Fleet newcomers among the favorites

Sophomore Kai Cordrey could become the next big thing in Zama American cross country. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Sophomore Kai Cordrey could become the next big thing in Zama American cross country. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

Fleet newcomers among the favorites

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 11, 2014

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – If this year’s Pacific high school cross country season featured some mantra, it might be: “Bring on the next ones!”

DODDS runners who won championships in the Far East meet last November have either graduated (Kadena’s Andrew Kilkenny and Ana Hernandez in Division I) or transferred (Zama’s Jarell Hibler in Division II) and a new generation of runners stands poised to fill their shoes.

Since Far East began scoring D-I and D-II team scores separately, no D-II runner has won the overall title in the 3.1-mile individual race on Day 1. Zama might have somebody who can fit the bill, a sophomore who played football a season ago, Kai Cordrey.

“The kid can fly,” said Trojans coach Glenn Preston, adding that Cordrey has the potential to become the next great Zama runner, following in the footsteps of Hibler, Andrew Quallio and Kevin Blackburn of the mid-2000s and James Harris in 1984.

To Preston, it doesn’t seem like Cordrey is running hard, but enjoying it like a 5-year-old enjoys the playground. “He just looks like he’s cruising,” Preston said.

“I think he’s faster than Jarell. I read about Quallio; he was really good. I remember his times. That kid could fly.”

So what is Cordrey capable of?

“I don’t know; it’s too soon to say,” Preston said.

One hyperbolic coach at Zama said he would take Cordrey against the entire Far East meet field. “I have to show them in the meets, then,” Cordrey said.

He’ll certainly have much company on the boys side. There’s reigning DODDS Japan champion Daniel Galvin of Yokota, second overall at Far East; Hunter Ficenec and Javier Michael of Kadena, the heirs apparent to Kilkenny; and American School In Japan’s threesome of Ryan Nishida, Will Thorbecke and Evan Yukevich.

Galvin found himself racing against the clock in the track season last spring; he feels he can only get better with that kind of competition. “In the long run, it will help me,” he said.

But while Galvin expects a tough, suspenseful Far East race, he feels his own Kanto Plain regular-season schedule could be tougher, because ASIJ is not a regular Far East meet attendee. “Winning Kanto will be harder than winning Far East, because ASIJ is the best team in the Pacific right now,” Galvin said.

ASIJ athletics director Brian Kelley says school administration is pondering accepting any invitation it might get to Far East. Mustangs teams regularly participate in the Asia-Pacific Invitational on Guam.

While the boys field in Japan and Okinawa look strong, Korea brings two potentially strong girls to the table in Nicole Castro of Humphreys and Hannah Frederick of Seoul American. That’s in addition to Kadena’s Wren Renquist, a sophomore who finished second at Far East.

They and any other girls runner will go up against a fresh face from Seisen International School in Tokyo – Brittani Shappell, a freshman who set the Pacific record in the 1,500 of 4 minutes, 59.85 seconds and the northwest Pacific 3,000 mark in 11:01.6 … as a sixth-grader.

She’s the only runner to post multiple sub-13-minute times on the 2.1-mile course at Tama Hills Recreation Center.

“I’ve been watching her grow and I’m very excited to see her run in a varsity race,” said Kadena coach Tom McKinney of Shappell.

McKinney and the Panthers swept every D-I individual and team award there was to win at last year’s Far East meet. While a boys repeat may be realistic, a girls repeat may be a long shot.

“As a team, I think on island, we’ll be OK,” he said. “Going up to mainland, racing at Far East where we know the course, I think the kids will know what to do and step up.”