January 29—31, 2024
“I said the same thing in December and for the [Stars and Stripes] interview right before Far East and it exactly came down to it,” reflected Coach Yabui who finished his 11th year as the head coach for the St. Mary’s wrestling program, “we can not afford to get pinned.”
Coming in the tournament as the defending Far East individual and dual champions, Stars and Stripes concluded that St. Mary’s was the team to beat and all powerhouse programs such as Kubasaki and Kadena were targeting to beat the Titans. Coach Yabui disagreed that while the Titans had a chance at winning Far East again, other teams, especially Kadena, have many tough wrestlers and the tournament would be harder than ever to win it. In the interview, Coach Yabui commented that the Titans were generally better with their feet and par terre game, but they still had a tendency to get pinned which trumps the entire match even with a 9 point lead; and in a dual meet, that leads to a significant deficit.
“Given the strength of Kubasaki and Kadena, we want to put 8 in the finals, 6 would be minimum to win it,” commented Coach Yabui before the tournament started. The Titans fell short of Coach Yabui’s desires with 5 wrestlers out of 8 in the semi-finals to make it to the finals: 107lb Hugo Miyamoto, 114lb Hiroyuki Sen, 127lb Luke Shane, 139lb Nathaniel Twohig, and 172lb Roman Leyko. Though St. Mary’s on Day 2 was still in the mix of winning the team title along with Kubasaki and Kadena with 7 in the finals each, it became a much tougher race to win and the outcome depended on how well or not well the other teams performed. “You never want to depend on other teams for your team title, but with higher levels of competition, it’s bound to happen,” commented Coach Yabui, comparing it to the previous season where the Titans put 7 in the finals to secure the team title even before the finals started.
Sophomore, Hugo Miyamoto, and juniors Nathaniel Twohig and Roman Leyko, fulfilled their ultimate goal of defending their titles from last year and became the 11th, 12th, and 13th wrestlers in school history to win 2 Far East titles. Junior, Luke Shane at 127lb, and senior Hiroyuki Sen at 114lb, both suffered a loss in the finals to settle for silver. 121lb Jedidiah Schmitz, 152lb Kabilan Baskaran, and 215lb Jimin Kim survived the ferocious battles to earn valuable 5th place points for the team. 145lb Jo Kaijima and 160lb Luke Yamada both made it to the bronze medal rounds, with Luke Yamada successfully earning his bronze medal only in his rookie year.
St. Mary’s finished 3rd place in the team race with 75 points, behind Kadena’s 82 points and Kubasaki’s 86 points, winning them their 27th Far East title; widening the gap between St. Mary’s with 19 titles. This marked the first time since 2013 that St. Mary’s finished below 2nd in the team race at Far East.
Although with a rather upsetting result, Coach Yabui says he’s not disappointed with his wrestlers’ performances. “They all wrestled their best during the individual tournament but some just didn’t perform at their peak at the right match.” However, Coach Yabui has regrets regarding many wrestlers this year simply missing practices, especially the Christmas break practices. “Other teams’ strengths are in their physical power and talent, our strength is in technique and conditioning, but we lost that edge especially during the Christmas break practices.” At their defeat against Kinnick earlier in the season, Coach Yabui warned about the dangers of missing practice. During the Christmas break, which normally sees a good majority of the team participating, there were days when only 6 wrestlers out of 30 showed up. In a season with just 12 weeks, the 3 week Christmas break is a significant chunk of the season. Sicknesses will happen; the name of the game is to minimize all other absenteeism. But, this year’s Titans squad seems to have suffered from illnesses plus all sorts of other reasons such as academic and truancy.
Another aspect of this season that may have played a role in the outcome is the lack of tournament opportunities. The only open tournament was at CAJ, the first tournament of the season. The rest of the tournaments were either limited to varsity only or JV only or limited in the number of wrestlers teams could enter. “A team is only as strong as it’s weakest JV wrestler,” Coach Yabui alludes always. In a wrestling room, everyone trains with everyone. For a large team like St. Mary’s, the stronger the JV wrestlers are, the stronger the varsity wrestlers get as they train together. The only open tournament opportunity JV wrestlers got this year was once at the beginning of the season and once at the end of season, a day before the varsity team left for Far East. Such low exposure to competition, combined with low attendance rates of practices, it seems that the outcome was fair for Kubasaki and Kadena. “They [Kubasaki and Kadena] have one of the best wrestlers in the league and they are always wrestling against each other, so there is definitely a mutual benefit in making each other better,” commented Coach Yabui.
For teams unable to capture the team title on Day 2, the Far East Wrestling tournament gives another chance in the dual tournament which starts after the individual tournament and finishes on Day 3. “Upsets happen in the dual tournament,” explained Coach Yabui to the team before the dual portion of the tournament, which is a good and bad thing depending on which side of the “upset” a wrestler is on. Perhaps, Coach Yabui has seen too many of these upsets including the days he wrestled in high school. And, as he predicted, the Titans suffered a major upset in their first dual against ASIJ with the 172lb champion, Roman Leyko, getting pinned, which sealed the dual for ASIJ to advance to the semi-finals; knocking St. Mary’s down to the consolation brackets 30-22. After defeating Seoul Foreign, a new international school joining the Far East league this season, 51-10, St. Mary’s faced Kinnick for the 5th place match which the 107lb champion, Hugo Miyamoto got pinned. Luckily for the Titans, Kinnick had a few wrestlers out for sickness and injuries and along with winning 5 out of 7 of contested matches, Titans defeated Kinnick 41-19 to settle for 5th place; the lowest dual ranking at the Far East since 2002.
Coach Yabui summarized the Titans performance, “it doesn’t mean we had a bad team, we had a good team; what you place within top 3 in the individuals and top 5 in the duals is a difference of a few match outcomes; it just wasn’t our year this year. However, there’s a great deal our boys could learn from ASIJ and Kadena’s motivation at the dual tournament. Their wrestlers were hungry and really wanted to win it. They wanted to win it no matter what. And, that showed in their performance and upsets they were able to pull off. I don’t think our team wanted to win as much as they did.”
Although the Far East tournament did not go the way St. Mary’s wanted, the season was still a successful season. Though being defeated by Kinnick in the Kanto League early in the season, the Titans defeated all other Kanto schools to tie as the league co-champion. They also won the Beast of the East tournament which is a rare feat. St. Mary’s also won the Kanto Tournament. This marked St. Mary’s 9th consecutive season to win at least one of the 5 major titles (Far East Individual, Far East Dual, Kanto League, Kanto Tournament, Beast of the East). With the 2024 Far East tournament, St. Mary’s also surpassed Kinnick’s total number of Far East champions, 90, with St. Mary’s now at 92. St. Mary’s is now second in the Far East with the number of champions behind Kubasaki’s 114.
Good news for St. Mary’s is that there are only 2 seniors on the team this year that are leaving the program. Now, 2-time Far East champion, Hugo Miyamoto, Nathaniel Twohig, and Roman Leyko will return, along with Far East finalist, Luke Shane who will be a senior. Kabilan Baskaran and Luke Yamada are expected to be more dominating next year as seniors. The two “big boys” Kei Fujita and Jimin Kim at 189lb and 215lb are rising juniors. More than half of the team are still 9th and 10th graders with a good group of middle school 8th graders expected to come up into the high school. But Coach Yabui is cautious, “we are young, but so is Kubasaki and somewhat Kadena; it will be a dogfight next year.”
Far East Individual Results:
107lb Hugo Miyamoto—Champion
114lb Hiroyuki Sen—Runner-up
121lb Jedidiah Schmitz—5th Place
127lb Luke Shane—Runner-up
133lb Liteboho Keta—Consolation 2nd round
139lb Nathaniel Twohig—Champion
145lb Jo Kaijima—4th Place
152lb Kabilan Baskaran—5th Place
160lb Luke Yamada—3rd Place
172lb Roman Leyko—Champion
189lb Kei Fujita—Consolation 1st Round
215lb Jimin Kim—5th Place
Division 1 Team Ranking:
(1) Kubasaki 86 points
(2) Kadena 82 points
(3) St. Mary’s 75 points
(4) Humphreys 62 points
(5) Kinnick 44 points
(6) ASIJ 35 points
(7) Seoul Foreign 12 points
Dual First Round
ASIJ 30—St. Mary’s 22
St. Mary’s 51—Seoul Foreign 10
Dual 5th Place Match
St. Mary’s 41—Kinnick 19
Far East Dual Results:
(5) St. Mary’s
(7) Seoul Foreign