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Humphreys' Jaylan Horne, performing the long jump, is one of six boys athletes returning to a Blackhawks team that won the first Far East banner in school history last May.
Humphreys' Jaylan Horne, performing the long jump, is one of six boys athletes returning to a Blackhawks team that won the first Far East banner in school history last May. (Vaughne Medenilla/Special to Stripes)
Humphreys' Jaylan Horne, performing the long jump, is one of six boys athletes returning to a Blackhawks team that won the first Far East banner in school history last May.
Humphreys' Jaylan Horne, performing the long jump, is one of six boys athletes returning to a Blackhawks team that won the first Far East banner in school history last May. (Vaughne Medenilla/Special to Stripes)
Daegu's Katrina Vasquez leads the pack in the 200 during Saturday's season-opening meet at Humphreys. Trailing Vasquez are Cleopatra Cody of Humphreys and Audrey Choi of Yongsan.
Daegu's Katrina Vasquez leads the pack in the 200 during Saturday's season-opening meet at Humphreys. Trailing Vasquez are Cleopatra Cody of Humphreys and Audrey Choi of Yongsan. (Vaughne Medenilla/Special to Stripes)
Kamanelelehua Clemens, a senior, will do throws for four-time defending Far East Division II champion Zama.
Kamanelelehua Clemens, a senior, will do throws for four-time defending Far East Division II champion Zama. (Rachel McCort/Special to Stripes)
Sprinters Shion Rudolph and Soniah Thompson break out of the starting blocks for first-year track program Matthew C. Perry.
Sprinters Shion Rudolph and Soniah Thompson break out of the starting blocks for first-year track program Matthew C. Perry. (Kevin Rossiter/Special to Stripes)
Senior Robert Wall will do throws for Matthew C. Perry, making its debut as a track program.
Senior Robert Wall will do throws for Matthew C. Perry, making its debut as a track program. (Kevin Rossiter/Special to Stripes)
Kadena senior Ryan Worcester lets loose with the shot.
Kadena senior Ryan Worcester lets loose with the shot. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Rhece Jones is projected to do jumps for four-time defending Far East Division II champion Zama.
Senior Rhece Jones is projected to do jumps for four-time defending Far East Division II champion Zama. (Rachel McCort/Special to Stripes)
Sophomore Elizabeth Joy, the reigning Okinawa cross country champion, is projected to run distance races for Kubasaki.
Sophomore Elizabeth Joy, the reigning Okinawa cross country champion, is projected to run distance races for Kubasaki. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Faith Bryant, center, is the lone returner from Zama's foursome that set a northwest Pacific record in the 400 relay during last May's Far East meet.
Faith Bryant, center, is the lone returner from Zama's foursome that set a northwest Pacific record in the 400 relay during last May's Far East meet. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Nile C. Kinnick senior Exotica Hall plans to chase the northwest Pacific high jump mark of 1.67 meters; she reached 1.65 last spring.
Nile C. Kinnick senior Exotica Hall plans to chase the northwest Pacific high jump mark of 1.67 meters; she reached 1.65 last spring. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Quintin Metcalf, a Humphreys junior, is taking aim at the Pacific's high jump record of 2 meters; he reached 1.88 last spring.
Quintin Metcalf, a Humphreys junior, is taking aim at the Pacific's high jump record of 2 meters; he reached 1.88 last spring. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Juan Guerrero is projected to do jumps and hurdles for Kubasaki.
Senior Juan Guerrero is projected to do jumps and hurdles for Kubasaki. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Lauren Erp returns to track and field to throw discus and shot put after a season of playing softball for Kadena.
Senior Lauren Erp returns to track and field to throw discus and shot put after a season of playing softball for Kadena. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Kadena hurdlers, from left, Rhamsey Wyche, Sofia Strawder and Crystal Scott charge out of the starting blocks.
Kadena hurdlers, from left, Rhamsey Wyche, Sofia Strawder and Crystal Scott charge out of the starting blocks. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Relay runners Shion Rudolph and Skye Lebreton practice handoffs for first-year track and field program Matthew C. Perry.
Relay runners Shion Rudolph and Skye Lebreton practice handoffs for first-year track and field program Matthew C. Perry. (Kevin Rossiter/Special to Stripes;)
Yokota track and field athlletes warm up under the watchful eye of coach Dan Galvin, background.
Yokota track and field athlletes warm up under the watchful eye of coach Dan Galvin, background. (Greg Holladay/Special to Stripes)
Senior Tucker Chase, the reigning Far East cross country champion, will run distance races for Seoul American.
Senior Tucker Chase, the reigning Far East cross country champion, will run distance races for Seoul American. (Sarah Doyle/Special to Stripes)
Senior Thomas Curren is projected to do sprints for Daegu.
Senior Thomas Curren is projected to do sprints for Daegu. (Angela Root/Special to Stripes)
Yokota sprinters Xavier Harris and Britney Bailey make their way around the far turn during practice.
Yokota sprinters Xavier Harris and Britney Bailey make their way around the far turn during practice. (Greg Holladay/Special to Stripes)
Sprinter Isaiah Kim comes out of the blocks during first-year track program Matthew C. Perry practice.
Sprinter Isaiah Kim comes out of the blocks during first-year track program Matthew C. Perry practice. (Kevin Rossiter/Special to Stripes)
Junior Cedric Turner is projected to do sprints for Daegu.
Junior Cedric Turner is projected to do sprints for Daegu. (Junior Cedric Turner is projected to do sprints for Daegu.)

Exotica Hall is perhaps best known for achieving high heights in the Pacific’s high school high jump pits. In the Kanto finals last May, she reached 1.65 meters, nearly 5½ feet, just a couple of millimeters short of the northwest Pacific record.

But the Nile C. Kinnick senior isn’t limited to jumping; she’s much more balanced and versatile, according to coach Luke Voth.

“She’s almost competing against herself; she just wants to be as good as she can be,” Voth said. “I can put her in distance running, throwing; she’s got that nature of an athlete.”

Indeed, Hall is a solid sprinter, having posted marks of 12.96 in the 100 and 26.9 in the 200. She’s also run relays and performed the long jump while in Red Devils uniform.

She has said she plans to put the northwest Pacific’s 7-year-old high-jump mark of 1.67 within her sights by the time Far East comes along, May 21-22 at Yokota.

Asked if she has a chance at topping the mark set in 2011 by Ashley Arellano of Guam’s Simon Sanchez, Voth replied: “Exotica is definitely strong.”

Voth and the Red Devils are also aiming to bring home a fourth straight combined Far East Division I team title. Zama is chasing a fifth straight Far East Division II combined team title.

The Red Devils are vastly more than just a star high jumper. They also field the reigning Far East girls cross country champion, Taryn Cates-Beier, with her teammates and training partners Erin Stonebarger and Rissa Eilmes.

“They’re training hard,” Voth said. “But Kanto is so distance-kid heavy; they have a hard time” with some of the best from American School In Japan, Seisen and Christian Academy Japan.

“They all have some good runners,” Voth said, adding that his threesome “has its work cut out for them. They have lots of competition.”

While Voth enters his sixth season at the Devils’ helm, Zama welcomes a new coach, Veronica Jones, who has taught at the school for 16 years but will coach track and field there for the first time.

Like Kinnick, the Trojans have a vast pool of athletes, 50 at this point, Jones said.

“We’re not sure about the quality just yet,” she said. “We definitely want to contend. But it’s going to be a different focus for us. We don’t have the depth that we’ve had.”

While veterans such as senior Faith Bryant return, three-quarters of her relay team that set the region 400 relay record (48.54) last season has either graduated or transferred. “There are potential new runners … I believe if we train hard enough, we can pull through,” Bryant said.

One school that may challenge Zama for D-II rights is Humphreys, which continues to grow thanks to the move of student-athletes from Seoul American. One of them, junior Quintin Metcalf, could challenge for the Pacific’s high-jump mark of 2 meters; his personal best is 1.88.

The Blackhawks boys won the school’s first Far East banner with nine athletes. Six of them are back, and coach Ron Merriwether says he feels the girls program can compete for title hardware as well.

All D-II schools will face new competition in the form of Matthew C. Perry, a school whose enrollment is growing thanks to moving of units from Naval Air Facility Atsugi southwest. The Samurai hit the track for their first meet on March 17 at Yokota.

“We’re all anxious and excited to see where the season takes us,” said Samurai coach Anna Simmermon.

Another athlete making a run at a Pacific record could be Seoul American’s Alyse Neal. The diminutive senior long-jumper shattered the Far East meet record last May with a 5.30 and is aiming for the region mark of 5.42 set 12 years ago.

Growing numbers of athletes at many schools and coaching continuity has contributed to a slew of records the past few years. Five Pacific records and eight Far East meet records were broken last season. Seven Pacific and 11 Far East meet records fell in 2016 along with five Pacific and 12 Far East meet marks in 2015.

“The greater the field, the more you have the elite rising to the top,” longtime Pacific track observer Bruce Carrick said. “And we’ve had good luck the last 10 years with coaches who know what they’re doing, they’re dedicated.”

Korea’s season began March 3 and continues March 17 at Humphreys. Okinawa’s season-opening meet is Saturday at Kubasaki. The Kanto Plain season opens March 17 at Yokota.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

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