Kadena senior and captain Tyler Smith led the Panthers in goals the last two years, helped Kadena to 36 wins and capping it, the 2024 Far East Division I tournament title.

Kadena senior and captain Tyler Smith led the Panthers in goals the last two years, helped Kadena to 36 wins and capping it, the 2024 Far East Division I tournament title. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Kadena won every one of its boys soccer matches during the 2024 season.

But Tyler Smith said he and the Panthers had a greater achievement in mind – capturing the Far East Division I Tournament title they hadn’t won in seven years. Especially after the heartbreak they experienced in the 2023 final.

“We wanted to win (Far East) and bring that banner home,” Smith said. “Just winning the season, going unbeaten would be one thing. But we wanted that banner. We came into the season with determination.”

Their dreams were realized May 1 at Camp Humphreys. There, on a brilliant sunny afternoon, Smith scored twice, bringing his final season total to 28, and the Panthers beat Nile C. Kinnick 5-2 in the D-I championship match.

“That was a great feeling,” said Smith, the Panthers’ team captain this season. “I just saw everyone running onto that field; we all came together with so much joy.”

Smith also exited his high school career as Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school boys soccer Athlete of the Year.

“He was a very focused leader,” Panthers coach Abe Summers said of Smith. “He knew our team goal was to win Far East, and he made sure that team members stayed focused on the goal and helped us get there.”

That championship moment was something Smith said he and his teammates thought about all school year, even as far back as that April 26, 2023, a day which lived in their memories like a searing flame.

In a driving rain with chilly, gusty winds, the Panthers lost 3-2 to host Nile C. Kinnick in the D-I Tournament final. Kadena had led at halftime 2-0, only to watch the lead slip away.

“Once they scored, we lost the momentum,” Smith recalled of that fateful day. “We weren’t used to being tested in that way, and it was a high-pressure game for all of us. That was one of the lowest points I had to go through, being up 2-0 and losing like that.”

But it might also have served as the motivator he and the Panthers needed entering the 2024 season. “Going through that helped us stay composed,” Smith said.

It helped that the Panthers welcomed to the lineup Frank Stare, a striker who transferred from Kubasaki, and Jelani McGhee, a freshmen who fit in well for the Panthers in the midfield.

As the team’s captain, Smith said his responsibility went beyond positioning players where they needed to be. “Keeping our emotions in check, keeping the level of play up,” he said.

The Panthers took a 2-0 lead early in the D-I final and didn’t lose that composure when the Red Devils cut the lead in half. “When they scored, it didn’t bring us down the way it did last year,” he said.

Through it all, Smith said he and the Panthers kept their eyes on the prize, right to the moment when the whistle signaled the end of the final match. “We accomplished everything we needed to,” he said.


Age — 18

Birthplace — Okinawa, Japan.

Favorite sport — Soccer.

Favorite subject — Math.

Least favorite subject — Science.

Favorite athlete — Lionel Messi.

Favorite TV series — One Piece.

Favorite movie — Dune 2.

Favorite performer — Robert Downey Jr.

Individual soccer statistics — 28 goals, 13 assists.

Kadena team record — 21 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws, Pacific-record eighth DODEA-Pacific Far East Division I Tournament title.

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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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