Individual, team battles loom on Japan courses
TOKYO – All Eyes On Us could well serve as the prevailing theme of next week’s Far East High School Cross Country Meet as a pair of Kanto vs. Okinawa rivalries figure to grab much of the spotlight.
Among the runners entered in the meet Monday at Camp Fuji and Tuesday at Ikego Heights Naval Housing Area are two sets of rivals: American School In Japan senior Evan Yukevich and Kadena junior Hunter Ficenec on the boys side and Kadena’s Wren Renquist and Seisen International freshman Brittani Shappell on the girls.
The four have posted the fastest times in the Pacific at various distances among Far East meet entrants, Yukevich at 4,417 and 4,800 meters and Ficenec at 5,000; and Shappell at 3,305 and 4,800 meters and Renquist at 5,000.
But the meet may be better known for who won’t be there: Daniel Galvin of Yokota, whose 16-minute, 8-second time is the fastest 5-K time this season. He’s sidelined by a stress fracture.
“I’m very disappointed he’s not there,” Ficenec said prior to his victory in the Okinawa district finals on Oct. 22. “It would be a better race. We’d both push ourselves, probably get faster times. I wish he’ll get better soon.”
While Galvin was what Yukevich called the “alpha dog” of the Kanto Plain circuit, Yukevich is supported by two other teammates who’ve posted sub-15-minute times on the Tama Hills 2.9-mile course. “So even if he’s gone, I’ll have people pushing me and my mindset hasn’t changed at all,” Yukevich said.
Shappell, who set the Pacific record in track and field’s 3,000-meter event as a sixth-grader, said she’s not concerned with other people’s times.
“I think more about my personal best,” she said of her 19:47.4 5K time. “I don’t really race against what other people think about me. I kind of race for myself, so I try to improve for myself and not really care” what others are doing.
Ficenec and Renquist possess the superior 5K times, 16:35 and 19:38. But Yukevich and Shappell improved as the season went along. Ficenec ran the 16:35 at midseason and Renquist posted her top time during the first meet and ran in the 20s thereafter.
But while Kadena has the fastest runners timewise, ASIJ’s and Seisen’s depth may end the Panthers’ two-year run as Far East Division I school champion.
Still, Kadena coach Tom McKinney holds high hopes.
“I think they’re both going to have a good say in the race,” he said. “Every year, Okinawa goes up to Far East and we put up good numbers … against the Kanto league. It’s going to be a race. There’s no pressure on either of us (Kadena and Kubasaki). We’ll see what happens.”
Several Kanto observers see ASIJ’s boys and Seisen’s girls as having the depth needed to win.
“ASIJ’s boys were going to win anyway,” said Galvin’s father, Yokota coach Dan Galvin. “They have depth that nobody’s ever had here. I just don’t see anybody beating them at Far East.”
“They’re motivated and they’ve been working all summer long,” said Far East meet manager Bruce Carrick, who’s been observing Kanto cross country since 1996. “They’re the most outstanding team I’ve seen here.”
The hope, Carrick said, is that the good weather that’s blessed the Kanto season will continue Monday and Tuesday. Japanese weather forecasts call for rain on Monday and sunny but cool weather Tuesday.
“If the (good) weather continues, we’ll see faster times than we’ve had,” Carrick said. “If it’s been raining, it will be slow.” The course records are held by Kadena’s Andrew Kilkenny (17:21.6) and Ana Hernandez (20:22.2).