As winning continues and Far East Championships pile up, so do expectations. Building a successful program has a tendency to put pressure on each successive team to out perform the last. This was the pressure the grapplers faced when the season began and they were in a position to lead St. Mary’s to an unprecedented 5th straight Far East title, something no other wrestling program had done before.
Coach Yabui knew what it would take for this group of grapplers to pull off such a feat and decided on the team’s season motto to be 先手必勝 (sente hissho), “the one who attacks first will always win.” He also dedicated the season to the memory of John Michael “JM” Kwak who lost his battle with cancer in August 2017 – months before any wrestler stepped onto the mats for practice or before there was any talk of winning this tournament or that tournament – there was only, “Let’s do what we’re going to do for JM.”
Just prior to the season, the boys got another boost when they took part in a a ceremony at The Tokyo American Club to honor Saori Yoshida’s lifetime achievements in wrestling. A group of the Titan wrestlers shared the stage with her when she was presented with her award and later got to spend some one-on-one time with her after the ceremony to talk wrestling and even ask her to join practice if she had time in her schedule.
November 22, 2017 – The team’s first test of the season would also be one which determined the Kanto League Champion as the Titans journeyed to the Devil Dome to take on rival Kinnick.
In a shortened season this was not the season opening dual either team wanted to have. St. Mary’s got out to a quick lead winning the first four matches – 101, 108, and 115 were won by tech fall and then co-captain, Tatsu Matsumoto, won the 122 match by fall giving the Titans an early lead. In the past, the following four weight classes were ones that the Titans just dominated, unfortunately, this time everything swung the other way with 129, 135, 141, 148 and 158 all going to the Red Devils. Austin Koslow (168) and Alex Patton (180) got the Titans back on track winning by tech fall and fall which put the Titans ahead by a very small 26-24 margin. Unfortunately, Nilay Hingarh’s loss in the final match cemented the Red Devil win at 29-26.
Titan’s Dual Meet record 0-1
December 5, 2017 – The Titans hosted the CAJ Knights and Kinnick the same night in a modified tri-dual. The Knights, who graduated eight varsity wrestlers the year before, arrived at the Hall of Titans very depleted with only five wrestlers. To make the wrestlers compete their hardest and to contest for every single point, Coach Yabui made it so to not take the walkover wins for any uncontested weight class and only put five wrestlers on the mat (a highly unusual move). The 12 exhibition matches held before the dual meet actually became the main event as it was a mix of varsity and JV wrestlers going against Kinnick wrestlers while CAJ’s varsity kids took time to rest between duals. The Titans dropped six of the 12 exhibition matches. When it came time for the varsity dual, it was full steam ahead and the Titans beat the Knights 19 -5.
The team won but Coach Yabui noticed something disturbing over these first two dual meets, his grapplers were not setting up their shots and not attacking. The Knight’s Invitational was up next but the focus of winter practices was already becoming clear.
Titan’s Dual Meet record 1-1
December 9, 2017 – The CAJ Knight’s Invitational was two things, the first and last “open” tournament of the shortened season. This meant it was going to be the only opportunity for the Titans to go out and make a statement with every wrestler guaranteed a shot at scoring points for the team. Unfortunately, the Titan’s would be without returning Far East Champion Rio Lemkuil (129) as an injury sidelined him for this tournament.
The Titan grapplers came out attacking better than they had been over the past two weeks and performed well in most weight classes putting nine wrestlers into the finals. Two varsity hopefuls, Aaryan Batra (101) and Jasjot Bedi (101), battled it out and placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Eiji Kasahara (108) steamrolled his opponents and took 1st in his first high school tournament, earning him a spot on “The Wall.“ Harold Mancia (115) tore through his bracket and then hit a wall against his CAJ opponent in the finals to settle for 2nd place. The 122 bracket showcased two Titan wrestlers who ripped through their opponents and then brawled for 6 minutes against each other in the semifinal round. In the end, Sophomore William Krcelic defeated Senior Tatsu Matsumoto on criteria to advance to the finals where he grabbed gold for the Titans and earned his spot on “The Wall.” Tastu bagged more team points by taking 3rd place. Kai Henri Atobe (129) had some big shoes to fill and he stepped up well to reach the finals and brought home 2nd place points for the team. Dai Matsumoto (135), Nishant Chanda (141) and Ryo Sawa (158) added to the team total with their 2nd place finishes. Jihoon Seo (148), Lev Titov (148) and Nilay Hingarh (215) took 3rd with Austin Koslow (168) and Alex Patton (180) striking gold.
When the sweat had dried, St. Mary’s four gold medals led the team to a 99 – 96 win over rival Kinnick.
December 13, 2017 – The Titans traveled to Zama for their third dual meet of the season. Continuing to build momentum and wrestling aggressively – the grapplers proved Coach Yabui’s motto, “the one who attacks first will always win,” correct as they tore through the Zama line-up. Three weights were forfeited and one decided by decision but for the others, the Titans were unstoppable.
Eiji (108), Dai (135), Ryo (158), Austin (168) and Nilay (215) all won by fall. Harold (115), Kai (129) and Alex (180) won by tech fall. The Titans routed the Trojans 55 – 0.
Titans Dual Meet record 2-1
January 10, 2018 – The first match following Christmas break was “Senior Night” at St. Mary’s with the Titans hosting the Yokota Panthers. The wrestlers were ready to get back to work after another grueling practice session over the winter holidays that included the return of Coach Nick Spatola and his four day intensive camp. With the core of the 2016 and 2017 Titan Teams joining other wrestling alumni, practices were intense and the results were evident in the outcome of the dual meet. The Titans recorded three wins by fall, four wins by tech fall and one by decision as they routed the Panthers 44 –14 in front of the home crowd.
The evening wasn’t without its surprises, however. Aaryan (101) came out a bit flat and paid the price losing his match by pin. Alex Patton (180) managed to lose to an opponent that he dominated in all previous matches. In addition to the expected wins by Eiji, Harold, Tatsu and Dai there were some other positive takeaways including Jihoon and Nishant swapping weight classes and recording wins by tech fall and fall, respectively. William Krcelic (122) also stepped up a weight class to fill-in for Rio Lemkuil (129) and delivered a win by tech fall.
Titan’s Dual Meet record 3-1
January 13, 2018 – The Beast of the Far East has always provided coaches and wrestlers with a gauge of where they stack up against many of the teams that they eventually face in the Far East Championships. This year was no different…except for the results!
With two varsity wrestlers out due to non-wrestling related matters, the team went in undermanned meaning they had no one competing in two weight classes and a JV wrestler with no varsity tournament experience called upon to fill another weight class. For the first time in many seasons, the Titan grapplers failed to be competitive in this tournament but still managed to bring home silver. In most programs it might not seem “fair” to compare teams to those who came before them, but at St. Mary’s, it’s the norm. After producing six Beasts in 2015, four Beasts in 2016, and five Beasts in 2017 the team could only muster two this season – Tatsu (122) and Austin (168). The Titans matched that number with two second place finishers – Rio (129) and Jihoon (141). Eiji (108), Nishant (148) and Ryo (158) rounded things out for the Titans with their third place finishes.
The results probably put more of a chill into Coach Yabui’s spine then he would admit as this “Far East preview” showed less promise than he and the team expected. The upcoming Kanto Championship would show the mettle of this team to bounce back.
January 17, 2018 – The Dual Meet season wrapped up with the Titans being hosted by the ASIJ Mustangs. With the Mustangs unable to field a full line-up, the Titans received walkover wins at 101, 108, 115, 122, 135 and 158.
The first match of the evening saw William (122) stepping in again for co-captain Rio Lemkuil at 129. The match ended quickly with William recording a win by tech fall. Jihoon (141) fell victim to his own mistakes and lost by tech fall. Nishant (148) recorded his ninth fall of the season with his signature cradle move. Austin (168) wrestled a very physical match and won by tech fall. Alex (180) followed with a win by fall. Nilay (215) came out hard but couldn’t hold on and dropped the last match of the Dual. Titans take down the Mustangs 48 –8 and take second place in the Kanto League.
Titan’s Dual Meet record 4-1
January 20, 2018 – Show Time! The Kanto Championship provided the stage for St. Mary’s to perform; the loss to rival Kinnick at The Beast provided the back story; and the two non-Titan grapplers in the final match provided the drama. The Titans sent 11 of 12 wrestlers to the finals for the second consecutive year but would it be Déjà vu all over again with four gold medal winners?
Spoiler alert: Yes! 11 wrestlers entered the finals and, once again, four brought home gold.
Jasjot (101), Harold (108), Rio (129), Dai (135), Jihoon (141), Nishant (148), and Ryo (158) brought home a ransom in silver with Nilay (215) adding a bronze. Eiji (108), Tatsu (122), Austin (168) and Alex (180) struck gold. As much as our grapplers all placing in the top 3 of their weight classes mattered, it really didn’t determine the outcome. It boiled down to a heavyweight match and St. Mary’s didn’t have a dog in that fight. In what has also become too common place at Kanto, the Titans found themselves cheering for the heavyweight for any other school to beat Kinnick’s big guy. This time, there was enough divine intervention at St. Mary’s for Yokota’s big man to beat his Kinnick rival in the final match of the day giving the Titans a 94 – 91 edge over the Red Devils for first place.
Looking to next season, the JV Tournament once again showed the potential of our up and coming varsity wrestlers. Aaryan Batra and Teppei Ono both wrestled well in the lower weight bracket. Kai Henri Atobe and William Krcelic destroyed their opponents pin after pin and then faced off in the finals of the 135 bracket with William taking first place. Leon Yoshizue and Konstantin Mayer zu Brickwedde took silver and bronze in the 141 bracket. First year grappler Gio Cannegieter showed a lot of improvement wrestling at 148 and taking bronze and Lev Titov pulled off a huge come from behind victory to get himself into the finals against fellow Titan Cole Lawlor. Cole got the better of Lev in the final and took home the gold.
February 1, 2018 – Day one of the Far East Championships came too soon for some and not soon enough for others. The pressure of the moment, going for the fifth straight title, shown differently on the faces of each of the wrestlers, their coach, and even some of the parents. If it were possible to win through pure will of positive thought, the Titans could have taken the banner home on day 1 – unfortunately, you actually need to wrestle and win to get the prize.
Most of the Titan Wrestlers had first round byes which can be looked at as both good and bad. The boys came out and did exactly what their coaches knew they had the potential to do and got through their first matches on top. This set up, perhaps for the first time for St. Mary’s, a situation where all 12 wrestlers moved into the semi-final round. Jasjot (101) stumbled and dropped to the 3rd place bracket. Eiji (108) continued his dominance throughout the day. Harold (115) wrestled his best match of the season and upset his main rival from CAJ to get to the finals. Tatsu (122) shook off some early morning jitters and got to the finals. Two-time Far East Champion Rio (129) did as expected and also made it to the finals. Dai (135) blew through his matches as did Nishant (148), Austin (168) and Alex (180). Jihoon (141), Ryo (158) and Nilay (215) joined Jasjot in the third place brackets. At the end of the first day, the Titans were in a familiar position with eight wrestlers in the finals.
February 2, 2018 – Day two at Far East was a different story. A few grapplers fighting back through the third place rounds had some slip-ups and points the Titans needed to take another title started to slip away. Before the championship matches started, St. Mary’s was in a tough spot having taken 3rd at 101, but falling to 4th at 141 and 5th at 158 and 215. The team still had a shot at the title but it would take at least six of the eight wrestlers in the finals winning gold to do so.
Eiji (108) went out and did his part winning gold in his first Far East appearance – we’ll definitely see Eiji back at the Far East finals in the future! Harold (115) continued to battle his big match jitters but still recoded a very respectable 2nd place finish in his first Far East tournament – he’ll be tough to beat next year! In what was probably the most ridiculous and worst pin ever called, Tatsu (122) settled for silver in his final attempt at Far East gold – anyone watching this match felt what a heart breaker this was. Rio (129) took silver as he fell to his long-time Kinnick rival. Dai (135) wrestled with a lot of heart against a Kinnick opponent that he struggled against all season but settled for silver. Nishant (148) fell to his opponent in the finals for second place and then had the unfortunate situation to have to defend that position – he ended up 3rd in his first Far East – but he will be a monster for the Titans next season! Austin (168) finally let his Kinnick opponent hang around too long in a match and it cost him gold – that will be something that hopefully drives him to punish his opponents next season! Alex (180) achieved what he set out to do a season earlier and brought home gold!
In the end, St. Mary’s produced just two champions (the results from The Beast continue to be a pretty accurate indicator of what to expect at Far East!). The Titans gave up the individual championship crown that they had held for the last four years, the difference being one match. However, all 12 wrestlers placed, doing something none of Coach Yabui’s previous teams had done. Sometimes there is a silver lining and sometimes all that glitters is not gold.
Now it was time to try and take a piece of the championship in the dual meets!
The Titans came out hard against Kubasaki and, with the emotion of having just lost the individual title still raw, crushed them 41-18. This set the stage for the fifth consecutive match-up against Kinnick for the dual championship. This year would prove to be the closest of the battles these two teams have had in any dual meet, Far East or otherwise.
Dual Meet Championship – Jasjot (101) showed great composure and wrestled hard to lose by decision. Eiji (108) wrestled smart, showed great sense and won by pin. Harold (115) followed with another pin. Tatsu (122) added a win by tech fall. Then came the clash of two Far East Champions at 129 and Kinnick added to their point total with a win. Dai (135) wrestled a smart match and avoided giving up big points in his loss. Jihoon (141) pulled off a huge upset winning on criteria after a full six minute bout against the Far East Champion. Nishant (148) defied Kinnick’s expected tech fall win at this weight class and made them settle for a win by decision. Ryo (158) spent six minutes getting pummeled as Kinnick had to go for a pin to help insure a win – Ryo managed to score and Kinnick came away with four rather than five points. Austin (168) took it to his opponent winning by tech fall. His opponent suffered a leg injury and, in a sign of true sportsmanship, Coach Yabui waved off the option to have Austin continue which would have resulted in a five rather than four point gain for the Titans. Alex (180) won his match setting the stage for Nilay (215) to settle the contest. Nilay wrestled with pure heart but came up short in what was not only a hard fought match but also one that can (and should) be highly contested with some very questionable calls by the officials. Kinnick won 30 – 28 to sweep the Far East Individual and Dual Meet Championships with the Titans taking second in both. Not the results the Titans had hoped for but still a season to be proud of.
The Titan Wrestlers held their Annual Awards Banquet at the Tokyo American Club on February 21. In a year where the team came up short of winning Far East – they did manage to win the CAJ Invitational and the Kanto Championship. In most other programs that, in and of itself, would be cause for celebration. For this program, it wasn’t what the wrestlers had set their sights on. However, it was now time to focus on what was achieved and honor JM one final time for the season that was dedicated to him.
After a short memorial presentation for JM that was narrated by Coach Harlow, the silent room came back to life as Coach Yabui spoke of each wrestler on a very personal level as he always does. This year’s list of varsity lettermen was longer than the list of JV wrestlers, showing the depth of the program and reaffirming that, although the Titans did not make it five in a row for Far East titles this year, there’s a good chance they’ll make it five out of seven when next season rolls around. This year’s group of seniors was larger than the number the program bid farewell to the previous season with Rio and Tatsu being the last two wrestlers that have been with Coach Yabui from middle school. Along with the emotional ending of both the season and somewhat of an era for the program, it was also the beginning of the next chapter for this very successful program.
This new chapter of Titan Wrestling will include a new award given in honor of JM. The John Michael Kwak Spirit Award made its debut and will be awarded annually to the wrestler who fights the hardest when he’s down the most and shows the greatest amount of determination and will to win. The new chapter opens with the team hitting the “reload” button, not the “panic” button as we move to next season with decorated wrestlers, including: a Freshman Far East Champion, three Kanto All Stars, three CAJ Invitational Champions, a Beast, two Kanto Champions and four Far East placers.
In summing up the season, Coach Yabui quoted JM, “Things are the way they should be. It’s all good.” As coach put it, if the last words of someone like JM could reassure those around him that everything was okay, they are the right words to sum up this season, everything is okay – it’s the way it should be.
Award Winners, Lettermen and All Stars:
Rookie of the Year – Eiji Kasahara
Most Improved – Jasjot Bedi
Most Academic – Austin Koslow
Coach’s Award – Dai Matsumoto
Most Inspirational – Nilay Hingarh
Outstanding Wrestler – Alex Patton
Most Valuable – Tatsu Matsumoto
JM Kwak Spirit Award – Rio Lemkuil
2018 Varsity Lettermen
Jasjot Bedi (101)
Aaryan Batra (101)
Eiji Kasahara (108)
Harold Mancia (115)
Tatsuhito Matsumoto (122)
William Krcelic (122/129)
Rio Lemkuil (129)
Kai Henri Atobe (129)
Dai Matsumoto (135)
Jihoon Seo (141/148)
Nishant Chanda (141/148)
Ryo Sawa (158)
Austin Koslow (168)
Alex Patton (180)
Nilay Hingarh (215)
Kanto All Stars
Eiji Kasahara (108)
Tatsuhito Matsumoto (122)
William Krcelic (122/129)
Alex Patton (180)