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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — There’s a reason why Kadena and Seoul American have dominated the Far East high-school cross country courses since 2004: They start taking aim in August at the big prize in November.

Sure, winning regular-season meets and capturing league post-season honors are nice. But it means little, coaches of both teams say, unless a team can grab the Far East brass ring, this year Nov. 8-9 at Tama Hills Recreation Center in Tokyo.

“It’s when we all come together for the first time” having not seen each other run and not knowing what each other has, said Tom McKinney, whose Kadena team won Far East titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007. “It’s their time to perform on the big stage. They only get one chance.”

To take advantage of that chance, one starts at the beginning, the first team meeting in late August, where expectations are discussed and workout and practice schedules are outlined, with one goal in mind.

Seoul American earned top honors the last two years under Steve Boyd and his lieutenant, Mike Schroer. Schroer laid out the preparation for his runners, with Boyd absorbing as much as he could.

“He taught me how to prepare in August to where you’re already looking ahead at November,” Boyd said of Schroer, who has since transferred to Fort Benning, Ga. “I learned enough from him as far as the conditioning, practice schedules, we’d do this on Monday, that on Tuesday, this on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He was the brains behind it.”

Boyd plans to use Schroer’s painstaking regimen to make a group of “good runners who have come through the system” even better, he said. “We’ve got depth, especially on the girls’ side.”

Reigning Far East individual 3.1-mile race champion Siarria Ingram, a sophomore, and junior Amanda Henderson return; they finished 1-2 in last year’s meet. Henderson’s freshman sister, Pam, joins the squad this year; she’s posting better times than Amanda, Boyd said.

Though 2009 Far East boys champion Thomas Kim is gone, Boyd still has plenty left in seniors Andrew Murphy, Anthony Catineau and John Graham.

“I think we have a great opportunity,” Boyd said of aiming for three straight overall titles. “I think we have a shot at it.”

As always, Kadena should challenge the Falcons with seniors Jacob Bishop, Tomas Sanchez and Andrea Grade, each top-15 finishers last year. Yokota of Japan, with its veteran squad, could also contend.

Then there’s the addition of international schools, which were given the go-ahead to return to Far East for the first time since 2003. Far East meets are capped at 16 teams; since there are 12 DODDS Pacific schools, that would mean four international schools would be welcomed.

International schools long dominated Far East in the 1980s and ’90s. McKinney said he’s interested in how DODDS teams will stack up after a seven-year absence. He’s watched international schools compete from afar in the Asia-Pacific Invitational on Guam, and wondered how they would do against Kadena and Seoul and vice versa.

“I’m excited to see it,” he said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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