyle and dual-meet team titles.

"It’s an element of pride, [but] I try not to think about it," Schrock said. "Newcomers, returners, transfers — they come in knowing that we’re the championship team. But just because you are, doesn’t mean you’re going to win the next one."

Kadena could have done things differently and made mistakes that proved crucial to Seoul American leapfrogging the Panthers, Schrock said.

"You can’t win championships by making mistakes. I’m going to use that experience to help us minimize mistakes. If we can do that and capitalize on others’ mistakes, that will go a long way," he said.

Schrock spoke during Monday’s practice at Kadena’s musty, humid wrestling room. It’s the Panthers’ first full season using their own room, instead of the school cafeteria.

In that grappler-producing furnace, a gaggle of experienced veterans who know how to win and a cadre of newcomers and transfers are going about the business of forming a new champion.

Schrock says he likes what he sees so far.

"There’s a good optimistic feeling in here," Schrock said of a group that includes Far East champion Harry Bloom (148 pounds) and top-six Far East finishers in Aaron Avila (115) and Tyler Broome (215).

They join a group of newcomers, including transfers Jacob Bishop (Zama American, 129-pound Far East runner-up) and Jordan Castillo-Henderson (Lakenheath, placed in European tournament last year).

They’ll face stern challenges from Seoul and returning 2007 Far East champ Justin Stokes; Yokota and returning Far East champions Chris Cournoyer, Mark Meade and Tony Presnell; and Nile C. Kinnick, which boasts last year’s Far East Outstanding Wrestler, Cameron Butts.

This will also be the first year that the team championships will be awarded by enrollment. Schools of 300 or more will compete for the Class AA title; schools below that will vie for the Class A crown.

That might mean a first Far East team title for Robert D. Edgren of Japan or Osan American or Daegu American in Korea, each of which will field full lineups.

Osan has five girls out for the team, inspired by last year’s pioneer, Emily Albonetti, who became the first female to place in a Far East tournament. She’s back as an assistant to David Hemmer.

"I feel like we have the Charlie’s Angels of Far East wrestling," Hemmer said.

Body fat analyzers to be used to keep wrestlers safe

One tool that Schrock — and all other DODDS-Pacific coaches — will wield this season is a body-fat analyzer.

They’ll be used by wrestling coaches to determine the proper weight at which each athlete should wrestle and how much weight they can cut safely, Schrock and DODDS-Pacific Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs said.

"We want to align ourselves as much as we possibly can" with the National Federation of State High School Associations, Hobbs said, adding that every state has some sort of weight certification program, according to NFHS.

Using body-fat analyzers was discussed during February’s Far East tournament, and coaches "were in agreement on it, some more strongly in favor than others," Hobbs said. It was then discussed at the March FEAC meeting on Okinawa and given the OK.

"We assured [coaches] that there would be a weight certification program in place" for this season, Hobbs said.

There will be weekly monitoring by Daegu American wrestling coach and athletics director Bill Riggs, Hobbs said. "He’s really helping me out," he said.

"We’re looking out for the safety of our wrestlers," Schrock said.

Class AA team capsulesSouth Korea

Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison2008 Far East tournament finish-Sixth in individual freestyle (29 points), fifth in dual-meet.Coach-Julian Harden, 17th season.Wrestlers to watch-Justin Stokes, Sr., 180, runner-up last year at 180, champ at 180 in 2007; Demetrius Johnson, Sr., 168, fourth at 135 at Far East; Geoff Furner, So., 101, third last year at Far East; Alex Suh, Sr., 108, fourth last year at Far East; Greg Morris, So., 115, third last year at Far East; Matt Nutter, Sr., 122; Eric Kingsley, Jr., 141; Abraham Park, Jr., 158, fifth last year at Far East.Outlook-Rebuilding-reloading, despite having seven experienced returnees. Much will hinge on how well they start, and if they can get out-of-country in-season competition prior to Far East.Okinawa

Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base2008 Far East tournament finish-Defending individual freestyle (68 points), dual-meet champion.Coach-Steve Schrock, 11th season.Wrestlers to watch-Aaron Avila, Jr., 115, fifth last year at Far East; Harry Bloom, Jr., 148, 141-pound gold medalist last year at Far East; Tyler Broome, Jr., 215, third at 180 last year at Far East; Mark Harmeling, So., 141; Shaquille Ray, So., 180; Jacob Bishop, So., 129, defending runner-up (transfer from Zama American, Japan); Jordan Castillo-Henderson, Jr., 122 (transfer from RAF Lakenheath, England); Jacob Sizemore, Sr., 168 (returns after year layoff); Shanon Lautenschlager, Sr., 135 (returns after year layoff); Alex Pelky, Sr., 180; Gabe Ahner, Fr., heavyweight.Outlook-Reloading. Not as deep as last year’s three-deep per weight squad, but still plenty of returning experience and pedigree, helped by the addition of transfers Castillo-Henderson and Bishop. Coaching continuity a plus; Schrock begins his second decade with the team, assistant Chase Crosby is back and last year’s Far East heavyweight champion Jon Shoults (graduated) will help with upper weights.

Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster2008 Far East tournament finish-Runner-up in individual freestyle (48 points), and dual-meet.Coach-Terry Chumley, seventh season.Wrestlers to watch-Scott Wood, Sr., 122-29, three-time Far East gold medalist; Josh Bales, So., 135, defending 122-pound runner-up at Far East; Jake "Cowboy" Haynes, Sr., 168, fifth at 168 at Far East; Mark Chase, 108-115, fourth at 101 at Far East; Cody Allen, Sr., 115 (transfer from Camp Lejeune, N.C.).Outlook-Rebuilding. Key cogs in Far East tournament runner-up team, including Bucky Shaw, Matt Meno and C.J. Tapang, are gone. Chumley has plenty of weight classes to fill this season.

Guam

Guam High PanthersNimitz Hill2008 Far East tournament finish-Seventh in individual freestyle (26 points); sixth in dual meet.Coach-Ed Paz, fourth season.Wrestlers to watch-Michael Tougher, Sr., 125, third at 115 at Far East; Tom French, 270; Darren Perez, 130; Christian Spotanski, 140.Outlook-The mother of all rebuilding jobs. After winning the last three All-Island titles, Panthers are starting over with a new-old coach, Paz, who succeeds departed Brandon Miller who succeeded Paz. Eight of Paz’s charges are freshmen.

Japan

Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base2008 Far East tournament finish-Third in individual freestyle (46 points), fourth in dual meet.Coach-Brian Kitts, fifth season.Wrestlers to watch-Mark "Shifty" Meade, Sr., 108, defending 108-pound champion at Far East; Chris Cournoyer, Sr., 115, defending 101-pound champion at Far East; Tony Presnell, Sr., 168, defending 158-pound champion at Far East; Nick Guzman, Sr., 122 (transfers back to Yokota after one year in Hawaii); Andrew Conkling, Sr., 168, sixth at Far East; Devin Day, So., 129; Sayer Austin, So., 180; Ed Peterson, Fr., 101; Ross Matsumoto, Jr., 135; Cody Trimmell, Sr., 141.Outlook-Reloading-contending. Five four-year wrestlers anchor a program that should contend for its fourth straight Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles and first Far East title since 2003. Best chance at doing those if Panthers avoid the injury bug that’s bitten hard the last few years.

Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base 2008 Far East tournament finish-10th in individual freestyle (16 points).Coach-Nicolas Hindie, second season.Wrestlers to watch-Cameron Butts, Sr., 135, defending champion, reigning Far East tournament Outstanding Wrestler; Byron Stipe, Sr., 108 (returns after one-year layoff); Mikkariece Curry, Jr., heavyweight; Dereck Youngblood, Jr., 158, fifth at 148 at Far East; David de los Santos, So., 215; Chris Santos, Jr., 168; David Ford, Sr., 168; Michael Partridge, Jr., 141; Kenny Sampson, Jr., 180; Michael Watts, Jr., 135.Outlook-Contending. Eight wrestlers return from a team that took its lumps a season ago, but appears primed for a deep Kanto and Far East title run.

Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air Facility2008 Far East tournament finish-Fifth in individual freestyle (37 points).Coach-Chris Iredale, first season.Wrestlers to watch-Michael Palomino, Sr., 141; Andrew Doxey, Jr., 158; Michael Spencer, So., 158 (transfer from Europe); Jacob Iredale, Sr., 180; Elias Labrador, Sr., 148; Aaron Baramendi, Jr., 135.Outlook-Rebuilding. Iredale might not field a full squad, but has enough wrestlers who can steal some points, even a gold medal or two. Ability and refuse-to-lose attitude of departed Daniel Polaski and Josh Johnson will be hard to replace.

Class A team capsulesSouth Korea

Osan American CougarsOsan Air Base2008 Far East tournament finish-11th in individual freestyle (13 points).Coach-David Hemmer, second season.Wrestlers to watch-Jesse Crockett, Sr., 215, defending runner-up at 215 at Far East; Michael Gilliam, Jr., heavyweight, sixth last year at Far East; Juan Palacios, So., 180, sixth last year at Far East; Derek Becker, Sr., 129; Michael Newman, Sr., 158; Will Rapoza, Sr., 168; Craig Perry, Sr., 215; Cory Peckins, So., 135.Outlook-Rebuilding-reloading. Will definitely have the most females, five, following in the footsteps of glass ceiling-shattering Emily Albonetti, who’s back as an assistant coach. Will field a full squad; it’s simply a matter of how quickly they can become competitive.

Daegu American WarriorsCamp George2008 Far East tournament finish-Eighth in individual freestyle (21 points).Coach-Bill Riggs, third season.Wrestlers to watch-Greg Jones, Sr., 158, defending runner-up at 148 at Far East; Taka McDougal, 101, fifth last year at Far East; El Kim Yoon, 115, fifth at 108 last year at Far East; Evan Lobeto, 129, sixth at 115 last year at Far East; Phillip Cox, Jr., 148, third at 141 last year at Far East (recovering from football knee injury); James Downey, 135, A.J. DeLosSantos, 141.Outlook-Rebuilding. Riggs has less than half the numbers he had out for the team last year, 20 compared to 43, and is trying to fill three weight classes. Enough talent to steal some points and medals, but it likely won’t be enough to contend for the Class A title until they can fill out the lineup.

Japan

Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base2008 Far East tournament finish-Fourth in individual freestyle (43 points), third in dual-meet.Coach-Justin Edmonds, fifth season.Wrestlers to watch-Darrel Morris, 158, third at 148 last year at Far East; Cheston Nurial-Dacalo, 168, third last year at Far East; Tim Pounds, 129, third at 115 last year at Far East; Champagne Tatman, 115; Justin Arrington, 122 (transfer from Kadena); Bryce Edminster, 141; Teddy Lange, 168.Outlook-Reloading/contending. The bulk of Edmonds’ competitive teams of the last two years is gone, but enough grapplers who have learned how to compete are back in place. Maybe not in the same class as the last two years, but definitely a contender for the Class A title.

E.J. King CobrasSasebo Naval Base2008 Far East tournament finish-Ninth in individual freestyle (17 points).Coach-Thomas Wright, fifth season.Wrestlers to watch-Andrew Hoffman, So., 168; Ben Auston, Sr., 108.Outlook-Another year in the Cobras’ eternal rebuilding process. Hoffman and Auston are the only wrestlers of a total of eight with Far East experience.

Significant dates

Jan. 10, 2009-Nile C. Kinnick Invitational "Beast of the Far East" individual freestyle tournament, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

Jan. 17, 2009-2nd Okinawa-American Friendship Meet, Kadena High School, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Jan. 29-31, 2009-2nd Okinawa "Rumble On The Rock" Tournament, Kubasaki High School, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Feb. 11-14, 2009-DODDS-Pacific Far East High School Tournament, individual freestyle and dual-meet, Foster Field House, Foster Athletics Complex, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

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