January 30 – February 1, 2023
“I have never seen anything like this,” commented Coach Yabui, “they all surely wrestled really well and definitely their best of the season,” referring to the 3-day performance of the St. Mary’s wrestling team at the 44th Far East Wrestling Tournament hosted at Kinnick High School after two canceled tournaments in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Titans dominated their competition to win the Far East Individual Champions title, and if that wasn’t enough, also the Far East Dual Championship title for a dream sweep to win titles #18 and #19 for the school.
It was an emotional victory for the team and the coaching staff with some even in tears. After securing both titles, Coach Yabui was certainly emotional during his speech to the team. He explained how a lot of thoughts went through his mind. His thoughts went to those seniors back in 2021 and 2022 that lost their chance to compete because of COVID and to the long journey of the wrestlers who came up from the middle school and elementary programs with former Titans coach, Ian Harlow. With assistant coach, Tatsu Matsumoto, captain of the 2018 team, by his side this season, he had flashbacks to the 2018 team which fell short of both titles; failing to achieve the new Far East record of 5 consecutive Far East titles. The Titans’ victory over Kadena, led by former Far East champion for Kinnick, Coach Wood, who wrestled in the same era as Coach Yabui also brought back memories from over 20 years ago. Then, there was the presence of former rival coaches, Coach Wilson and Joley of Kinnick and Coach Kitts of Yokota, who were all there at the tournament – not coaching – but running the tournament to make sure that the tournament was the best experience for all teams. “I give all my respect and appreciation for them [Wilson, Joley, Kitts]. They know what Far East wrestling is supposed to be. I looked up to them as a competitor and they made me better as a coach. Though it’s sad they are no longer coaching, it was nice to know they were behind the scenes of hosting this very important tournament,” commented Coach Yabui.
It was certainly a season of unpredictability and changes. The pandemic has caused most teams to rebuild their programs with less numbers and more inexperienced wrestlers. St. Mary’s was no different with 19 out of 25 wrestlers on the team being rookies or second year wrestlers. There was simply no team that stood out as top contenders. The championship was open to many teams unlike previous years when the BIG 3 (Kubasaki, Kinnick, and St. Mary’s) were the definite favorites. From the second place team to 6th place, the teams had only a few team points difference, but at the end of the day, St. Mary’s stood out with 7 wrestlers in the finals and 5 champions amassing 87 team points, solidifying their titles even before the finals started, followed by Kubasaki with 67 points, ASIJ 59 points, Kadena 55 points, Kinnick 53 points, and MC Perry 48 points.
After giving up the Kanto league title to ASIJ (first time since 2007), Titan wrestlers were determined to redeem themselves at Far East. “Winning Kanto titles are important, but we are always aiming to win Far East. Our training plan and strategy are always aimed to peak the wrestlers at Far East,” explained Coach Yabui. He further explained it was challenging this season as most wrestlers were new, the league had a shortened season, and there was no information about the other teams.
But, the Titans certainly peaked at the right time. First/second year wrestlers shined on the mat at their very first Far East tournament. Second year wrestlers Jiei Izukune 141lb and Taiyo Mitsuoka 148lb both made it to the semi-finals. Although they suffered a couple of losses afterwards, they stayed “alive” in the tournament to score valuable team points; Jiei earning 5th place and Taiyo 6th place. First year wrestler Luke Shane 122lb, wrestled his way to the 3rd place match and finished 4th. Then, there were first year wrestlers Hugo Miyamoto 101lb, Nathaniel Twohig 141lb, and Roman Leyko 168lb who joined a handful of wrestlers to become Far East champions in their first year of wrestling. Hugo, hardly having any opponents to wrestle during regular season, wrestled his way up opponents he has never encountered to finish all his matches in a dominant fashion. Nathaniel and Roman, in the finals, both faced opponents they lost to just over a week ago; this time controlling their matches to their advantage to get their Far East gold. Seniors and veterans, Jong In Lee 108lb, Isaac Shane 115lb, Masaya Toyokawa 129lb, and Matthew Araya 180lb, all performed as expected to make it to the finals in a dominant fashion, with captains Isaac and Masaya getting their hands raised in the end. “You can never rely on rookies because they make mistakes and do unexpected things, but given their potential and the level of the competition, we knew we had a good shot at winning,” commented Coach Yabui. The tournament was for anyone’s taking, but St. Mary’s, in the end, out performed their competition.
Their dual tournament performance was even more impressive, shutting out the defending champions, Kubasaki from 101lb to 141lb straight with 7 straight pins and technical falls to end the dual there. “I can’t recall a time when a dual meet was already won at 135lb; never ever even thought that was possible with a team like Kubasaki; the wrestlers were on fire, on a mission, on a rampage,” commented Coach Yabui. Usually, the team title and the dual title often comes down to the outcomes of the last 215lb or 275lb matches and finals, but it was the Titans all the way at the 2023 Far East tournament. Most outstanding performance was by 141lb Jiei Izukune, who pulled off two major upsets in the dual against Kadena and Kubasaki. Jiei was defeated badly in the individual tournament by the Kadena wrestler, who took 2nd in the tourney, and. The Kubasaki wrestler, who took 3rd. Jiei could not even get a single take down. However, in the dual, Jiei upset the Kadena silver medalist with a technical fall victory by catching him in multiple leg laces and also upset the Kubasaki bronze medalist with an epic pin from an upper body scramble. The team, the crowd, and the coaching staff all went wild. But, it’s not just Jiei that got the team wins, explained Coach Yabui, “bottom line was to not get pinned and try to win, win by pin or tech fall would be ideal, but we didn’t want to force anything to happen, but everyone from 101lb to 141lb went way over their expectations.” In the finals against Kubasaki, Hugo Miyamoto, Jong In Lee, Isaac Shane, Luke Shane, Masaya Toyokawa, and Nathaniel Twohig were all determined to defeat the green Dragons and all dominated their opponents by a pin or tech fall; extinguishing any bit of fire left in the Kubasaki wrestlers.
101lb, Hugo Miyamoto, was a sensation. “Though he’s a first year wrestler, I feel like he’s been on the team for a long time,” said Coach Yabui about Hugo in the way he shows up to practice, the way he dresses, prepares, trains, manages his weight, and wrestles. He is very consistent in all of his matches, unlike a rookie. Hugo never seems to get nervous in matches and executes his moves with confidence and belief. He knows his best move, the fireman’s carry, and his second go-to, sweep single leg. He is always in good position and always on the attack; sometimes shooting on the whistle. He did not put himself in any danger for the entire tournament. Coming in the tournament as the top seeded wrestler, Hugo dominated his first two matches to make the finals. He has worked diligently in the room to work on his takedown to a leg lace transition which shined in his finals where he was able to get a leg lace so quickly after his takedown and gave no chance for his opponent to react. With three consecutive leg lace turns, he finished his finals 10-0. His reliable performance continued throughout the dual portion of the tournament as well.
108lb, Jong In Lee, had a tough decision before Far East. He was going undefeated through the season until the Beast of the East tournament where he suffered his first loss against Kadena. But, Jong In took this opportunity to challenge himself and also do what’s best for the team; remain at 108lb. “I give all my respect to Jong In. He is a great wrestler and one of the best on the team; we can send him out with confidence at all times. The finals didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but he decided to overcome his challenges rather than running away and he was there for the team and his teammates all tournament long and that’s so valuable and precious,” commented Coach Yabui. Jong In, top seeded wrestler in the Japan mainland region, he swept through his first two opponents from MC Perry and Humphreys with his sweep singles. Then, as expected, he met his nemesis from Kadena in the finals. The first period was rather quiet; both wrestlers hand fighting and faking to feel each other out. His opponent took advantage of Jong In’s bad positioning to score some takedowns, ending the first period 5-0. Second period, Jong In finally scored a takedown from a scramble and quickly transitioned into his leg lace which he is trained to do every day. He turned over once and just when his team hoped for a few more turns to reverse the match, the opponent fought his leg free from the lace. Though Jong In wrestled hard for the remaining time, this time wasn’t Jong In’s time and he settled for a silver. In the dual finals, Jong In secured big points for the team as he forced his way to getting a pin (which scores the highest team point) despite that it is not his style of wrestling. “We are all so proud of Jong In; though the loss hurts a lot for him and for us too, this is a valuable experience for growth opportunity for him,” praised Coach Matsumoto who can sympathize as he was a three-time Far East silver medalist.
115lb, Isaac Shane, certainly had a dramatic season. After suffering a heavy injury on his shoulder at the Rumble on the Rock tournament in early January, he had to make the decision to sit out for the remaining season until the Far East. “It was a tough call. It’s his senior year, I know he wants to compete, especially after two canceled seasons. But, it’s been our program’s and his goals to be a Far East champion; we had to make the choice with the least risk,” reflected Coach Yabui, referring to the fact that Isaac, along with his teammate Masaya Toyokawa, had started wrestling in the school’s elementary program and came though the whole program to become a Far East champion. With his diligent rehab and conditioning, Isaac came back to the Far East scene since the last tournament in 2020, which he placed runner-up. In his first match, he faced the Kubasaki opponent which coincidentally was the same opponent which Isaac injured his shoulder during the match. This time, Isaac attacked with precision and caution to make sure he didn’t injure his shoulder again. He shot in fast with his signature low singles and finished up high. When the opponent resisted, Isaac quickly transitioned into a high amplitude move to take his opponent to his back twice. However the referees only awarded Isaac 2 points on both occasions. But, Isaac was in full control of the match to advance to the semi-finals. He quickly finished his second match against Humphreys to advance to his finals. In the finals, he faced the Beast of the East champion from MC Perry. The match was certainly a great entertainment for the crowd. Isaac, by this time, has lifted his ban of his signature blast double leg, which he had been reserving to lighten the burden on his injured shoulder. Isaac blasted through with his double leg, carrying the opponent from the center of the circle all the way to edge for a big 4 point takedown. But, the opponent also countered with his consistent and solid defense to score 2 point go-behind take downs. On par terre, his opponent put an arm bar on Isaac’s injured shoulder, but Isaac managed to stay on his belly. Then, Isaac attacked again with his double leg for another big point. The opponent would counter again. Then, Isaac this time faked a double to go for his lightening fast sweep single for another take down. Their attacks and counter attacks continued throughout the match; making the crowd go wild every time. But, eventually, as Isaac had been scoring the bigger points, Isaac finished the match with a 21-11 technical fall victory to fulfill his long time dream of being a Far East champion.
122lb, Luke Shane, wrestled very competitively in his Far East debut. As a first year wrestler, Luke has shown tremendous growth as a wrestler, especially in his mentality. At the beginning of the season, Luke lacked confidence, which got him beat many times. But, as the season progressed, Luke gained more confidence along with more aggressive and assertive techniques and offense. After defeating his opposition from Humphreys in the first round, Luke had to face the eventual Far East champion from ASIJ. The ASIJ wrestler simply had more experience, knocking Luke down into the consolation bracket. But, Luke’s focus and determination to win did not change. He beat his opponent from Osan and faced Kubasaki for the consolation semi-finals. The Kubasaki opponent controlled the match at first and lead 8-0 in the first period. Just when people thought the match would be over, Luke began to come back. He took more shots and scrambled harder to get takedowns even if they were not pretty. HIs relentless attacks eventually wore out his opponent to reverse the match in his victory. “I’m so proud of how he wrestled, he did a great job not giving up,” commented Coach Moshe. Luke earned himself a 3rd place match against Kinnick, which he has never won before. Unfortunately, the result was the same this time. Luke kept his head down on failed shots and could not do much to settle for a 4th place finish in his first Far East. Perhaps this performance wasn’t good enough for Luke as he was fired up for the dual portion, securing valuable wins for both duals against Kadena and Kubasaki; especially against Kubasaki, Luke’s aggression and determination overwhelmed his opponent to earn an extremely valuable pin for the team.
129lb, Masaya Toyokawa, has been a non-stop freight train accelerating match by match to run over all of his opponents this season. “It’s a little hard to believe how he is still improving as a senior even towards the end of season at this pace,” said Coach Yabui. He moves non-stop. He attacks non-stop. He turns his opponents non-stop. Together with his longtime teammate Isaac, Masaya also began wrestling in the elementary school program, dreaming to be a Far East champion someday. And, the Toyokawa freight train kept on moving at his second Far East appearance since 2020. There’s not much to say other than he dominated every single opponent at the tournament. His signature fireman’s carry would launch his opponents in the air for a beautiful arch. His sweep singles are so slick his opponents couldn’t not even see it. His par terre with his arm bar, tilts, gut wrench, and leg lace was simply a wrestling textbook showcase. He outperformed Kinnick, Humphreys, and his finals against CAJ, to be crowned the 129lb Far East champion. Though sometimes Far East champions the day before can get upset in the duals at Far East, Masaya left no doubt that he was indeed the best of the best by completely tearing apart his two opponents. Against Kubasaki, he proved that his loss (and only loss in the season) against this opponent back in early January was a fluke. Masaya went out on his career ending match and mauled his opponent. Simply winning wasn’t enough for Masaya as he relentlessly scored with his single leg, ankle pick, duck under, gut wrench, reverse lock dump, and finally with a counter headlock to pin down his opponent in the end. “It’s a great story with Isaac and Masaya. I can’t believe those little elementary kids have now grown to be leaders and champions, we are all so proud,” commented Coach Yabui.
135lb, Nathaniel Twohig, the “super rookie” proved his is not just super but also special. In just 2.5 months of beginning the sport, Nathaniel has become one of the top wrestlers at his weight class. He is a very intelligent wrestler. He understands the physics behind the wrestling moves and learns from his mistakes every match. Coming into the tournament as the #2 seed of the mainland region, Nathaniel wrestled very smart matches, not taking unnecessary risks and taking advantage of the opponents’ mistakes. He advanced to the finals to face the only wrestler to defeat Nathaniel twice this season. “We believe Nathaniel is a more well rounded wrestler overall but the opponent has unorthodox moves which caught Nathaniel twice,” explained Coach Yabui. Nathaniel worked the week before to counter this Kinnick opponent’s tactics. In the finals, Nathaniel’s takedowns were solid, scoring big points. Nathaniel a wrestled a careful match, blocking off his opponent’s attacks. When the opponent tried to hit his unorthodox boot scoot and long arm drag maneuvers, Nathaniel, just like practice, blocked them off successfully. Nathaniel showed dominant and safe performance to get his hand raised in the end with a 14-4 victory to be crowned the 135lb Far East champion. Though suffering an upset in the Kadena dual, Nathaniel, unlike a rookie, reset in his mind against Kubasaki in the duals to wrestle a smart, controlled match to secure a valuable win for the team to close the dual.
141lb, Jiei Izukune, in his first and last experience at the Far East, was a bitter sweet one. He had a tough series of bouts, facing the eventual finalist from Kadena for his first match. The opponent had long arms, blocking off Jiei of his shots. Jiei did attempt a couple of shots, which eventually led to scoring some big points, but it simply wasn’t enough to reverse the match. Being knocked down to the consolations, Jiei came back from his loss and showed resilience. He defeated EJ King and Yokota to face the Beast of the East silver medalist from Kubasaki in the consolation semi-finals. Jiei has wrestled this opponent before but has had no luck. Jiei wrestled a very smart and careful match; keeping good distance, faking, and timing his shots. He did wrestle the best match against him, but lacked offense. He did take a shot in the very end, but time ran out. Jiei’s wrestling got better and better throughout the tournament. In his 5th place match against Edgren, right when his opponent got out of position for a split second on the top par terre position, Jiei did not miss his opportunity. He came up to catch his opponent on his back for a pin to earn his 5th place at Far East. Then, he was on a rampage in his last two matches in the dual portion; causing two major upsets in a row against the silver medalist of Kadena and a pin against the bronze medalist of Kubasaki. “He had a tough draw, but that’s what it is; but I am very proud of how he came back from losses, switched his mentality to continue to win whenever possible,” commented Coach Yabui.
148lb, Taiyo Mitsuoka, went on a roller coaster ride at his first and last Far East attempt. After defeating CAJ in his first match, Taiyo wrestled in the semi-finals against Edgren. Throughout the season, Taiyo’s main issue has been getting too nervous and breaking down physically and mentally in matches. He always wrestles very well at first, but his nervousness gets worse and worse as he wins. His first semi-finals of the Far East was too much for him. Although, Taiyo had every potential to beat this opponent, his body shut down and could not function at all. The individual tournament was simply not Taiyo’s day as he settled for 6th place. But, he remained in the tournament to score valuable team points. “I just wish Taiyo started wrestling earlier and COVID never happened. He has great potential to beat almost anyone out there and just needed more experience to control his mentality for matches. But, he made everyone on the team better in practice and was a valuable asset at this tournament,” said Coach Yabui.
158lb, Kabilan Baskaran, had a great season in terms of experience and learning. Although he started out as a JV wrestler, he improved very quickly and, and best of all, he had a strong will to earn his varsity spot. Kabilan’s matches are pretty easy to forecast: when he shoots, he wins, when he doesn’t he loses. In his first match against Yokota, he was aggressive and stayed on the attack to advance himself to the quarter finals. However, against his next Kadena opponent, he took zero shots and of course ended up going to the consolation bracket. In the first match of his consolation bracket, he faced a wrestler from Osan. Kabilan was aggressive at first, scoring a big 4 point takedown straight into a gut wrench for another 2 points. But, then, he stopped shooting. His opponent started to attack, eventually putting Kabilan on his back to be eliminated from the tournament. “Now he knows what Far East is like and what it takes to win and what causes him to lose; he is going to be a very important part of the team in passing on his knowledge to the others next year. I see great potential for growth with him,” commented Coach Yabui.
168lb, Roman Leyko, demonstrated tremendous improvement through the season and especially in the last couple of weeks. After single-handed lay defeating his first opponent from Yokota, he faced a wrestler from Osan who he has never seen before. Roman is a lefty and his takedown is the near-arm-far-leg, which is a deadly move that can take opponents straight to their backs for a pin. Roman needs the inside tie on the right side to execute this move, but he struggled to get inside control with this opponent. The opponent did a good job reversing the hand positioning with Roman to block his shots. However, Roman stayed patient to look for his opportunities and took shots when he could. In his second takedown, the opponent fell to his back which Roman quickly utilized to pin him; advancing him to the finals. The finals, as expected, as against Kubasaki who defeated Roman twice just a week before both with a technical fall, easily countering Roman’s takedown. “We had our whole coaching staff analyzing how to beat this guy and worked on strategies,” reflected Coach Yabui. Roman, this time, did not shoot immediately but fought for his inside control relentlessly and moved his opponent around with head snaps and fakes and circling on the mat. While Roman did not shoot, neither could his opponent. While there were a few push outs and takedowns by both wrestlers, the match had little action (as strategized) in the first period, with Roman leading by 2 points. Then, in the second period, his opponent found an opportunity to cradle Roman and hastily put a cradle to turn Roman over for a pin. However, the cradle was a little loose and out of position to allow Roman to kick free to end up on top of his opponent head the edge of the mat. By then, it was too late for Kubasaki to get off his back, and with an epic comeback, this time is was the Titan wrestler to get his hand raised for the Far East gold. “We are usually weaker in the heavier weights, so it was great to have a strong kid like Roman join and a good wrestler like Matthew at 180lb to guide Roman through the season. While we will lose Matthew, I’m excited to have Roman only as a sophomore. With a fuller training during season, he’s going to be really good and will be more dominant,” commented Coach Yabui about Roman who was not able to join the Titans during their customary Christmas holiday intensive workouts this season.
180lb, Matthew Araya, is another long time Titan along with his teammates Masaya and Isaac. He has been a fanatic Titans wrestling fan since elementary years and he is always trying to promote the sport and encourage people to join. He is a good ambassador of the sports and has great respect for those who came before. While many wrestlers at this weight and heavier tend to have little technique and rely on their weight, Matthew is not. He is very technical and he can shoot high crotches, fireman’s, and single legs. He also has a deadly headlock that can reverse a match at any time. Matthew “had to” make this Far East tournament dramatic. In his first match against his good rival from ASIJ who he has beaten all season long, Matthew gave up the lead with very little time remaining in the match. Matthew’s takedowns just weren’t working. Just when people thought this would be an upset against Matthew, he hit a hard headlock as if he was waiting for that precise moment to pin and reverse the match to advance to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals against Humphreys, he was again down with no luck with his takedowns. Matthew was even about to get pinned. However, once again, towards the end of the match when Humphreys was about to declare the victory, Matthew caught his opponent on his back to secure another upset victory by pin to advance to the finals. The finals was what he exactly wanted; revenge against Kadena’s 180lb who Matthew lost last week at the Beast of the East. But, once again, Kadena prevailed over Matthew with multiple points scored by a gut wrench and solid hand fighting. This Kadena opponent ended up being voted the Outstanding Far East Wrestler of the tournament. But, Matthew’s great comeback performance led the team to have 7 wrestlers in the finals to cap off the 18th Far East team title for St. Mary’s. When asked about Matthew, Coach Yabui commented, “with COVID, much of the tradition was lost with the wrestling team, but Matthew tried very hard to keep the tradition going, helping other rookies who have no idea what wrestling is or what St. Mary’s wrestling is. I really appreciate his presence this season. On top of that, he is one of the rare reliable and tough wrestlers in the heavier weight classes. We felt so strong as a team knowing we have Matthew Araya waiting at the end of our line up.”
The Titans ended the last decade as the most dominant team in the Far East. The team’s goal for this current decade is to do the same and get within range to take over the #1 Far East team, Kubasaki, in the number of Far East titles and Far East individual champions. “We are not the best yet until we beat Kubasaki,” said Coach Yabui. It was crucial for the Titans to win this tournament to get a head start on this long term plan. However, the Titans may be facing a big obstacle already for the next season, losing 9 seniors on the team this year. They will definitely have holes above 180lb, let alone no one at 275lb. “These guys [the rookies] had no wrestling experience, but became champions or part of a champion team. It shows the quality of our program and coaching. I hope this victory will encourage more students with no experience to try wrestling. We build champions from rookies,” said Coach Yabui. But, the St. Mary’s wrestling program is building back up like before with the resurrection of the elementary school program this year and growing numbers on the middle school team. With two years gone for COVID, who will take this decade? The race has just begun.
44th Far East Wrestling Tournament Results
101lb Hugo Miyamoto
115lb Isaac Shane
129lb Masaya Toyokawa
135lb Nathaniel Twohig
168lb Roman Leyko
108lb Jong In Lee
180lb Matthew Araya
4th – Luke Shane 122lb
5th – Jiei Izukune 141lb
6th – Taiyo Mitsuoka 148lb
Individual Team Ranking:
1) St. Mary’s 87 points
2) Kubasaki 67 points
3) ASIJ 59 points
4) Kadena 55 points
5) Kinnick 53 points
6) MC Perry 48 points
Semi-Finals – St. Mary’s 29 – Kadena 23
Finals – St. Mary’s 33 – Kubasaki 24