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Richie Korth and Carol Tully of Nile C. Kinnick High School share common bonds not even changing spring sports could shred.

Korth, one of the school’s best baseball players, switched to soccer this spring and has enjoyed success as a sweeper.

Tully, who played softball since her freshman year, traded in her shortstop glove for a pair of goalkeepers gloves and has racked up eight shutouts.

Despite their success on the diamond, Korth and Tully decided to try soccer for a variety of reasons, the players and their coaches said. They range from the needs of their teams, being with friends, experiencing a new challenge and the chance to attend a Far East tournament, which their old sports don’t have.

“Coach (Bill Schofield) told me it would be a good season,” Korth said. “He was excited for me to be out there. All my friends are there. It’s fun. A new atmosphere, new sense of competition.”

“They [players] told me I’d have lots of fun, Coach (Nico Hindie) is really nice, it’s a great sport, I’ll like it and get to work with my hands. Every sport I’ve played, I’ve used my hands. I wanted to challenge myself, meet new people, a whole new team,” Tully said.

They appear to have made wise decisions, as their teams lead the Japan Soccer League standings. The Kinnick boys (9-2) need to win just one of two games Friday and Saturday at Misawa Air Base against Robert D. Edgren to claim their first JSL championship.

The Red Devils girls (9-0-1) have already repeated as JSL champions.

Their coaches credit Korth, who also starred in football and won a Far East individual wrestling championship, and Tully, a two-time All-Far East volleyball spiker and basketball forward — for that success.

Not bad, for a guy who hadn’t been on the pitch since his middle-school days and for a girl who never tried the sport.

“Richie’s a great asset to the team,” Schofield said. “He’s a powerful individual in the back, ominous to the offense of another team.”

“She [Tully] has extremely good hands, great vertical and lateral movement,” Hindie said. “And the fact that she commands respect. She’s imposing out there. She’s aggressive and willing to go after the balls. She doesn’t have any fear.”

Their reputations, built upon their exploits in other sports, helped them carve out positions as team leaders. Korth was voted nearly unanimously as the boys team captain.

“Here’s a kid who doesn’t have that much skill in soccer, yet he’s able to lead players who have been on the team for three or four years, without a doubt,” Schofield said. “They recognize him as a leader. He’s a natural athlete, and uses that to play the game and play it well.”

“He [Korth] has the admiration of his peers for the work ethic he has,” said Jimmy Davis, Korth’s offensive coordinator in football. “It’s really easy to coach a team when your No. 1 worker is your best athlete. He’s always given it his best.”

Likewise, the 5-foot-9 Tully is a “born leader,” Hindie said. “She talks to her teammates, tells them what needs to be done, where they need to be. She sees the whole field, she does a good job of communicating with the defense, what needs to be covered. She’s a good addition to the defense.”

With Jacob Yeager, the team’s previous sweeper, having graduated last spring, Schofield said he needed a capable athlete to move into the position, and had been wanting Korth to play soccer in past seasons.

“He brings a strong presence on defense to challenge anybody who comes toward him,” Schofield said. “He’s very physical, very quick. Sideline-to-sideline coverage.”

Hindie also entered the season with a pressing need in net after last season’s goalie graduated.

“That was a big loss, and a big concern,” Hindie said. “When we got word that Carol was thinking of playing soccer, you talk about a huge burden being lifted.”

Tully said the challenges of a new sport were many.

“All the rules were new to me, and a certain technique you need to have, how to catch, where to throw, who to throw it to,” she said. “After a while — a few games and a lot of practice — I started to get the hang of how the game goes.”

Hindie is impressed.

“I didn’t expect her to be this good,” she said. “She’s still learning the game, but to be able to have eight shutouts in your first year, that’s a testament to how far she’s progressed.”

“The girls feel comfortable around her,” senior striker Alexis Zukowski said. “She has the mentality to win, she has the drive from basketball and volleyball. She’s no stranger to competition. And she has really good hands. She’s a quick learner and very athletic.”

Schofield had contemplated moving Korth to center-midfielder and senior striker George Murray to defense.

On Tuesday, he made the switch 20 minutes into a JSL match against visiting Christian Academy In Japan — and it paid immediate dividends in a 3-2 victory.

Korth “probably played better than he does on defense,” Schofield said. The senior contributed a goal in the 36th minute off an assist by Kellen Otte.

While successful in their new sports, do Korth and Tully miss their old ones?

“Probably playing the outfield, throwing people out,” Korth said.

“The coach was really nice,” Tully said. “I had a lot of fun with the people on the team, and the sport itself was a fun sport. I didn’t realize how much fun until I stopped playing,” .

“Of course, I miss it,” she said. “But I don’t regret it.”

The prospect of the Far East Class AA tournaments next week — boys at Yokota Air Base and girls at Camp Zama — is exciting for the athletes.

“It would be fun to have one last tournament before I graduate,” Tully said. “I’ve heard about the past Far Easts, and they [teammates] said they’ve had a whole lot of fun, made a lot of new friends. It sounds fun.”

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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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