Seoul American tennis, Kadena cross country continue building their championship legacies
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Seoul American’s tennis and Kadena’s cross country teams might wish to consider taking title deed on Far East tournament team championships, as many as they’ve won lately:
¶ The Falcons captured their third straight tennis team championship here last week, outgunning second-place Kadena 62-48. Girls singles champion Kennedy Allen set the pace. Chris Paek and Esther Kim copped the mixed-doubles crown. And the Falcons put all eight of their players on the All-Far East team.
¶ Kadena’s runners earned their second straight team title, third in four years and fourth dating back to 2002. Junior Brant Casteel and sophomore Chasity Cordova, coming off unbeaten regular seasons, won the team relay after each placed second in their individual races. Kadena put all its runners in the top 20 in the individual and relay races.
Why so much sustained success? Players and coaches in both programs point to individual talent, good coaching, and most of all, desire to see the team succeed.
“We motivate each other,” Casteel said of Kadena’s cross country philosophy — pushing each other as a team will yield individual success, and vice versa. “It wouldn’t happen without team. It’s a byproduct of team. We need the team, and the team needs us.”
“Dedication, teamwork and love and passion” for the sport, Seoul American senior singles and doubles player Aesop Lee said.
Toward that end, coaches and players go about their business with a “go out and have fun” attitude, Cordova said, but they are serious about wanting to “be the best you can be.”
Lee, along with many teammates, devotes long hours to private lessons year-round, even hitting the ball around with Seoul Foreign and Seoul International foes from time to time.
“These kids have been together for a few years. You can see they’re serious about it. This is a very motivated group,” said assistant coach Robert Victoria, who viewed the Falcons from the opposing side as Robert D. Edgren’s coach in 2005 and 2006.
Victoria came aboard just as Allen transferred to Seoul American; she was a top-10 singles player and state doubles semifinalist in Florida as a freshman last year. Allen did not drop a singles match all season.
“That was huge,” Victoria said, adding that Allen has helped develop junior Kim into a capable No. 2 singles seed — a “big surprise” for the Falcons, Victoria said.
“Without Kennedy, I don’t think [Seoul American] could have taken the banner this year,” he said.
Allen is just the second Seoul American Far East singles champion. The first was Allen Chin, who won the boys singles crown in 2004, when Seoul American came within two points of team champion Kadena.
Two years before that, Kadena sounded the cross-country warning shot when Kim Lyle began a parade of Panthers girls champions that included Niki Kauzlarich (2004) and Victoria Lyle (2006), along with 2004 boys champion Jon Turner.
Tennis and cross country might be individual sports by nature, but when the athletes work together, encourage each other and put team goals ahead of all else, the individual achievements take care of themselves, Lee said.
“Encouraging others during the game. It makes for a brotherhood. You feel loved. It makes us want to go for it, not just for me, but for team,” Lee said.
“Team is more important. The banner is more important,” Cordova said.
“If you focus just on the individual, you lose the team,” Kadena coach Tom McKinney said. “It becomes, ‘Oh, it’s all about him.’ I always preach team. If you’re in the lead, take it and finish, but in a way that helps others get going.”
While talent is always there, coaching “brings that out in us,” Casteel said of McKinney, who inherited the 2002 Far East champion team from John Dawson and has added three team titles to the growing legacy.
“Talent has a lot to do with it, but you have to bring it out in people,” Cordova said. “Our coaches do that.”
“You can’t go through the motions” as a coach, McKinney said. “Or else, you’d have 20 runners out there. We have a program of 60 to 70 runners. Convincing kids to run 3 to 5 miles a day is tough, but if you show them you want to devote the extra time, they’ll work for you.”
Emilia Flores does likewise for her Falcons tennis players, whom she has coached the last four years and dotes over the same way a parent would a child.
“They’re like family to me,” she said. “We’ve been together for so long. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for them.”
That family might see some new faces next year. Though Allen will remain to defend her girls singles title, all but two of the team’s top 10 players graduate.
“Next year will be tough,” Victoria said.
That may be good news for the rest of the Far East tennis field. But Kadena’s cross country opponents won’t be so lucky — the Panthers return all but two runners next year.
“I’m looking forward to it,” McKinney said.