Kadena seniors Ted Awana (Best Goalkeeper) and Aaron Zendejas (MVP) display their hardware from the Far East soccer tournament.

Kadena seniors Ted Awana (Best Goalkeeper) and Aaron Zendejas (MVP) display their hardware from the Far East soccer tournament. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Call it a red-letter spring for Kadena black and gold.

A third straight Far East Class AA soccer title for the girls, a third in four years for the boys. Baseball, softball and boys track and field league championships.

“We have an exceptional group of athletes, no matter what the sport,” said Bob Bliss, Kadena’s athletics director. “We have a lot of experienced coaches who developed the talent. … And this was one of those seasons when everything fell into place.”

“It’s a big accomplishment,” senior goalkeeper Ted Awana said Monday, three days after back-stopping the Panthers boys to a 3-0 Class AA championship victory over Kubasaki. “We have a solid program. The wins reflect that.”

They also put a sweet exclamation point on a school year fraught with disappointments:

The Panthers came up short in the football series with Kubasaki then settled for runner-up finishes in Far East tennis and cross-country to Seoul American. Their volleyball season? Pedestrian.Kadena’s boys basketball team finished third in the Class AA tournament; the girls lost in the championship.Only the wrestlers, with their Far East individual and dual-meet team titles, staunched the flow of disappointments… until spring sprung.

Loaded with experienced players — Aaron Zendejas, Nathan LaGrave, Awana — the Panthers boys soccer team had a burning motivation: Wipe away the misery of 2005’s Class AA championship 2-1 double-overtime loss to Christian Academy In Japan.

“This was our last year,” said Awana, a senior. “A revenge season. We knew we had to win it.”

The boys went 17-1-1. Zendejas’ 20 goals led the offense; Awana and the defense permitted just three goals in the team’s final 14 matches. Then the team had to overcome injuries to two key starters to blank Kubasaki and cap its run through a tough tournament.

The Panthers girls, however, “were never even remotely threatened” in their bid for a Class AA title, a tourney organizer said.

Led by sisters senior Dianne Abel (61 goals, 47 assists) and junior Jennifer Abel (Pacific-record 70 goals, 31 assists), they went 22-0 and scored a Pacific-record 210 goals.

“I was shocked that we were that good,” coach Hoa Nguyen said. “But looking back, we worked hardest this year than the other two years we won it.”

Boys track and field also had a winning season, sweeping all but one regular-season meet, capturing the district championship and grabbing eight gold medals in the Kanto Plain

Association of Secondary Schools meet in Tokyo.

Junior sprinter Jeff Morton said, “We had…a special group of athletes who do a lot of events. That’s a rare thing.”

The baseball players said they enjoyed the competition: After three years of dominating Kubasaki, they found themselves in close quarters. But at the last game Saturday, Chris Kaneshiro hit a walk-off two-run homer, his first of the season, ending Kadena’s 6-5 victory.

“We struggled through hard times but we played ball and had fun,” said junior Mike Ward.

The softball team entered its season finale minus its primary weapon: flame-throwing sophomore Kara Davis. But Brooke Hudson struck out five, the defense backed her ably, and the Panthers scored a season-high number of runs in a 10-7 victory over the Dragons.

Still, questions linger about the teams’ futures. Transfers and graduations will gut the soccer teams. Of Nguyen’s front seven, just Jennifer Abel returns.

Bliss said he believes a winning tradition builds on itself. When one team “gets on a roll … it spreads to the other programs,” he said. “They want to be a part of it, too. I hope that spreads to our other programs in the future.”

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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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