Okinawa teams excited for return of Far East events
Stars and Stripes March 2, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Solares Solano and Kubasaki’s girls soccer team got the next-best thing to a Far East tournament title last spring, when they outscored Yokota 4-1 in the DODEA All-Japan tournament final.
They’ll get a chance at the real thing April 24-26 at Kadena, which hosts the first Far East Division I tournament since May 2019. And Solares, who led the Dragons with 17 goals and earned DODEA All-Japan Golden Boot honors, says she could not be happier.
“I have faith in our team,” Solano said. “I think we’ll do well.”
She has every reason to believe it.
The Dragons retain quite a few of the pieces who manned the defensive half and led the way to an 8-3-1 record last year.
But coach Chris Eastman - in his fourth year at the girls team’s helm - also gained a couple of freshmen, Hailey Brooke and Amaya Schaffeld, who are not new to soccer. They’re playing up front, as are Solano and Zama sophomore transfer Sakura Lopez.
“We have the grizzled veterans in the back and the underclass up front,” Eastman said.
The new faces will go a long way, Eastman and Solano said, in replacing midfielder Syra Soto, who transferred to Humphreys, and Viola Wray, who graduated last June.
“We have some new players with the same skill sets as the ones who left,” Solano said.
“I think we’re going to score some goals this season,” Eastman said. “I think we’re faster than last year’s team.”
But one can’t expect the same results automatically, Eastman said. “You always have to prove it on the field,” he said. “Nobody’s going to give it to you.”
The Dragons opened with a 6-1 victory at Kadena on Wednesday. Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s boys and girls teams have also played some friendly matches against adult and university teams in preparation for the high school season.
Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s boys get a stern test this weekend at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, when they play in the Perry Cup tournament.
Baseball also got underway on Okinawa on Wednesday, with the Dragons routing the Panthers 16-7. Softball begins next Thursday with Kadena hosting Kubasaki.
Kadena’s girls benefitted from the PCS plane, which brought them a senior from Kaiserslautern, Lucy Donnelly. The Panthers’ backline gained a freshmen who’s not new to the game, Brooke Brewer.
They’ll help soothe the loss of speedy midfielder NyKale Penn, who transferred to Guam. Donnelly will bolster a midfield featuring returners Mia Garza, Sydney Pontious and Marina Sawyer.
“There were a lot of tears,” Donnelly said of leaving K-Town, “but I like it here. It was a good move.”
The transfer round also brought a pair of brothers from Seneca Valley, Md., who played for Paragon FC – junior Yoshua and freshman Elijah Whipp. Yoshua scored four goals in Kadena’s 4-2 win in a friendly over Mil United last Saturday.
“We’re happy to have him and his brother,” Panthers boys coach Abe Summers said. “We’ll take it. It’s a good starting point.”
The Whipps almost ended up at Iwakuni, Yoshua said, but they’re OK with the move to Kadena, “It’s a big change, but I’m up to the challenge,” said Yoshua, adding that he’s played soccer since he could walk.
One team carrying a belly full of motivation into the season is Kubasaki’s boys, who went all the way through the DODEA All-Japan tournament at Yokota to the final, where the Dragons lost 3-0 to Nile C. Kinnick.
“It has an affect on our morale and spirit,” said junior midfielder Jaden Oshana. “This year, we plan to redeem ourselves.”
The Dragons baseball team is coming off a win over the Panthers in the finals of the DODEA All-Japan tournament. But their main concern heading into this season was ensuring their pitching wouldn’t wear down.
Thus, coaches Jason Welte and David Wray have assembled a stable of eight arms that should keep the team more than afloat. “We’re not going to go to Far East and run out of pitchers,” Welte said.
The leading ace is sophomore left-hander Luka Koja. Three other sophomores should see starting time, as will seniors Ryder Beaudoin, Nick Adams, Andrew Welte and Samuel Bierman.
“We have a lot of returners and a nice mix of upper and underclassmen,” the elder Welte said. “The ultimate goal is to win the Far East tournament” which the Dragons host April 24-26.
Competing in Far East may be a tough call for the Panthers, who are facing what coach Steven Ferch calls a “total rebuild.” Only 15 players signed up, 13 came out for tryouts and only 11 remain on the roster, he said. “We’re not deep at all.”
Still, the Panthers retained five players from last season, including senior catcher Jeremiah Sprague and junior pitcher Drew Eaglin, and gained two seasoned freshmen in Andrew Chapman and Ty Lujan.
Expect both the Panthers and Dragons to be competitive come Far East, to be hosted April 24-26 at Humphreys.
Kadena, with new coach Jess Geffre at the helm, is strong up the middle with sophomore Julia Petruff returning to the mound, junior Morgan Sayers at shortstop and Petruff’s twin sister Jessica at second base. Juniors Lia Connolly and Janna Hurst will man the corner infield spots.
“They’re really excited, super pumped, happy to be back on the field,” Geffre said.
The Dragons are senior heavy in returners, with four-year veteran Mia Vedsted seeing time on the mound as well as the infield and behind the plate.
Kristen Lininger will play shortstop. Two freshmen, Taylor Tobin and Samantha Diaz, are “extremely promising, looking really good,” second-year Dragons coach Cassandra Pineda said.