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Kubasaki senior Sophia Grubbs says of tournaments such as the Ryukyu Island starting Thursday: "These are the games we'll remember forever."

Kubasaki senior Sophia Grubbs says of tournaments such as the Ryukyu Island starting Thursday: "These are the games we'll remember forever." (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

It’s been awhile since DODEA-Japan’s volleyball and tennis teams have played in a postseason tournament … something that Mark Lange said became clearly evident when he met with his Matthew C. Perry tennis players the other day.

“This is going to be just like a Far East tournament,” Lange said he told his players about the upcoming All-Japan DODEA tournament starting Thursday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

The Samurai coach and tournament director was met, he said, with blank stares and some of his players looking quizzically at one another. One spoke up and said: “I’ve never been to a tournament like that before.”

Then it hit him, Lange said. It had been three years since the last DODEA-Japan tournament at Perry, as well as the last DODEA-Pacific Far East tournament on Okinawa, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are COVID kids,” Lange said Tuesday, two days before the start of the All-Japan DODEA tennis championships at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. “These kids have no idea. It’s going to be a totally new experience for them.”

The same goes for most of the volleyball players converging on Kubasaki High School on Okinawa, site of the Ryukyu Island Tournament for DODEA and international schools in Japan and Okinawa.

Organizers plan to run each event like a Far East tournament:

-- The tennis tournament features the eight DODEA-Japan and Okinawa schools playing on Iwakuni Middle School’s four courts. There are three events, Lange said: Doubles on the first day, singles the second and mixed doubles the third. The championships of all three will be played Saturday. Team scoring will be done the same way as it is at Far East, with placements counting toward team points.

-- The DODEA-Japan and Okinawa volleyball schools are joined by three Tokyo-area international schools, including 2019 Far East Division I champion Seisen International, and Guam’s private-school league runner-up Academy of Our Lady, holder of a record seven Far East D-I titles.

They’ll play 1½ days of pool play followed by a modified single-elimination tournament with consolation, with matches played at Kubasaki and nearby Zukeran Elementary School on Camp Foster.

Moa Best is the sophomore daughter of E.J. King coach McKinzy Best, who says of facing off against players they've not seen before from Okinawa: “We’ll accept the challenge and do our best."

Moa Best is the sophomore daughter of E.J. King coach McKinzy Best, who says of facing off against players they've not seen before from Okinawa: “We’ll accept the challenge and do our best." (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

For Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s tennis teams, it presents a chance to travel for the first time an in-season event since 2019, and see players they’ve never encountered.

“We don’t know what to expect from any of the teams” in Japan, said Okinawa girls singles champion Ella Perez of Kubasaki. “We’re feeling nervous, but confident. We feel ready.”

Likewise, the teams in Japan haven’t faced Kadena or Kubasaki in three years. “That’s awesome,” said McKinzy Best, coach of an E.J. King team featuring his two sophomore daughters, Miu and Moa.

“We’ll accept the challenge and do our best,” the elder Best said. “A lot of these kids have never been on this big stage. But they’ve gotta play. Any time there’s a tournament, it’s time to go play.”

Headlining the Ryukyu Island volleyball are the teams that played in last Saturday’s American School In Japan YUJO Tournament final, where Kubasaki beat Seisen in straight sets.

Seniors Emma Leggio, Risha McGriff and Sophia Grubbs of Kubasaki and Seisen’s Lisa Purcell are the lone remaining veterans of the 2019 Far East tournament, where the Phoenix swept the Dragons in the last Division I final.

They may be rivals on the court, but they’re friends off it for the most part, Leggio said. “It’s so cool to meet people from other schools who have the same passion for volleyball as we do,” she said.

For those new to the stage, “it’s easy to get nervous, but it’s important to have those emotions under control,” Grubbs said. “These are the games we’ll remember forever.”

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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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