And the wrestling Titans did just that this season, they left no doubt and everyone will remember the accomplishments as history was made.
When our grapplers began the season still in the shadow of the 2015 team tying a Far East Record with six champions and repeating as Far East Individual Champions, they knew the bar was set high. What they probably didn’t know was that they would end up moving it even higher.
As the season began more than a few of the wrestlers battled outside their normal weight classes for a preseason tune-up in Misawa and then again as the Kanto League Dual Season opened with a win over Yokota. The 44-11 win over Yokota may have been expected by most, but the Titans did it without wrestlers at 108 and 115 and with Ryan Vasconcellos (135) and Mitchell Krcelic (168) wrestling a weight class higher than usual at 141 and 180 respectively. Team Captain Kazuho Kawashima (148) completely dismantled his opponent as he led the way in a string of tech fall wins by Chang Young Lee (122) Ryo Osawa (129), and Tatsuo Tanaka (135). New comer Shane Koslow (215) won his first dual meet match by pin as did his brother Austin (158), a freshman who came up through the Titan’s middle school program. Heavyweight Leon Araya also recorded his first win of the year by pin.
A few days later, The Titans then went on to take Second Place at the Zama Fest Dual Tournament flexing the strength of the team’s depth in a number of weight classes – again with the 108 and 115 weight classes vacant. Rio Lemkuil split time with Chang Young at 122, Ryo and Nishant Chandra traded off at 129, new comer Antonio Croce and Tatsuo shared mat time at 135, and Gregory Tanaka and Austin tag teamed at 158 with Ryan (141) and Mitchell (180 – weighing 168) going undefeated in heavier weight classes. Important to note that Itsuki Shibahara was still recovering from an injury and Kinnick had two complete squads in the tournament. This was a 40-21 second place finish to Kinnick’s A team that was less of a win for the Titans rival than it was a concern as the coaching staff of the Red Devils and the other Kanto area schools must have spent their bus rides home wondering what the Titans would be capable of when the starting line-up was all in place. Their answer came about a month later and was punctuated every week of the season.
January 9, 2016 – after returning from grueling practices during the holiday break, The Titans went into The Red Devil’s gym for The Beast of the East with all wrestlers at weight – but two varsity wrestlers out – Ryan (135) and Itsuki (141). When the dust settled, the 11 wrestlers from St. Mary’s walked out with a 53-49 win over Second Place Kinnick. The Titans lead this “Far East Preview” with four champions: Rio (115), Chang Young (122), Ryo (129) and Kazuho (148). Eshan Singhi (101) and Shane (215) took third in their respective weight classes with Tatsuo (135) came in fourth. Once again, Kazuho showed why he was voted the Outstanding Wrestler at last year’s Kanto Tournament by absolutely dominating every opponent he faced. Sophomore Rio Lemkuil opened up his season by making a big statement with a first place finish that also reserved him a spot on the Titan Wall of Fame – it was the first of what would become five new additions to that wall throughout the season. The Titans won with 53 points to Kinnick’s 49 and Kadena’s 43. Now it was a matter of Coach Yabui and company dialing in the other weight classes and pushing the heavy weights to reach their potential – the next dual meet at home against the Kinnick Red Devils would be the proving ground for the remainder of the season.
For two and half seasons the Red Devils dominated dual meets, for the next two and half it may well be St. Mary’s. The Titans and Red Devils were in a close one with St. Mary’s up 6-4 – Eshan (101) won by fall and Tatsu (108) lost by tech fall. But then, something unexpected happened, the Titans imposed their will on Kinnick over the next eight weight classes winning them all! Rio (115) and Chang Young (122) kicked it off by both winning decisions in two tough matches – the kind of matches you expect at a St. Mary’s/Kinnick dual – that is St. Mary’s going after points and Kinnick doing everything they can to avoid losing by fall or tech fall! Once Ryo (129) hit the mat that strategy was out the window as he crushed his opponent to win by fall, beginning the Titans domination by technique and pure desire to win through the next 6 weight classes as Ryan (135) and Istsuki (141) followed with tech fall wins. Kazuho (148) continued his undefeated season and won by fall. Austin (158) had a breakout match and recorded a tech fall and then Mitchell (168) battled back from an 8-1 deficit to win 21-8. With only three weight classes left to wrestle the Titans had a 38 – 8 advantage. Shane (215) piled on another five points winning by fall and St. Mary’s notched an impressive 43-17 win over Kinnick at home. Now 2-0 in league play it was apparent that the Kanto League title was theirs to lose and in the next dual against CAJ they would come close to doing just that!
Still pumped from the dual meet win over Kinnick, the Titan grapplers showed up to the ASIJ Invitational on January 16, 2016 and continued to show why they are the team to beat now and will be in the future. Showing the strength of their bench and showcasing some of the wrestlers that will be leading the way in 2017, the Titans made it clear that “We don’t rebuild, We reload!” St. Mary’s ended the day with three first place, two second place and four third place finishes. Allowing some varsity wrestlers to rest at weights 108, 135, 141 and 148, St. Mary’s still couldn’t be stopped with Eshan (101) Chang Young (122) and Ryo (129) taking first place. Austin (158) and Mitchell (168) notching strong second place finishes and Takayuki Sanada (108), Dai Matsumoto (122), Tatsuo Tanaka (135) and Shane (215) rounding out the third place finishes for the Titans.
The Titans headed to their third dual meet of the season on top of the Kanto League standings (2-0) and coming off of solid performances but faltered slightly, beating the Knights 37-24. The Titans only managed to win twice by fall, Chang Young (122) and Mitchell (168) and recorded three explosive wins by tech fall – Rio (115), Ryo (129) and Kazuho (148). But the Titans allowed the Knights to hang in too close for comfort as they recorded four wins by fall at 135, 141, 158 and 180. Thankfully, the Titans won by forfeit in three weight classes, 101, 215 and 275 or this may have been a real upset for CAJ. This may have been the first time in many years where the Titans won due to the points received from heavy weight classes!
On January 23, 2016 the Titans looked to bounce back from a mediocre dual meet against CAJ and did just that at the 11 school Yokota Invitational which, like Beast of the East, gave the Titans a preview of what to expect at the Far East Tournament. St. Mary’s did not disappoint and won first place, racking up 72 points to 64 for Kinnick and 60 for Kadena. The biggest surprise for the Titans was not in the win but in one of the second place finishes as Chang Young (122) recorded his first ever career loss. In the end the Titans managed four champions – Rio (115), Ryo (129), Ryan (135), and Kazuho (148), three runners up – Chang Young (122), Itsuki (141), and Shane (215), one third place – Austin (158), and two fourth place – Tatsu (108) and Mitchell (168). With two dual meets left the league title was now in sight and this win was a good indicator that the Titans would be the team to beat in the Far East Championships.
Three days after taking the ASIJ Invitational, the Mustangs hosted the Titans for the fourth dual meet of the year but couldn’t manage much against the steam rolling Titans as St. Mary’s took 11 of 13 matches for a 51-8 dual meet win. A win that put the Titans on the brink of a perfect season (4-0) with just one dual meet left against Zama at home in just one week, but first the CAJ Knights Invitational.
January 30, 2016 likely started out as most of the other Saturday mornings for the St. Mary’s wrestlers but it would end with a big team win at The Knight’s Invitational and three more wrestlers earning their place on the Wall of Fame. Of the 13 weight classes, the Titans had eight champions, four runners up and one third place finisher with a team total of 119 points! Champions included Rio (115), Chang Young (122), Ryo (129), Ryan (135), Itsuki (141), Austin (158), Mitchell (168) and Shane (215). Runners up continued to show the depth of this team with the second place finishes going to Eshan (101), Dai Matsumoto (122), Antonio Croce (141) and Ryo Sawa (148) stepping in for Team Captain Kazuho Kawashima. Tatsu (108) rounded out the Titan field with a third place finish. Freshman Austin Koslow along with Juniors Mitchell Krcelic and Shane Koslow earned their spots on the Wall of Fame with their first major tournament wins. With this win, it was becoming clear that St. Mary’s was going to be the team to beat going into the Kanto and Far East Tournaments. Stars and Stripes figured this out as well and ranked St. Mary’s as the top wrestling team in the Far East on the same weekend that they won the Knights Invitational.
Titans win Kanto League Title! The Titans hosted the Trojans for the final dual meet of the season and it was clear from the start that the only way Zama was going to win was with the support of the Air Force and the Navy! With Zama forfeiting five weight classes and running into the Titan buzz saw in just about every other weight class the 55 – 10 win by the Titans actually looked closer than it was. Hitting their strides, Rio (115), Chang Young (122), Itsuki (141) and Shane (215) recorded tech falls. Ryo (129) destroyed his opponent to win by fall and Austin (158) also won by fall. This was Senior Night at St, Mary’s so the evening was a bit emotional as we said thank you to Ryan, Itsuki, Kazuho and our Manager, Saran. Not the last time they would step into the gym for a wrestling match, but it was the last time they would be there for a league dual match. The night also gave the titans their third major title for the season, Kanto League Champions, but they still had Kanto Tournament, Far East Individual and Far East Dual titles left to win if they wanted to make history at St. Mary’s.
Titans win The Kanto Tournament! No one wanted to leave the gym after St. Mary’s brought home the Kanto Tournament Title for the first time since 2006. With six champions, three runners up and three third place finishes, the Titans beat the rival Red Devils by three points, 99-96. The core of St. Mary’s team continued to dominate with Chang Young (122), Ryo (129), Ryan (135), Itsuki (141), Kazuho (148) all taking first place. Junior Eshan Singhi (101) won his first major tournament earning his spot on the Wall of Fame. Rio (115) had his first off-day of the season and took runner up honors with Tatsu (108) and Shane (215) doing the same. Austin (158) and Mitchell (168) both just missed wins to get into the finals and took third place honors as did Leon (HWT). Wrestlers, students, parents, coaches and alumni celebrated this victory until the last light was turned off in the gym. The Titan wrestlers were now only two wins away from something that no wrestling team had ever done before at St. Mary’s. The unimaginable was now not only imaginable, it was attainable!
Titans win Far East Individual Championship! – After a day and half of wrestling, the Titans matched the previous year’s total of six Far East Champions. Rio (115), Chang Young (122), Ryo (129), Ryan (135), Itsuki (141) and Kazuho (148) took first place and all in pretty dramatic fashion. Rio wrestled smart and competent and then battled to score points on an opponent who clearly wanted to avoid him at all costs in the final match, Chang Young extracted revenge from an earlier season loss to his Kinnick opponent and captured his third Far East tile, Ryo methodically took his opponents apart and dominated his championship match, Ryan’s technique was no match for his opponents and he recorded his third Far East Championship, Itsuki had to defend his title after wrestling back through the consolation bracket and unleashed some wicked double legs for his win, and Kazuho did what he did all season long and just destroyed everyone who stood on the mat in front of him to win his second straight Far East Championship. Eshan (101) and Tatsu (108) claimed second place finishes. Mitchell (168) grabbed fourth place and Austin (158) came in sixth to round out St. Mary’s 78 team points, which were far ahead of rival Kinnick’s 58 points and more than enough for the Titans to win the Far East Individual title for the third straight year and repeat with six champions!
Titans win Far East Dual Championship – After winning the Individual Championship, the Titans earned a first round bye in the dual bracket, but they knew Kinnick would be their likely opponent in the finals and after St. Mary’s made quick work of Kubasaki, they took the mat to face their old foes just as they had for the past 5 seasons. When the Titans stood across the mat from the Red Devils for the dual meet that would decide the tournament champion, they did so in their 20 year old retro singlets – a nod to the Titan teams of the past – a tribute to those who came before them because if you’re going to make history, why not wear a piece of it! By the time the dual had reached the 148 weight class the Titans held a 25-5 lead. Kazuho (148) quickly won by tech fall increasing the Titan advantage to 29-5. Austin (158) won a tough decision giving the Titans an insurmountable 32-6 lead with four weight classes left to wrestle and the Titans held on for the win 32-24.
2016 Titan wrestlers make History! It’s amazing how loud a group of about 14 parents can be but those who made the trip to Osan Air Base in Korea for the Far East Championship were probably heard somewhere north of the DMZ. The 12 wrestlers and their manager locked arms over shoulders in a circle and shared something no other Titan wrestling team ever had before, the raw emotion of winning everything and the joy of being the first to do it! To cap off and unbelievable season and a hard fought Far East Championship win, Team Captain Kazuho Kawashima was also named Outstanding Far East Wrestler for the tournament and would go on to be named the Stars and Stripes Athlete of the Year as well!
About one week after returning from Korea the Titan Wrestlers held their Annual Awards Banquet at the Tokyo American Club. In a year where the team won everything, it was now time to reflect and recognize their own. Varsity and Junior Varsity wrestlers alike stood one-by-one as Coach Yabui shared his thoughts, assessments and memories of each team member. The three seniors where recognized last and gave speeches to their teammates, coaches and parents. The awards and next year’s team captains were announced:
Rookie of the Year: Austin Koslow
Most Improved: Nilay Hingarh
Most Academic: Nishant Chanda
Coach’s Award: Tatsuhito Matsumoto
Most Inspirational: Itsuki Shibahara
Outstanding Wrestler: Ryan Vasconcellos
Most Valuable: Kazuho Kawashima
Captains for the 2016-17 season: Chang Young Lee and Ryo Osawa
2016 Varsity Lettermen
Eshan Singhi (101)
Tatsuhito Matsumoto (108)
Rio Lemkuil (115)
Chang Young Lee (122)
Ryo Osawa (129)
Tatsuo Tanaka (135)
Ryan Vasconcellos (135)
Itsuki Shibahara (141)
Kazuho Kawashima (148)
Austin Koslow (158)
Mitchell Krcelic (168)
Nilay Hingarh (180)
Shane Koslow (215)
Leon Araya (HWT)
Rio Lemkuil (115)
Chang Young Lee (122)
Ryo Osawa (129)
Ryan Vasconcellos (135)
Itsuki Shibahara (141)
Kazuho Kawashima (148)
Mitchell Krcelic (168)