Korea spring sports get back in the swing after 2020 shutdown
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 18, 2021
It won’t be like most spring sports seasons that DODEA-Korea teams usually enjoy. No Far East tournaments at seasons’ end. Not even a district championship event featuring the non-DODEA teams that Daegu, Osan and Humphreys normally face.
But it is a sports season. Soccer, boys basketball, track and field, softball and baseball get underway among those three schools starting Saturday, with four weeks of competition followed by a three-way DODEA-Korea district championship in each sport April 30-May 1.
And while athletes recognize that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought many changes to the picture, they say they’re OK with taking the field (or the court) in any form.
“It is better than not having anything at all,” said Bethani Newbold, a senior pitcher who helped Daegu’s softball team win the Far East Division II tournament in 2019 and earn Most Valuable Player honors.
“I am so grateful that we’ll have a season. I thank God for it every day. It might not have been what I dreamt of, as to ending my senior year of high school, but seeing the positive of every situation has gotten me through everything in life. Everything happens for a reason.”
Newbold and the Warriors softball team are used to getting off the deck. It was feared at 2019 season’s start that Daegu wouldn’t have enough players to field a team; but they did and went all the way.
“We’re ready to play,” coach Joy Sims said. Newbold is joined by first baseman Lexie Berry among four seniors who have played four seasons for Sims and the Warriors.
“All of us are excited to play … even though it isn’t exactly what we expected this season,” Berry said. “The team is really bonding and we’re having a ton of fun just being able to play.”
“I am not a fan of the shortened season … but I am trying to make the best out of it,” Humphreys senior soccer midfielder Arielle Stickar said. “I guess it really depends on how our games go and the level of competition the other teams bring.”
Basketball season was twice canceled before being revived for spring. Only two of the three DODEA-Korea schools have committed, and only boys at that. Two teams each at Humphreys and Osan will play each other twice at each other’s home courts and in the league finals.
“We are ecstatic about being able to play again; we couldn’t be happier,” Humphreys senior center Collin Metcalf said. “Any competition is good, but I wish we could … play one more Far East.”
Blackhawks coach Ron Merriwether will build around Metcalf, while Cougars coach Robert Penry counts four veterans among his returners: Junior guards Gavin Lunn and Joseph Cornelius and sophomores Jaylon Grant and Matthew Cornelius.
Three seniors - defenders Hansel Morris and Daniel Sowers and midfielder Andrew Reeves - comprise the core of Daegu’s. The girls field nine veterans, including senior Lisa Lyons and junior keeper Brianna Rodriguez.
Humphreys welcomes back three seniors - keeper AnnaLynn Morris and center-mid Selena Howard in addition to Stickar. The boys have junior forward Austin Mills returning. Juniors Tony Oh and Matthew Ahn played two years ago for Seoul American, while sophomore John Matlock is a stateside veteran.
Sung Plourde is in his 19th season as Osan girls coach, and has three midfielders, seniors Chiara McCool and Jimena Rivera and junior Aysha Craft plus senior Brianna McCollum, a transfer from Robert D. Edgren.
The Cougar boys have two returners from the 2019 team: junior midfielder Jose Rivera and freshman striker Gilberto Malavi. Sophomore Dillion Murray transferred from Humphreys.
Daegu welcomes back infielders Ethan Gamez, a senior, and Princeton Newbold, a sophomore, with junior Sean Criz Paguio and freshman Taylor Cline manning the right side of the infield.
Humphreys has mostly underclassmen, nine of them freshmen. Forming the infield keystone are seniors Max Weidley (shortstop) and Ethan Carney (second base). Senior pitcher Deacon Hahn transfers from Daegu.
While Daegu has its four veterans, the Warriors are also young; four players are brand new to softball, Sims said.
Humphreys, the reigning Far East Division I champion, is pretty much starting over. Senior Zoe Weidley transfers in from Kubasaki, while seniors Riyana Camacho and Nichole Christian return and junior pitcher Lizette Ceja moves in from Tennessee.
Laura Mountcastle takes over Osan’s team and brings her daughter, junior Anne, from Taipei American School, where Laura coached and Anne played. Senior Tailan Hickey played for Seoul American three years ago and the last three years for Osan. But the rest of the team is young.