When our grapplers began the season expectations were that they could pull off a repeat of the historical 2016 season – win every tournament, Far East Individual, Far East Dual and bring home 6 more Far East Champions – a lofty goal which lead to the year’s motto being, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
As the season began with the CAJ Knight’s Invitational in December, the expectations of the season very quickly gave way to the reality of mid-December – two Defending Far East Champions (Ryo Osawa 141 and Rio Lemkuil 122) sidelined with early season injuries, another (Mitchell Krcelic 168) nursing a badly bruised knee, one (Tatsu Matsumoto 115) overweight by 14 pounds, and our big man (Shane Koslow 215) yet to return from his semester in California. With a few other wrestlers also still working on getting into their proper weight classes, that put some pressure on a few underclassmen (Harold Mancia at 108, William Krcelic at 115 and Kai Henri Atobe at 122) to step-up if the Titans had any chance at defending their previous year’s title. They did what they could in their first high school tournament with Harold, Nishant, and William taking 2nd place in their weight classes and Kai Henri recording team points with his 3rd place finish. However, our varsity grapplers faltered and only Chang Young (135) brought home gold as the Titans gave Kinnick a big early season win over St. Mary’s. Similar to the previous season, when the Titans failed to impress at Zama, the Kanto area coaches must have known they’d have their hands full when St. Mary’s dialed in their team over the Christmas break – and if they weren’t thinking that, they should have been!
January 7, 2017 – After returning from grueling practices during the holiday break and an intense 3-day camp with visiting Coach Nick Spatola, there were two things that the Titans were: 1) at weight and; 2) more than ready to wrestle! St. Mary’s had the honor to be the first International School to be invited to compete in the Saito Cup Dual Meet Tournament against some of the top wrestlers in Japan. Just one week away from the Kanto Season getting underway you wouldn’t expect a coach to put his wrestlers in a position where they could potentially suffer an injury, but Coach Yabui saw it differently stating, “The boys have been practicing for four straight weeks, this is a pre-season tournament for the Japanese schools and I have confidence that my wrestlers would get through the two day tournament in one piece.” The boys got through in one piece physically, egos may have been another story as the Titans came in 13th out of 16 teams but it would be a week before anyone would get the chance to see how a little “beat-down” would motivate the team.
January 14, 2017 – The Titans went into the Mustang’s Middle School gym for the first dual meets of the season – a tri-dual that would put them against Zama, Yokota and Kinnick – basically a day in which the front runner for the Kanto League title would emerge. The Titan grapplers showed up, all at weight and all in great shape, which would prove to be the difference as they wore down opponents.
The Dual with Zama was first and with 7 open weight classes, the Titans really didn’t record much mat time to prepare for the second dual against their Kinnick rivals. For the five Titans that did wrestle, it was a massacre – Rio Lemkuil (122) won by fall, Tatsuo Tanaka (129), Chang Young Lee (135), Ryo Osawa (141) and Mitchell Krcelic (168) all won by technical fall. Results: St. Mary’s 56 – Zama – 0. Titan’s Dual Meet record: 1-0
Kinnick came fully loaded including two defending Far East Champions. The stage was set for another classic Titan/Red Devil battle! Eshan Singhi (101) kicked it off with a win by technical fall. Kinnick countered with a win by pin at 108. Tatsu (115) swung the lead back to the Titans with his win by decision and then the stage was set for two defending Far East Champions to square off at 122 – Lemkuil v. Wirth. It was a brawl from the first whistle with Wirth getting the upper hand on Lemkuil until he pushed his luck a bit too far and Rio took an opportunity to capitalize on Wirth’s throw – taking him to the mat for a win by fall! Kinnick countered again taking 129 by decision but the Titans fired back with Chang Young (135) and Ryo (141) both recording wins by technical fall. Kinnick landed two more blows to the chin of the Titans winning by decision at 148 and 158. That left three heavy weight classes to decide the dual – typically not a situation you see St. Mary’s excel in very often – but “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Mitchell (168) gave the Titans some breathing room with his win by technical fall but the next match put defending Far East Champion Dwayne Lyon against Alex Patton (who wrestled JV 168 the year before) – “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” Alex controlled the match from the opening whistle to the point of frustration for his opponent who finally took a weak double leg shot that Alex countered with an underhook – Lyon’s reward for shooting – a ride straight to his back and a Titan win by fall at 180! Shane Koslow (215) turned his first match of the Kanto League season into a clinic and added to the Titan’s lead with his win by fall. Results: St. Mary’s 34 – Kinnick 19. Titan’s Dual Meet record 2-0
The Yokota Dual was unusual in that we only had a single weight class without an opponent and none of the matches were decided by decision. The Titans were rolling after the win over Kinnick and that momentum carried over into this dual. Of the 12 matches, the Titans won five by fall – Tatsu (115), Rio (122), Jihoon (148), Mitchell (168) and Alex (180); six by technical fall – Eshan (101), Harold (108), Tatsuo (129), Chang Young (135), Austin (158) and Shane (215); and one by walkover – Ryo (141) shutting out the Panthers. Results: St. Mary’s 54 – Yokota 0. Titan’s Dual Meet record 3-0
As the day ended, the Titans were well positioned to make a push for the Kanto League Title for the second consecutive year.
January 21, 2017 – The Beast of the Far East came a bit later than in previous seasons and at Yokota rather than Yokosuka, but that didn’t change the fact that this tournament continues to be a “Far East preview event.” The Titans came in as defending champions and with some powerhouse match-ups on the brackets, their work was cut-out for them if they were going to repeat with four Beasts and take home the first place hardware for the second consecutive season. As opposed to the previous season, the team didn’t leave any varsity wrestlers behind due to injury so hopes were high. At the end of a long day, the team results ended in a tie for the first time in tournament history with St. Mary’s and Kinnick both racking up 106 points. The deciding factor came down to which team produced the most number of “Beasts” and St. Mary’s came out on top by producing five champions out of five finalists: Eshan (101), Chang Young (135), Ryo (141), Mitchell (168) and Shane (215). The backside points were just as important to the team victory with four Silver Medalists: Tatsu (115), Rio (122), Tatsuo (129), and Alex (180). It was clear the Titans had the potential to make a run at the Far East Titles after this win, but it was also clear that there was work to be done in at least seven of the twelve weight classes that the Titans would compete in.
January 28, 2017 – The Zama Invitational set the stage for another big day of wrestling and another chance for the Titan grapplers to prove they were as good as the previous year’s team. The boys would once again best their Kinnick rivals and, for the first time this season, would see two more varsity grapplers earn their spot on the Wall of Fame by taking first place. With a couple of upset wins off-set by a couple of upset losses in the finals, the Titans still managed to pull-out the 87-81 win over the Red Devils and continue their almost perfect tournament record for the season. With our 101 (Eshan), 168 (Mitchell) and 215 (Shane) “Beasts” from the previous week falling one spot to bring home Silver, it was up to our Silver medalists from the week before to step-up and take their turn at the top of the podium. Tatsu (115) had two firsts today – he was the first Titan to win gold in this tournament and he won his first tournament to earn a spot on “The Wall.” Rio (122) lost (in a very debatable non-call) after holding his opponent in a pin position for what seemed like a full minute. Tatsuo (129) came up a bit short but delivered team points for taking silver. Captains Chang Young (135) and Ryo (141) continued to steam-roll everyone that stepped on the mat and got the “Gold Train” back on track with their wins. Jihoon (148) notched points for winning silver. Austin (158) faltered a bit but still managed 3rd place and Mitchell continued his back-and-forth battles with his CAJ rival taking silver. Then came the 180 showdown with Alex and his Kinnick rival, Dwayne Lyon. Lyon held the season advantage 2 – 1 but both wins were close. The 4-2 loss at The Beast the previous week was all the motivation Alex needed to take his rival to the mat and beat him by pin for the second time this season. Alex’s second pin over his rival earned him his spot on The Wall as he won his first tournament and delivered big points to the Titans team total. Shane (215) got himself in a tough position against his opponent from Edgren and ended up with silver.
January 31, 2017 – The third Kanto League Dual was against the CAJ Knights. The Titans hosted their first dual meet of the season to a pretty decent crowd. Jihoon (148) posted the Titans only win by fall but Eshan (101), Rio (122), Chang Young (135), and Ryo (141) beat their opponents into submission recording wins by technical fall. Austin (158) and Mitchell (168) continued to be frustrated by their CAJ rivals with Austin losing by fall and Mitchell dropping by decision. With 4 walkover wins at 108, 129, 215 and HWT the titans moved to within one win of repeating as Kanto League Champions. Results: St. Mary’s 47 – CAJ 8. Titan’s Dual Meet record 4-0
February 4, 2017 – The Kinnick Invitational at the Devil Dome started with a farewell to all the Kanto League seniors. Both a touching tribute and a reality check that we would be losing 6 varsity wrestlers at the end of the season. In the early rounds of the tournament the Titans wrestled as if they had already lost those six members prompting Coach Yabui to uncharacteristically round up his team, march them into a locker room and give them a wake-up call. “We’re not ready to wrestle! We’re like dead monkeys before our matches – not warming-up and then like dead monkeys again when we get on the mats,” were the words that seemed to bring the team back to life. With Eshan (101) and Rio (122) watching from the stands with a cold and banged up knee, respectively, it was going to take a real team effort to pull off a win – and that’s what the Dead Monkey Club figured out a way to do! Freshman Aaryan Batra (101) notched a 3rd place win to get the scoring started. Jong Pyeong took the coach’s words to heart and dug down deep to bring home gold at 108. Tatsu (115) came up short against his Kinnick rival grabbing silver. Freshman Kai Henri Atobe (122) stepped in for injured Rio and made it to the finals where he fought hard but fell to the defending Far East Champion – another Titan silver. Tatsuo (129) had an off-day and settled for 3rd. Chang young (135) continued his undefeated season and added another Titan Gold. Co-Captain Ryo (141) did the same keeping his undefeated season intact and then Jihoon (148) exploded for a big win keeping the Titan Gold Rush moving. Austin’s (158) struggles with both Kinnick and CAJ opponents continued but he wrestled hard to garb 3rd place. Mitchell (168) dropped another one by decision to his CAJ rival but scored silver points for the team. Alex (180) continued his back-and-forth win/lose pattern with his Kinnick rival – this time settling for silver. Shane (215) faced off against his Edgren opponent in the finals for the second time is as many weeks and came up with silver for the second time as well – but the points helped the team total and the Titans managed 117 to capture the team gold!
February 7, 2017 – The final league dual of the season against ASIJ was also the final home dual for the seniors. So as parents and family members came out to support the boys in their final home dual the Mustangs had their work cut-out for them with the team motivated by the emotion of the moment. The seniors did not disappoint as they set the tone for the evening by all notching wins: Eshan (101) by fall, Tatsuo (129) by tech fall, Chang Young (135) by tech fall, Ryo (141) by tech fall, Mitchell (168) by tech fall and Shane (215) by walkover. ASIJ’s only points would come from a forfeited 108 weight class as the Titan underclassmen rolled along with their seniors: Tatsu (115) by tech fall, Rio (122) by forfeit, Jihoon (148) by tech fall, Austin (158) by tech fall and Alex (180) by fall – HWT was uncontested. Results: St. Mary’s 48 – ASIJ 5. Titan’s Dual Meet record 5-0. Titans emerge as the Kanto League Champions for the second year in a row!
February 11, 2017 – The Kanto Championship also played host to the First Annual Homecoming event for Titan wrestling alumni. The team stepped-up in front of the Alumni and placed 11 of their 12 wrestlers into the finals but were unable to repeat as Kanto Tournament Champions as only four of our 11 finalists was able to bring home gold. The Red Devils managed “bookend” wins against the Titans this year winning the first tournament at CAJ and capping off the Kanto Season with a win here 104 – 94. Captains Chang Young (135) and Ryo (141) ended their Kanto season undefeated. Eshan (101) and Shane (215) accounted for the other two golds with JP (108), Tatsu (115), Rio (122), Tatsuo (129), Jihoon (148), Austin (158) and Alex (180) bringing home silver. Mitchell (168) provided the biggest shock of the day by losing to his Kinnick opponent as he stumbled following a 4 point throw – but even if he would have pulled gold it would not have been enough for the outcome to change. As Coach Yabui commented, “if anyone is going to have an off day and lose, it’s better they do it here than at Far East.” Coach Harlow had a different thought, “A loss here means a win at Far East – that’s a pattern we seem to have.” On a positive note, we had four JV wrestlers go undefeated showing us what we can expect to “reload” with next season as Harold Mancia (108), William Krcelic (115), Nishant Chanda (129) and Ryo Sawa (148) all buried their opponents recording a combined 11 falls and 3 tech falls in mixed weight class pools. The titans still had two achievable goals left – to win the Far East Individual and the Far East Dual titles – it would take an incredible amount of heart for this team to move past the Kanto loss, refocus and bring home the wins. And, as we would soon find out, this team is full of heart!
Titans win Far East Individual Championship! – After a day and half of wrestling, the Titans came up one short of matching what they had done in the previous two seasons but still saw five champions emerge – in dramatic fashion! At the end of the quarter finals, the Titans had Tatsu (115), Rio (122), Mitchell (168) and Shane (215) all suffering one loss and needing to wrestle back to the finals. Eshan (101), Chang Young (135), and Ryo (141) were already in and cheering on their teammates to help position the Titans for another miracle win as Jong Pyeong (108) had already been eliminated and Tatsuo (129), Jihoon (148), Austin (158) and Alex (180) were in the third place brackets needing to bring home the highest place they could. “Where this is a will, there is a way!”
Tatsu, Rio, Mitchell and Shane all made it back to the finals giving the Titans a total of seven potential champions – but would they be the “Magnificent 7” and all bring home gold? Jihoon slipped in the 3rd place bracket placing him 5th but we still had Tatsuo, Austin and Alex in the hunt for badly needed third place points. Senior Tatsuo Matsumoto (129) went to work, stayed focused on the goal and delivered 3rd place. Sophomore Austin Koslow (158) ripped his way through his matches and also delivered the 3rd place points for the Titans. Junior Alex Patton (180) set aside the pain of losing his chance for gold and pulled through for his teammates with a 3rd place finish. “Where there is a will, there is a way!” Chang Young (135) became the first 4 time Far East Champion in St. Mary’s history. Ryo (141) claimed his second Far East title. Eshan (101) and Rio (122) and Shane (215) dug down deep and wrestled their opponents two times each to win Gold – Rio showing that 121 of his 122 lbs. were all heart as he sacrificed his already injured knee in the effort! Tatsu (115) beat his opponent once and then lost a heart breaker to take silver. Mitchell (168) laid it all out but came up short and settled for silver. The Titan’s “Magnificent 7” may not have cashed out with seven gold medals, but they delivered and brought home an 81-77 win the Far East Individual title for the fourth straight year (a school record!) with five champions – bringing Coach Yabui’s four year total to 20 Far East Champions – a record pace for producing 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 six seasons. The Titans stood across the mat from the Red Devils for the dual meet that would decide the tournament champion without Rio (122) due to his injury the previous day and with an empty weight class at 275. The titans were down 10-0 before the match ever began and in a crazy twist gave up the 148 weight class by disqualification! “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” – Eshan (101), Chang Young (135), Ryo (141), Mitchell (168) and Shane (215) all won as expected. The 108, 115, 129, and 158 weight classes provided the drama for this match-up. JP (108) wrestled his heart out and won his only match of the Far East when his team needed him the most! Tatsu (115) avenged his final’s loss from the day before and beat the Red Devil’s Far East Champion! Tatsuo (129) gave it his all and although Kinnick’s Far East Champion won by tech fall, it was clear the Red Devil coaches would take no chances allowing him to try and continue against Tatsuo for the pin. Austin (158) reached down deep and beat his Kinnick rival for only the second time of the season. The Titans show they have the heart of a champion, dig down deep and gut-out a 31-26 win to repeat as Far East Dual Champions! – WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY!
The Titan Wrestlers held their Annual Awards Banquet at the Tokyo American Club on March 11. In a year where the team came up short of winning everything for the second consecutive season – they did manage to set another school record for consecutive Far East Championships. Now it was time to reflect and take in what they had accomplished this season. With the success of the program the size of the team had grown dramatically to 38 this season! That means this was also the most well attended banquet in wrestling history with close to 100 people.
For the first time ever, four Far East banners hung overhead – a testament to the seniors and the success they’ve enjoyed these past four years with Eshan, Chang Young and Ryo being 4-year lettermen and Tatsuo and Mitchell (3-year letterman) having been 4-year team members. Coach Yabui did not disappoint with his annual wrestler-by-wrestler speech – something wrestlers and their parents appreciate as he speaks from the heart. This year was especially difficult for the coach as he said farewell to four wrestlers that have been with him since they started wrestling in middle school – Eshan, Tatsuo, Chang Young and Ryo. As he always does, Coach Yabui shared his thoughts, assessments and memories of each team member – this year with a cracking voice when he spoke about Chang Young and Ryo as he said, “I can’t imagine a room without them in it.” A special presentation was made to Chang Young for his extraordinary accomplishment of being a 4-time Far East Champion. The seven seniors were recognized last and gave speeches to their teammates, coaches and parents. Chang Young’s speech may have exemplified the Titan’s wrestling spirit the best when he said, ”All the championships and awards are great, but nothing means as much as the bond I developed with my teammates and supporters over the years.”
In addition to recognizing the wrestlers, a tearful farewell was given to Coach Ian Harlow as he will be leaving St. Mary’s at the end of this school year. Coach Harlow came to St. Mary’s in 2006 from Zama High School where he coached against then Titan wrestler, Shu Yabui! Coach Harlow took the winning path set by Coach Jon Rhoades and set a new “Titan Standard” as his team won both the Individual and Dual Championships in their first year back in the Far East in 2011 – that was a first for the St. Mary’s wrestling program! For good measure, he repeated that again in 2012 before handing the high school program over to Coach Yabui and settling into the Middle School program.
In his farewell speech Coach Harlow told the boys, “My dad and uncle both wrestled at Oklahoma State and it provided them a lot. They passed it down to me but I went on to not really do that well. But that’s what I wanted to give to you guys. When I started wrestling I loved it then like a lot of kids I got to a point where I hated it. Then I moved to Zama and I became a coach and I loved it again. Then I came to St. Mary’s – it wasn’t something I expected to do but that’s what wrestling has done for me, it provided me that opportunity at a great school with great kids. St. Mary’s kids are a totally different group of kids, there are no other kids like them that I’ve ever seen. Your work ethic is incredible and that’s why you can achieve so much.”
The awards and next year’s team captains were announced:
Rookie of the Year: Harold Mancia
Most Improved: Alex Patton
Most Academic: Jaewoon Hong
Coach’s Award: Tatsuo Tanaka
Most Inspirational: Eshan Singhi
Most Inspirational Ribbons: Tatsu Matsumoto, Rio Lemkuil, Austin Koslow, Shane Koslow, Mitchell Krcelic and Jong Pyeong Lee
Outstanding Wrestler: Ryo Osawa
Most Valuable: Chang Young Lee
Captains for the 2017-18 season: Rio Lemkuil and Tatsu Matsumoto
2017 Varsity Lettermen
Eshan Singhi (101)
Jong Pyeong Lee (108)
Harold Mancia (108)
Tatsuhito Matsumoto (115)
Rio Lemkuil (122)
Tatsuo Tanaka (129)
Chang Young Lee (135)
Ryo Osawa (141)
Jihoon Seo (148)
Austin Koslow (158)
Mitchell Krcelic (168)
Alex Patton (180)
Shane Koslow (215)
2017 Kanto All Stars
Eshan Singhi (101)
Tatsuhito Matsumoto (115)
Rio Lemkuil (122)
Chang Young Lee (135)
Ryo Osawa (141)
Mitchell Krcelic (168)
Alex Patton (180)
Shane Koslow (215)