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With the Far East basketball and wrestling tournaments just around the corner, coaches are focusing their attention this weekend on tinkering with their lineups and bench-shortening while treating their final regular-season contests as if the tournaments already have begun.

“For us, this IS tournament time,” Seoul American boys basketball coach Steve Boyd said after the Falcons opened the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference tournament by pounding Seoul International 75-38 at Seoul Foreign School.

Since taking the Falcons’ helm for the 2001-02 season, Boyd said, he’s “always used the KAIAC” tournament as Far East tournament dress rehearsal. It’s a two-day double-elimination tournament and some teams could play up to three games in a day, as happens at Far East.

“You’re not just looking at one game but further down the road to the rest of the day,” Boyd said of the careful balancing act of resting regulars when a game is in hand, and avoiding injuries to starters. “You don’t want to get somebody hurt unnecessarily.”

He used his regulars in what he said was the “exact same rotation” he plans for the Far East Class AA tournament starting Feb. 19 at Seoul American.

The Falcons led 27-4 after one period and the starters played only the first half against Seoul International. Boyd said he believes his unit is playing “as well as we have” all season.

The Falcons improved to 29-13 but still faced a hurdle Saturday in tournament host Seoul Foreign, which has beaten Seoul American twice this season on the Crusaders’ home court.

Two other teams engaging in dress rehearsal were the top two squads in last year’s Far East wrestling tournament, who squared off in their final Okinawa Activities Council regular-season dual meet on Thursday at Kadena’s Panther Pit.

And for the third time this season, Kubasaki, last year’s runner-up, prevailed over 2006 Far East champion Kadena by a razor-thin margin, 30-29. It was the Dragons’ first season sweep over the Panthers in three years.

Kadena coach Steve Schrock and Kubasaki coach Terry Chumley mostly went with their Far East tournament lineups. Kadena seized a 29-15 edge when 168-pounder Josh Carpenter pinned Randy Candelaria, but Kubasaki rallied behind pins from Ricky Jones (180) and Jorge Cristobal (215), plus a walkover victory by heavyweight Bucky Shaw.

Despite losing all three regular-season dual meets, Schrock said he believes both Panthers and Dragons “are ready to represent our island.”

“Between our two schools, there is a great collection of very, very good wrestlers,” Schrock said of past Far East gold medalists Brandon McCullough and Jacob Bloom of Kadena and Matt Maza and Scott Wood of Kubasaki. “Terry and I know the tournament will be tough as always ... anything can happen but we’re confident our teams will do well this year.”

The dual meet had the trappings of a Far East championship dual meet, with a raucous home crowd of about 500 at the Panther Pit. Unlike the season’s first two dual meets, which Kubasaki won 39-20 on Jan. 11 and 41-23 on Jan. 18, this one went to the wire.

At least one team wasn’t yet focused on Far East. The E.J. King girls needed to win two home games against Matthew C. Perry to seal their first DODDS-Japan Basketball League title.

They accomplished half their objective, downing the Samurai 60-46 on Friday and improving to 11-1 in the JBL, a game ahead of Yokota (10-2). A victory Saturday would clinch the title; a loss coupled with Yokota victories Tuesday over Zama American and Thursday at Kinnick would vault the Panthers to the title.

“It’s a goal and a milestone we have to accomplish before Far East. We’re treating these like any regular-season games. We’re taking it one game at a time,” coach Bridget Vertin said.

While the Far East Class A tournament, scheduled for Feb. 19-23 at Taegu American in South Korea, is “important, I don’t want us to look too far ahead while we still have goals to work on,” Vertin said.


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