A look back at the top stories in 2014 DODEA sports
For most, it seemed a foregone conclusion.
Three-time defending Far East Division I volleyball champion American School In Japan had buzz-sawed to a fourth straight unbeaten regular season, dropping just two sets, and through the round-robin portion of the Far East tournament.
On Nov. 6 at Yokota’s Samurai Fitness & Sports Center, ASIJ won the first set of the Far East championship match against Kubasaki 25-13 and seemed on a smooth path toward a fourth title.
But the Dragons, who had never reached Center Court in this tournament and had just three Final Four appearances in the previous 30 years, refused to yield.
Most Valuable Player Kelsey Rogers and the Dragons fought back to tie the second set 24-24, and from there turned the match on its head. Kubasaki won the next three sets 29-27, 27-25, 26-24 for the first D-I volleyball title in school history.
That victory is Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school Story of the Year for 2014.
The title had its genesis on Oct. 18, when the Dragons traveled as the private Shisa Volleyball Club to ASIJ and lost to the Mustangs in five sets after leading the fifth set 14-11.
“That was definitely the turning point of the season,” Rogers said, acknowledging that ASIJ was viewed as the “gold standard” and the Pacific’s “premier program. When we went there and we squared up pretty well against them, we were (saying) we could do this.”
“Being able to compare ourselves to them, it was inspiring and it definitely motivated us to become a better team,” Rogers said. “And it worked. We did it.”
The rest of the Top 10:
A bitter wait that seemed interminable for Kadena football, especially in light of a three-point overtime loss in the 2013 title game to Kubasaki, came to a sweet end for the Panthers.
Justin Sego accounted for 356 all-purpose yards and four second-half touchdowns, rallying the Panthers past host Kubasaki 41-27.
The same day, Nov. 8, Daegu and Perry combined for 1,172 yards, 110 points and 16 TDs, records for Far East title games regardless of division. DeMarco Andrews scored four times as the Warriors outlasted the Samurai 60-50 for a record-tying fourth D-II title.
Never before had a DODDS school produced boys and girls basketball Far East D-II champions in the same season and led by the same coach.
That happened for Daegu’s boys and girls and coach Phillip Loyd, who in years past coached only the boys but guided the girls during the regular season.
The Warriors girls won the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division regular-season title and the boys came in second. Those roles were reversed in the KAIAC tournaments.
But come Far East, neither Daegu team was to be denied.
Daegu’s boys beat host Perry 70-56 in the Far East final, their first D-II title since 1989-90, following their first KAIAC tournament title in that same span.
And the girls, coached at Far East by Felicia Ferguson, beat Edgren 43-35 in the final.
Daniel Galvin appeared to have things clocked in preparation for the Far East cross-country meet on Nov. 3 at Camp Fuji.
He already set Pacific records in the 800-meter run (1 minute, 55.54 seconds) and 1,600 (4:23.42) as a sophomore.
And the Yokota junior set marks at the Tama Hills Recreation Center cross-country course early in the cross-country season.
But he didn’t get a chance to run at Far East; on Oct. 9 at Tama Hills, he pulled out of the race and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower right shin.
Coach Mark Lange says often that his Perry boys soccer team used to be “the cones” that other teams ran around, that playing the Samurai used to mean an automatic “W” for opponents.
The Samurai took another step further away from that narrative last May, when Justin Hill scored twice and Gaku Lange once to rally Perry past Zama American 3-1 in the final for the team’s third straight Far East D-II and fourth in five years.
It capped a season that began 1-2-1, but the Samurai closed by going 21-1-0. Lange finished with 156 career goals, 52 in the 2014 season alone.
Meeting for the Far East D-I girls soccer title has become old hat for Kubasaki and ASIJ, who’ve played for the crown four straight years.
But few Dragons teams had ever entered the season as much a house divided as this one. Players were unhappy with one another. Two in-season coaching changes took place.
The second one proved to be the charm, as Terry Chumley, a proven winner with three D-I titles to her credit, came aboard in late March.
The Dragons (14-2-1) did not lose again and gave up just two goals, outlasting the Mustangs in the final May 22 3-1 in a penalty-kick shootout. ASIJ and Kubasaki have beaten each other twice in the finals the last four years.
One of the few moves that coach Kelli Wilson made in rebuilding her Kadena girls softball team that lost the 2013 Far East D-I final to Kinnick was installing a freshman in the lineup, hoping to give the Panthers a jolt offensively.
Putting Brianna Wilson in the lineup paid off handsomely for Kadena, no more so than on May 21, when she had three hits and three RBIs, powering the Panthers past Guam High 8-1, Kadena’s third D-I championship since the inception of Far East tournaments in 2010.
What a great year to be Justin Edmonds.
The longtime Edgren wrestling coach was already heavily decorated, his Eagles having won four Far East Division II team banners in the previous four years, matching football for the most in one sport in school history.
On Feb. 14, Kaleb Atchison won at 141 pounds, Hunter Matthews took silver at 129 and the Eagles outpointed Osan American 25-9 for the individual team banner. The next day, Edgren outlasted the Cougars 34-27 in the dual-meet final for a D-II banner sweep.
And on May 22, four years of waiting paid off for Edmonds, his assistant and former Edgren star Jen Black and the Eagles girls soccer team, which won its first banner. Black’s sister, Vanessa, got her team-leading 13th goal in the final, a 3-1 win over Zama.
Surprise was very much the narrative for Osan American’s girls teams in softball and volleyball. The Cougars’ success was due in large part to a pair of diminutive athletes, freshman Ciera Farias and junior Andrea Carandang, who played like giants at their respective crafts.
Farias, a right-hander barely 5 feet tall, played many positions during the DODDS Korea regular season, but seemed quite at home on the mound, where she struck out 11 batters and allowed just two hits in pitching Osan past defending champion Daegu 2-1 in the final.
Cougars volleyball had previously won three Far East D-II titles, but finished fourth in both the KAIAC regular season and Blue Division tournaments, and were considered an afterthought at Far East.
But Carandang, all of 5-2, proved her worth as an outside hitter, earning offensive MVP honors and powered the Cougars past Edgren 25-19, 25-23, 26-24 in the D-II final.
A partnership of more than 40 years between DODDS Pacific and Guam high schools ended in September when DODDS leadership announced that Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam schools would no longer be invited to future Far East tournaments in any sports.
Coupled with Far East, schools on Guam, including DDESS’ Guam High, were playing more games than DODDS Pacific authorizes for its teams in other districts, DODDS Pacific director Linda Curtis said.
Also, many of the sports seasons didn’t align with DODDS Pacific’s, forcing teams to play those sports out of their regular season.
Guam schools sometimes comprised as much as half of Far East fields in basketball and volleyball, and DODDS officials said they were aware of the long-term relationship. “I knew there was a strong partnership with Guam,” Curtis said. “I was certainly aware of that.”
IIAAG officials said in the aftermath that they would look to partner with the island’s various sports federations and commercial sponsors to former Far East-like tournaments of their own in the future.