Dragons, Panthers set for fall season matchups
Stars and Stripes September 8, 2023
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – It’s been nearly two decades since Kadena was the dominant of the two DODEA-Okinawa volleyball programs.
With plenty of talent returning from the 2022 season plus a pair of sisters who transferred from Texas, coach Ashley Moreno says she’s trying not to look too far forward.
“I’m most excited to build a program with the talent that keeps coming,” said Moreno, in her second season of coaching the Panthers.
Senior Haide Alvarez and her freshman sister Aylin stepped off the PCS Plane and join a team with five seniors, three of them returners, plus two freshmen – including Aylin Alvarez – who are not new to volleyball.
The returning seniors are Jaci Scriven, Deniz Dussetschleger and MacKenzee Flora. Junior middle blocker Liza Young returns and sophomores Christina Kehe and Jazlene Vergara were also part of a 2022 team that took two sets off a Kubasaki team that went 20-0 the last two seasons.
Moreno says she’s not so much worried about winning titles as she is about “team building. Working on communication and working as a team. The other things will come.”
The Panthers play the first of their four matches on Tuesday against a Kubasaki team facing a rebuilding job the likes of which they’ve not seen in 10 years – six players graduated and sophomore setter Grace Berrens transferred.
One starter returns from a Dragons team that did not drop a set against any other opponent besides Kadena last year. Defensive specialist Annabelle Alvarado is back along with fellow senior Olivia Schaffeld.
But coach Kent Grubbs says Kubasaki’s cupboard is not entirely bare. The Dragons, too, have two freshmen, Madison Nguyen and Ramethlyn Doctolero, who are not new to the game. Sophomore Nevaeh Gilbert takes over setting duties.
“I know with the girls we have, that we have a good season ahead of us,” Alvarado said. “It’s a new team, but you always want to have a positive mindset.”
After a four-year coronavirus pandemic-induced absence, the Dragons and Panthers will once more have a Far East Division I tournament to end the season, Oct. 23-25 at Humphreys.
Second-year Dragons coach Chere Smith also expressed optimism about the coming season. “We have a full boys team and all the girls are back,” she said.
Leading the way on the boys side is senior Owen Ruksc. Junior Max Lombard also returns, along with seniors Lillian Law and Noemi Ung and junior Ella Perez on the girls side. “I’m really excited,” Smith said.
While the Dragons are optimistic about the present, Kadena second-year coach Shawn Ryan feels the same about the Panthers’ future.
“We’re rebuilding this year, but we have some new players stepping up on the boys side,” he said.
His son Steven is a junior. Sophomores Kaedon Truong and Maddux Fisk also return.
New to the Panthers are freshman Bryce Federico, plus a pair of girls soccer players taking up tennis for the first time, junior Sydney Pontious and sophomore Brooke Brewer.
“I like the sport,” said Pontious, a lifelong soccer player. “I enjoy it. It’s different, but enjoyable.”
Tennis will also conclude with a Far East tournament for the first time since 2019, Oct. 23-26 at Kadena’s 11-court Risner tennis complex.
The transfer plane was also good to Kadena’s cross country team, thanks to the return of Sebastian Praske. He lived on Okinawa before leaving for two years and running for Lejeune High School in North Carolina.
“He’ll be our No. 1 runner,” Panthers coach Abe Summers said. Praske won the season’s inaugural boys race at the Cape Zampa Lighthouse course on Wednesday.
It's a senior-heavy Kadena boys team, also featuring Tuck Renquist, back after a one-year layoff, plus Jerimiah Henley and Dylan Fancher.
The Panthers’ girls lineup lost four of five runners; only senior Mia Bella Gonzalez returns.
Kubasaki is facing a rebuilding task. Seniors Joachim Killian and Gideon Dawson return, and the numbers have increased significantly since last year, but many are new to the sport.
After running Far East meets virtually the last three years, Kadena and Kubasaki will run an in-person Far East meet for the first time since 2019, Oct. 23-24 at Misawa Air Base’s Gosser Memorial Golf Course.
“It will be fun to have a Far East again,” Summers said.