Just a year before, in the same Kinnick high school gym, 12 Titan wrestlers crumbled to their knees in tears when the referee whistled the end of the 215lb dual match against St. Mary’s and Kinnick; ending in a double title victory for the Kinnick Red Devils. The Titans wrestling squad were only 5 team points away from their fifth consecutive individual team title and just 2 points short in the dual meet against the Red Devils. “They [individual team and dual titles] were both so close; too close and it really hurt,” reflected Coach Yabui of the 2018 Far East results, “and I never thought it could get any closer, but I was wrong.” On February 22, 2019, St. Mary’s ended the Far East wrestling tournament in second place for the second straight year behind the Kubasaki Dragons; this time only 2 team points behind. Had any Kubasaki wrestler placed one place lower or any St. Mary’s wrestler placed one place higher, history would have been rewritten.
The 2019 Far East individual wrestling tournament was simply not the day for the Titans. Upsets are bound to happen at Far East to any team, but it seemed like all the upsets were concentrated on St. Mary’s. 101lb Mikhail Titov was prevented his advancement to the finals by Kubasaki. The 122lb favorite, Harold Mancia, suffered a loss at the semi-finals against Kubasaki. 148lb Cole Lawlor got upset by Kinnick in his first match. 158lb Warren Koslow got upset by ASIJ in the last 15 seconds of the match. 180lb Michael Patton was upset by ASIJ for the fifth place match. Despite the series of upsets, St. Mary’s still sent 5 wrestlers in the finals, the most out of all teams. However, Kubasaki and ASIJ were right behind St. Mary’s with 4 finalists each. 115lb Eiji Kasahara, 141lb Nishant Chanda, and 180lb Austin Koslow made the finals for their second straight year while 135lb William Krcelic and 168lb Lev Titov became finalists for their first Far East tournament.
101lb Mikhail Titov, as a rookie, wrestled well. He was off to a slow start, causing him to go to the consolation bracket. In his consolation semi-finals, he scrapped hard against Kadena and almost pinning him twice, but ended up losing the match. In his fifth place match, he wrestled hard against ASIJ to finish fifth.
115lb Eiji Kasahara, proved why he is the defending Far East champion. He was nothing but consistent throughout the tournament; displaying fine technique on defense and offense, especially his reattacks (counter attacks) worked beautifully. Even being down 2-1 in the first period of the finals, his experience and timing of attacks allowed him to reverse the match in the second period as he captured his second Far East title only as a sophomore.
122lb Harold Mancia just did not match up well against Kubasaki in the semi-finals, but in all other matches, he dominated his opponents with his speed and powerful leg attacks and gut wrenches. He wrestled till the end for the team to obtain crucial third place points for the team.
129lb Jasjot Bedi bumped up and competed in this weight class for the first time. It was expected that he would be out powered in this weight class and not be competitive, but he proved everyone wrong. He wrestled aggressive, hard, and smart throughout the tournament. Although he lost against Osan, eventually a three time Far East champion, he wrestled back hard in the consolations. In the consolation semi-finals, he was close to pulling off an upset against ASIJ; having him on his back for about 2 seconds with his cradle, but not enough to be called a pin. After his loss, he continued to wrestle hard and placed sixth.
135lb William Krcelic dominated the entire competition until the finals. His head hand fighting and blast double legs were simply too much for his opponents to handle combined with his signature cradle and gut wrench series. In the finals, his opponent was able to prevent his attacks with a tight collar tie. William wrestled hard until the very end but just fell short of the gold, but earning his silver medal for the first time competing at Far East.
141lb Nishant Chanda was more than prepared to take his Far East title at last; coming back from his loss last season at the Far East finals. Nishant absolutely dominated all his opponents and stormed through the tournament. It was takedown after takedown with all his opponents and points after points on the bottom position with his bread & butter outside cradle and butcher series. His matches were fun to watch with his opponents flying through the air and being flipped like pancakes; racking up points and pins.
148lb Cole Lawlor had been dominant in the Kanto Plain and was expected to place top 3. However, this simply wasn’t his day and it wasn’t his tournament. Nothing went his way during this tournament. Multiple times, he attempted to come back and change the negative trend but it was simply not possible. It was a poignant experience for the senior, but nevertheless, he was an integral part of the varsity lineup for this season.
158lb Warren Koslow performed beyond expectation as a rookie and placed a strong, well-deserved third place. In this competitive weight class, he displayed outstanding grit, technique, and stamina. He was only a few seconds away from making the semi-finals as a freshmen but the ASIJ senior showed pride to upset Warren. This didn’t stop Warren from competing. He continued to stay focused and wrestle hard to earn his bronze medal.
168lb Lev Titov showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season. Lev had no problem getting to the finals for his first Far East tournament. In the finals, as expected, he faced ASIJ who he had been wrestling against all season; closing the gap each time. He wrestled most aggressively throughout the whole match and lost another close match. But, his second place finish was unexpected at the beginning of the season. Through the season, he earned to be the second best wrestler in the Far East.
180lb Austin Koslow was nothing but dominant in the tournament. With his superior technique and his favorite knee pull singles and inside trips, he took every single opponent down with ease only to finish them off with his signature leg lace. He advanced to the finals with technical superiority with the opponent scoring 0 points over the #1 wrestler from Seoul American High School, and then another technical superiority over Yokota in the finals to finally claim his Far East champion title. “His performance was worthy of the Outstanding Wrestler Award,” commented Coach Yabui.
215lb Rookie Michael Patton demonstrated the best performance of the season in the tournament. He was always initiating moves and trying; a difficult thing for a rookie to do. He wrestled hard till the very end but fell short of earning his fifth place position and settled for sixth place.
As the tournament headed into the finals, Kubasaki, ASIJ, and St. Mary’s were all in the race for the individual team title. With Titan champions at 115lb, 141lb, and 180lb, and runner-ups at 135lb and 168lb, this knocked ASIJ out of the race and left the results in the hands of Kubasaki with their 215lb finals against Kinnick. If Kinnick could pull off an upset against Kubasaki, the 2019 individual title would go to St. Mary’s. But, such hope would crumble very quickly as the Kubasaki 215lb wrestler destroyed Kinnick in the first period. Kubasaki wrestlers and coaches celebrated in joy for their long awaited Far East titles since 2013; breaking the decade of dominance between St. Mary’s and Kinnick. At the conclusion of the finals, Coach Yabui quietly walked out of Purdy gym in devastation as the nightmare of 2018 was becoming a reality.
Although other teams may see a team like St. Mary’s with 2 open weight classes competing so closely against a full line up team like Kubasaki as a miracle, Coach Yabui firmly believed the team could win: “Just having a full lineup doesn’t give an advantage, but Kubasaki had competitive and quality wrestlers at all 13 weight classes and that is extremely difficult to beat with 2 open weights. Almost everything has to go right and at least 6 or 7 of them have to make the finals to secure a team title; which we had the potential to do. Even with 5 guys in the finals, we had enough back-side (wrestlers in the consolation brackets) to be dead even with Kubasaki but just 1 win short of catching them.” With all of the unfortunate upsets and the unusual situation of an open weight at 108lb, the Far East individual team title slipped out of St. Mary’s hands once again. Assistant Coach, Moshe Grimberg, commented “it just wasn’t our day.”
But, St. Mary’s wrestlers and coaches had no time to bathe in sorrow, as soon after the dual meet tournament portion of the tournament would begin. St. Mary’s, being seeded the #2 team per result of the individual tournament faced this season’s rival, ASIJ, in the semi-finals. In the Kanto league dual, St. Mary’s defeated ASIJ at home, however, ASIJ avenged their loss at the Zama dual tournament. For both competitions, neither team had their best lineup; but this time, they both had their best line up. Much rivalry was expected as the 115lb, 141lb, and the 168lb dual matches were the same matchup as the individual finals a few hours before. Upsets happen at Far East, but when it does, a lot will happen in the dual tournament where a Far East champion a few hours earlier or the day before would get upset in the dual meet. “If anyone knows about upsets in Far East, that would be me,” added Coach Yabui, who himself suffered a major upset in the dual meet tournament after winning his third Far East individual title in 2004. And, sure enough, it happened. 115lb, now a 2-time Far East champion, Eiji Kasahara, was defeated for the first time against the ASIJ wrestler while 168lb Lev Titov scored a takedown in the last 10 seconds to finally defeat his ASIJ rival for the first time. 215lb Michael Patton avenged his loss a few hours ago with a technical superiority. St. Mary’s defeated ASIJ 33 – 17 to break the tie between ASIJ for this season; advancing to the finals against Kubasaki and concluding Day 2 of the tournament.
That evening, Coach Yabui called a meeting with the team. Dual meets can get very strategic in obtaining or giving up the team points and it requires meticulous calculations of wins & losses and pins & technical falls for multiple different scenarios. But, the strategy that Coach Yabui explained to the team was simple: win all matches and get the dual meet over before 180lb. “When you have 2 open weights and going against a champion team with a full lineup, that’s about all you can do,” explained Coach Yabui, “but of course that’s after I ran numerous simulations and numbers against them.” He told the team that if they want to prove that they are the best team in the Far East, they have to go and prove that; otherwise, whether the team has 2 open weights or got upset, they are only the second best team.
On the last day of the Far East tournament, Titan wrestlers were focused and determined to redeem themselves from the loss the day before and a year ago. The dual meet finals began with the introduction of the team roster and matchups; only to reconfirm that St. Mary’s would start at a 10 point deficit with their empty weight classes at 108lb and 275lb. Upsets happen at Far East and the biggest upset happened at the very first match. 101lb Titov went out to face his opponent he lost to 2 days earlier by technical superiority. But, this time, Titov was on the attack and aggressive. This proved too much for Kubasaki’s silver medalist and a scramble turned into a pin for St. Mary’s. “That was huge for us; so miraculously significant,” commended Coach Yabui. 115lb Kasahara and two time Far East champion stepped on the mat and got his job done with a win by technical superiority. 129lb Bedi faced his opponent for the first time and wrestled hard and smart to pull off an important win. “Kubasaki was favored to win 101, 122, and 129, so we needed to keep the losses at minimum and not get pinned, but we came back with 2 wins over those weights and one with an unexpected pin. That was amazing and gave the team a big boost in beating them,” reflected Coach Yabui. From 135lb onwards, it was show time for the Titans. 135lb Krcelic quickly finished off his opponent in a technical fall. 141lb Chanda demolished his opponent to remind them what a Far East champion is. 158lb Koslow launched his opponent with a dynamic firemen’s carry for 4 big points and transitioned straight into a pin. 168lb Titov was determined to ending the dual and pinned his opponent with the St. Mary’s signature reverse lock dump (which is called the “St. Mary’s” by Kubasaki) which he normally does not do. The referee slapped the mat to declare Titov’s pin; which confirmed St. Mary’s victory over Kubasaki. The dual continued with 180lb Koslow’s last match of his career and once again demonstrated the beauty of wrestling to cap off his career with another technical fall victory. The end result was 35 – 25 for St. Mary’s. Considering the fact that St. Mary’s had 2 open weight classes (10 points), the actual team points that were competed was 35 – 10; and St. Mary’s won 8 out of the 11 matches competed. In other words, they demolished the Dragons to show that they may have been down in the lineup, but by quality, they were the #1 team in the Far East. “They [St. Mary’s wrestlers] are so good,” commented Kubasaki’s coach after the dual.
And, with this, the 2019 wrestling team avenged their loss from last season to be crowed the 2019 Far East Dual Meet Champions. “It shows we are the true champions when we win with missing weights,” commented volunteer graduate coach, Tatsuhito Matsumoto, who was on the 2018 team, “and it was the best way to finish Far East [winning the dual].” It was a special moment when 11 young men, believed in themselves and each other to overcome all odds. Often times how we come back from defeat defines who we are and what we can become. Their victory also marked a special moment in the history of the program as this was the 50th anniversary season of the program. St. Mary’s finished this decade of Far East wrestling as the most dominant team, taking 11 Far East championships in 10 years far beyond 5 for Kinnick, 3 for Kubasaki, and 1 for Kadena (and, international schools did not compete in Far East for the 2010 tournament).