Epic…exciting…unbelievable – your choice on how best to describe what the Titans pulled off at the 2017 Far East Wrestling Tournament to defend both individual and dual titles!  “Unbelievable,” commented Coach Yabui with a big relief, “just unbelievable.”

“No team in the Far East except us has this much pressure to win,” was the feeling articulated by Titan co-captain, Chang Young Lee.  In the previous season, the Titans accomplished something no other team in the history of the school program has done before: won all 5 major tournament titles.  As last season’s accomplishments were unprecedented, so were the burden and pressure to keep up with such incredible record for the 2016-17 St. Mary’s wrestling team.  “It still feels surreal,” praised co-captain Ryo Osawa, reflecting on how the team let the Kanto tournament title slip out of their hands to Kinnick just a week ago but dug down deep to defeat the Devils twice in order to take the 2017 Far East individual and dual titles in the 3 day competition for the ultimate prize for all teams in the Far East.  It took every wrestler to make every point they did to deliver a very close 81-77 win over rival Kinnick with Rio Lemkuil (122 lb) being Kinnick’s Kryptonite during the individual championship rounds and Shane Koslow to pull it out for the team in the dual match!

The unusual tournament format of a true double elimination (meaning, a wrestler who loses once in the bracket can still wrestle back to first place) made the tournament unpredictable until the finals round.  According to Coach Yabui, “On ‘paper’ St. Mary’s looked to be the favorites to win at 101lb, 135lb, 141lb, and 215lb while Kinnick looked to be the favorites at 115lb, 122lb, and 129lb.”  He continued, “If the results followed exactly as the rankings and predictions showed, the Titans would win the tournament by 1 team point.  However, unexpected upsets always happen at Far East.”

The Coach was right as the Far East Tournament provided it’s annual dose of stress to both spectators and coaches with those “unexpected” things happening – this time in a 4-pack:

1 – Singhi at 101lb got caught in a counter move against Caleb Heino of Yokota, a wrestler who Singhi easily defeated earlier in the tournament and the first upset was in the books.  Singhi got stuck on his back to lose in the finals.  However, because this was Singhi’s first loss of the tournament, it required Heino to beat him one more time for the gold medal.

2 – The second upset would unfold between Matsumoto at 115lb. Dareing of Kinnick (they entered the tournament with a 2-2 season record – all of which were very close matches).  Matsumoto lost once to Dareing and then wrestled back to the finals which meant he had one last chance to win.   Matsumoto wrestled his the best match of the season against Dareing to take the win which created a situation where Dareing could now wrestle again as this was his first loss.

3 – With two Far East Champions going at it there was bound to be drama in the 122 lb. bracket.   The situation with Lemkuil and Wirth of Kinnick was similar to the situation at 115 as the two continued their rivalry that had heated up throughout the season through a series of close matches.  Rio had only managed to defeat Wirth once during the regular season so there was something to prove now that it mattered the most.  In the finals, Lemkuil was finally able to catch Wirth with the St. Mary’s signature hold – an ankle lace – which he quickly used to turn Wirth four times for the technical superiority.  This qualified for a rematch with Wirth for the gold medal.

4 – The fourth upset happened at 275lb – where St. Mary’s typically cheers for whichever team pairs up with Kinnick.  This year the match was between Domery of Kinnick and White of Kadena.  In the battle of the heavyweights, Domery defeated White for the first time this season to qualify for the true final round.

In the quarter finals, 115lb Tatsuhito Matsumoto and 122lb Rio Lemkuil lost to Chon Dareing and Lucas Wirth of Kinnick, who were both #1 ranked wrestlers in their weight classes, respectively.  168lb Mitchel Krcelic lost to JinHwi Park of CAJ, who was also #1 ranked.  The Titan’s # 1 ranked Shane Koslow at 215lb was also sent to the wrestle-back side with an unexpected loss.  To make matters more difficult, the Titans had already lost 108lb Jong Pyeong Lee unexpectedly from the tournament, and 129lb Tatsuo Tanaka, 148lb Jihoon Seo,  158lb Austin Koslow, and 180lb Alex Patton all were upset to be sent to the consolation rounds (meaning, the highest place they could get to would be third).

At this point, the Titans needed all wrestlers who had the chance to wrestle back to the championship round to get back up and the consolation wrestlers to place as high as possible and to pray that Kinnick wrestlers lost as early as possible.

Matsumoto, Lemkuil, Krcelic, and Koslow all successfully won their next matches to come back to the championship round, joining the group of Titan finalists including Singhi at 101lb, and co-captains 135lb Lee and 141lb Osawa who all remained undefeated yet in the tournament.  The number of finalists matched Kinnick who also had 7 finalists, of which 115lb, 122lb, and 135lb were head-to-head against St. Mary’s.  With the dominant performance of St. Mary’s and Kinnick, the Far East individual team champion title came down to the two teams again for the fourth straight year.

Here’s a look at the individual weight brackets and how the Titan’s did to bring home the gold for the 4th straight year:

101 – Eshan plowed through every round with the occasional scare to get into the finals undefeated.  He was in complete control of his final match against his Yokota opponent before he made a mistake that cost him a 9-4 lead and went down by pin.  That being his first loss he got a second chance at took full advantage of it with a classic St. Mary’s ankle lace to go 8-0 before the match was stopped by an a referee who was obviously confused.  Poor officiating aside, the wrestlers restarted at center ring and Eshan got his tech fall as well as gold!

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108 – Jong Pyeong struggled early and was knocked out before having a chance to post any team points but he’ll be a key part of the Titan machine going into the dual meet championship.

115 – Tatsu did what he’s done all season and ran a bunch of well planned counter moves into wins through the early rounds before falling to the #1 ranked Kinnick rival in the semi-finals.  Tatsu took the lead in the first match of the two match championship beating his opponent 5-1 to hold the title for about 60 minutes.  In a tough head-to-head 2nd match Tastu gave up a point after being placed on the clock for inaction and then scored 1 on a push out but it wasn’t enough as his Kinnick rival won 1-1 on criteria to snatch gold from him.  Commented Coach Yabui, “Matsumoto fell 1 point short of claiming the gold medal losing the criteria as Matsumoto had received a caution in the match due to a dubious call by the referee.”  Matsumoto claimed the runner up for the second consecutive year.

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122 – WOW!  That sums up what happened here.  Rio lost to his Kinnick rival and then wrestled back to the finals.  Rio turned it on hard in the final’s match and won by tech fall 10-0 but was faced with having to defend his title because it was his opponent’s first loss.  What happened in his defence of the title was pure heart and determination as the street brawl he was in drew even and then he was able to pull it out 4-2 in that last minute of the second period with the winning takedown in the final second of the match.  The takedown was so close that the decision to award Lemkuil the takedown was decided after the match finished upon consultation of the three referees.  As Coach Yabui later commented, “122 did it for us.”  Unfortunately for the team, Rio sacrificed a knee for the win which meant he would be out of the dual meet matches.  “122 lbs with 121 of it being heart,” is how one observer referred to Rio.  Coach Yabui said of Rio’s win, “Beating Wirth two matches in a row could be awarded the ‘biggest upset of the tournament,’ if such award existed.  Very rarely, two-time defending Far East champions lose in their third try.”

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129 – Tatsuo wrestled well right into the semi finals and then lost, putting him into the 3rd place bracket.  He kept his focus, stayed positive and went out to bring home a 3rd place finish and much needed points for the Titans.  It’s always tough to regain your focus and wrestle back hard fo ryour teammates, but with the heart of a Titan Tatsuo did what the team needed him to do!  One of 6 seniors he shares his 168 lb classmate’s frustration for not taking gold this season but can look back as having had a great season and contributing to the team’s success!

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135 – History was made here as Chang Young became the third wrestler in Far East history to win 4 titles and the first non DODDs wrestler to do it.  With only a single career loss Chang Young winning is expected.  However, after he breezed through the early rounds – he narrowly escaped being pinned in the semi-finals – something that shocked everyone watching the match and something that seemed to fire up Chang Young as he went on to torch his opponent with a 10-0 tech fall in the finals to claim his historic Far East run!  Chang Young is the first 4 time Far East Champion St. Mary’s has produced and he’s wrestled his entire middle school and high school career under 3 time Far East Champion Shu Yabui!  Success breeds success!

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141 – As he has done all season, Ryo technically dominated everyone he faced right up to the finals and leading his fellow wrestlers by example.  But a funny thing happened as his final match got underway and for the first time this season, his opponent seemed to stump him for a bit while actually recording 3 points.  To be clear “a bit” equates to nanoseconds when Ryo gets ahold of you and starts throwing you around the mat so hopefully his opponent remembers scoring 3 points because after that he didn’t do much to be remembered as Ryo threw his opponent around to quickly record a tech fall and notch his second Far East Title!

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148 – No one told Jihoon there were a bunch of more seasoned wrestlers in this weight class, or if they did he didn’t listen, as he rolled through the early rounds before dropping into the 3rd place bracket an then losing a heart breaker to end up in 5th place.  Although disappointed with himself, the points were needed to carry the Titans to victory!  “He did what we needed him to do and got us the points for 3rd Place,” commented Coach Yabui.

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158 – Austin looked great until he started mixing up with the same opponents that gave him trouble all season.  But when the team needed him to step up and wrestle through to record the points for a 3rd Place finish, the Sophomore regrouped and did exactly that.  Austin raced through the 3rd Place bracket exhibiting skills that will likely carry him to future Far East final matches.  “Again, another great job of one of our wrestlers coming through when the team needed the points,” said Coach Yabui.

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168 – Mitchell won every match by tech fall – so did his CAJ rival and then the two met in the semi-finals where Mitchell lost a close 5-4 decision.  He wrestled back to face-off again against Park in the finals but just couldn’t come up with a way to win and settled for silver.  He may have finished disappointed with himself but his points were key to the team win.  Coach Yabui’s observation, “Krcelic wrestled his guts out to take on his rival, Park of CAJ, who he has only beaten once this season.   Mitchell stayed on his offense and kept busy for the entire bout, but could not find his way on top of Park.”

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180 – Alex came out confident, stumbled once and then on his way back to the finals came up short one more time to put him in the third place bracket where he delivered big for his Titan teammates.  Although disappointing, Alex’s 3rd Place finish is a big turnaround from his previous season wresting at JV 168.  In just his first time wrestling at the Far East Tournament he could have easily let the second loss get to him and undermine his performance in the third place bracket but he got up, dusted himself off and powered through to deliver the team the 3rd Place points.  Coach Yabui commented, “Sometimes the wrestlers do not understand how important these placing points are to the success of the team.  Alex did what we needed him to do.”

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215 – Shane punched the clock, went to work and got the job done.  After faltering in the semi-finals and allowing his opponent to pin him for the win, the Titan’s big man wrestled back into the finals – won – and then defended his tile against his Kubasaki opponent.  Shane was a tank throughout his matches and showed why he was the favorite in this weight class.  He does things that you don’t usually see big guys do to win matches – the ankle lace being one of them as pulling off this move on the thick legs of a 215 lb wrestler is like tying together two tree stumps.

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Bottom line for the individual matches is this  – Had any of the 5 champions lost or had any placers ranked lower, history would have looked completely different with Kinnick taking the title which they have desperately tried to “wrestle away” from St. Mary’s for 4 straight seasons. “It was way too close,” commented Coach Yabui, “but our boys all came together to step it up on the second day.”

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A Look Inside the Dual Meet Tournament:

After a day of modest celebration of their Individual Team victory, the Titan wrestlers stepped on the mat for one last time to compete and defend their Far East dual title.  However, the 12 Titans who started the tournament were now down to 11 as St. Mary’s lost Rio at 122lb due to his knee injury from a day earlier – Rio came through to help win the Individual title but if the team was going to bring home the Dual title it would have to be without him – a challenge that seemed almost impossible because with the empty weight class at 275lb to begin with, the Titans were left to battle the dual meet tournament down 10 – 0 in forfeits to each opponent before the first wreslter even stepped onto the mat!

There wasn’t much drama in the team defeating defeating Kubasaki in the semi-finals.  The Titans won at 129, 135, 141, 158 and 215 by tech.  148 was a win by pin.  122 was uncontested.  HWT was lost by forfeit.  101 and 168 were wins by walkover and we dropped 108 and 180.  This all added up to a 39-14 Titan win.

Then the drama began like it has for the last four years, with Kinnick waiting in the wings for the last match of the 3 day tournament.  The Coaches for the Titans and The Devils knew that the dual would come down to the “swing weights” (the matches that could go either way) – 108lb, 115lb, and 158lb.  Assuming no upsets in the other weight classes, most likely, the team to take 2 out of the 3 swing matches would win the dual.

The battle of these two Far East Champion Teams began as expected with newly crowned Far East champion, Eshan Singhi, demolishing his competitor with technical superiority 11-0.  Titans 4 – Kinnick 0

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Then, came the first of the swing bouts: 108lb Jong Pyeong Lee of St. Mary’s against Charlie Labato of Kinnick – JP, despite defeating Labato earlier in the season at the Beast of the East, was coming off of an upsetting defeat 2 days ago in the first round of the individual tournament against Labato. JP further suffered a painful loss in the second match to be eliminated from the tournament unable to net the team any points so there was some concern about how he would bounce back for the dual meets – the loss by tech fall in the Kubasaki dual made the coaches even more worried that he had “checked out” already.  But just when it seemed that like this was just not the tournament for the Titan 108 pounder  – he exemplified what it meant to be a Titan.  With aggression that had been absent throughout the tournament, JP took Labato by surprise with a quick takedown and laced him up for 4 consecutive relentless ankle laces to finish the match with a technical superiority 10-0 win to add a huge additional 4 points to the Titans total. “How he (Lee) went out and won the way he did deflated Kinnick and gave power to us,” recalls Coach Harlow.  Titans 8 – Red Devils 0

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JP’s attitude and motivation spilled over to Tatsu in the second swing battle against Dareing at 115lb.  In another full 6 minute match – Matsumoto avenged the heart breaking loss the day before for the gold medal and absolutely out-wrestled Dareing for the team to earn a precious second swing bout victory with a 6 – 3 decision.  Titans 11  – Red Devils 1.

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After receiving the walkover points at 122lb, Kinnick drew closer making the score 11 – 6 Titans.

Kinnick’s 129lb. Far East champion, Devoney Stanley faced Tatsuo Tanaka for one last time. Tanaka fought hard and stayed off his back to minimize the team points scored for Kinnick for Stanley’s victory.  Though Stanley could have chosen to continue wrestling for the pin after his technical superiority victory, he refused to continue.  Titans 11 – Red Devils 10

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4 time Champion Chang Young did his job of keeping his points given up against Mason Smith – who almost pinned Lee in the individual tournament – to zero and shut him out by tech fall 10 -0. Titans 15 – Red Devils 10

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141lb. Captain Ryo Osawa stepped on the mat to fulfill his last challenge and job as the captain.  Coach Yabui’s dual strategy included sending Osawa back for the pin in case he was scored on for the bigger team points (if a wrestler wins by technical fall but gets scored on, the team points are 4 – 1, a 3 point difference, whereas a pin would be 5 – 0).  “That’s how close this dual meet was going to be, even with winning 2 of the 3 swing bouts,” said Coach Yabui reflecting back on his calculations.  However, Osawa, put all calculations and strategy aside as he tightly held down Kameron Leon Gurrero of Kinnick to his back; pinning one of the hardest wrestlers to pin in the league for a 5 – 0 boost for the Titans.  Titans 20 – Red Devils 10

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In what could have been another point getter for the Titans, Jihoon made some bad decisions (ones that could have cost his team gold) and Kinnick was able to briefly stop the momentum at 148lb with a 5 – 0 win by disqualification.  Titans 20 – Red Devils 15

Then it was time for Sophomore Austin Koslow to rise to the challenge against his 158 lb. rival, Darius Sweson, who he has wrestled a number of times this season but only managed to defeat on one occasion during regular season.  The fact that Swenson defeated Koslow the day before knocking him into the 3rd Place bracket was a concern as you never know how a wrestler will respond.  Austin reached down deep and showed that “Titan Heart” by taking control over almost every situation of the match.  He attacked Swenson’s weakness of the legs with his fireman’s carry and defended Swenson’s pop roll by coming up to his feet every time he was stuck under in the front headlock position.  With Koslow’s smart match, the Titans took all three of the swing matches.  “Our boys were so much more focused and fired up for the dual; I’m surprised Kinnick had no flame,” said Coach Yabui and Coach Harlow concurred.  Titans 23 – Red Devils 16

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Senior Mitchell Krcelic came out slow in his first match since missing out on gold the day before.  With expectations that he would come out like a buzz-saw, for a moment it looked as if he would allow another Kinnick wrestler to pull off an upset over him as they did at Kanto a week earlier.  But Krcelic also found that fire inside and after spotting his opponent 2 points, he switched gears and showed why he is the second best wrestler in the Far East in the 168 lb. weight class.  He got back to executing his core moves and nailing his fireman’s’ carry to pull out a 13-2 technical superiority win.  “The only thing that’s stopped him all season was taking too long to get his motor started, that happened here at first but he got it together and when he’s on he’s hard to beat,” commented Coach Harlow.  Titans 27 – Red Devils 17

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Titan 180lb Alex Patton got a second shot at and wrestled hard against Kinnick’s two time Far East champion, Dwayne Lyon.  Hoping to recapture some of that “magic” which helped him to pin Lyon two times during the season, Alex locked up and went the distance but couldn’t muster the points losing by 7-0 decision.  However, that minimized the team point loss to only a 3.  Titans 27 – Red Devils 20

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With 27 points for St. Mary’s and 20 points for Kinnick, and the Titans not having a heavy weight which actually made the score Titans 27 – Red Devils 25 – the dual meet came down to the last match at 215lb.

This set the stage for newly crowned Far East Champion, Shane Koslow, to go up against Cameron Joley to determine the 2017 Far East dual meet champion.  Just as it boiled down to Koslow closing the individual team championship deal with his tournament victory the day before, the Titan gatekeeper finished his last match of his career wining by technical superiority 13-2 over Joley to earn the 4 – 1 split.  Titans 31 – Red Devils 26

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The Titans started the season with the motto, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” and they wrapped up the the 2016-17 season living up to that!

“I’m so proud of all the boys. They are all great kids with great team spirit and unity.  With the countless adversities the program faced during season, I had to make them go through so much stress and miserable practices without breaks.  I’m just relieved that this tournament finished the way it did because they worked so hard during season and they deserved to win it.” said an exhausted, relieved and smiling Coach Yabui.

When reviewed, it was another incredible record making season for the St. Mary’s International School Titans.  Since coming back to compete in the Far East tournament in 2011 (as international schools were banned from competing in the Far East from 2005 – 2010), St. Mary’s has claimed 10 Far East titles out of 14 title opportunities.  They have set numerous school and Far East records such as producing 6 individual champions in 2015 and 2016, winning all 5 major titles in the 2016 season (a wrestling Grand Slam), winning four straight years from 2014 – 2017, and producing a 4 time Far East champion.

The expectations for the program somehow seem to grow each year and the boys continue to find ways to go beyond the expectations.

Every Titan wrestler should be proud of what was achieved this season.  This is a team sport that requires huge individual success and the success of the varsity wrestlers comes from having team mates to practice with and push them (we had numerous wrestle-offs this year in a few weight classes).  Teamwork and competiveness build success and we expect to see that continue!  Special thanks and well wishes to our Seniors!

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