Girls soccer preview: Another coach, another title run for Kubasaki?
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Don’t try to enter into a discussion with Saleem Malik about his Kubasaki Dragons girls soccer team aiming for a Far East Division I Tournament title three-peat.
He faces enough pressure, he says, just by becoming the fifth coach in the last three seasons of a team that’s the most decorated in Far East D-I history, but has seen the coaching post become a revolving door.
“We’re not going to put any more pressure on us than already exists,” Malik said.
He takes over the team from Chris Eastman, who held the helm in 2015 after three coaches split the duties in 2014.
Despite the changes at the top, the Dragons refused to buckle, beating American School In Japan in the 2014 D-I final in a penalty-kick shootout, then downing Nile C. Kinnick in a far less dramatic 2015 final 4-0.
They’ve lost some key components the last couple of years, including the team’s leading scorer the last four years, Marissa Mesquita; 2015 D-I Most Valuable Player Charlee Bodwell; and two-time D-I Outstanding Goalkeeper Harleigh Lewis.
But Kubasaki does return a significant portion of the 2015 championship core, along with players new to the varsity who, though underclassmen, are far from new to the sport, Malik says.
At the core are junior Alexis Townsend, the 2014 D-I MVP; senior Kennady White; and junior Reiko Lemasters, in the middle and up front. They welcome freshman Myca Ingram up front.
Holding down the back line are a pair of sophomores, Chloe’ Stevens and Tasher Odom, along with senior Talea Wilcox and sophomore Dasani Rolle, the latter two new to the varsity.
“We were fortunate to keep a big part of the team,” Malik said.
More than their playing ability, Malik says the players have molded together well early on.
“They all get along,” he said. “There’s some good team energy, and that’s super important. They just gel.”
As for the Red Devils, they lose 79 goals and 43 assists by Haley Mitchell, Alyssa Leal, Lexia Hall and Katrina Reid to graduation and/or transfers. Junior midfielder Kiralyn Kawachi returns along with Athena Peerson, who moves from mid to the backline.
Kadena also features young players not new to soccer, and brings back a strong veteran core featuring senior Shani Summers up front, sophomore Adri Gomez in the middle and senior Ianna Auld shoring up the defense in front of senior keeper Rita Feight.
Seoul American welcomes a new coach, Jonathan Brooks, who is hopeful returners Kayla Granado and Fran Vido and their own crop of soccer veteran freshmen can start a new chapter for the Falcons. ASIJ must make do without young sharpshooter Kat Johnston, who transferred.
Defending Division II champion Yokota lost London Jackson and Sarah Claypool (and 29 combined goals) to graduation. But super sophs Jamia Bailey, Gina Dukat and Ai Robbins (39 goals) return.
“We’re still optimistic” for Division II, coach Matt Whipple said, noting that Yokota’s only losses last year were to D-I schools.
Though Matthew C. Perry’s head coaching post has changed, George Tarleton is not new to the team, having assisted the Samurai the past five years. He returns junior Bobbi Hill, 27 goals last season, who headlines a veteran core featuring eight returners.
Zama loses the combined 56 goals by Rachel Bostick and Pacific-leading goal-scorer Megan Hurley. Though some veterans return, it’s like a rebuilding year in Trojan country.
Osan, which leads the Pacific with eight D-II titles, thought last fall it had lost goalkeeper Michele Thompson and forward Andrea Carandang (42 goals last year). But the two managed to stay on for the rest of the school year and anchor the Cougars’ lineup.