Midweek blues: Things learned, observed in Pacific high school winter sports Week 10.0

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer approaches Rumble on the Rock and wonders if it can be saved, or at least be returned to its former standing among in-season invitationals:

After Wednesday’s 35-23 home victory, which wasn’t even that close, it’s readily apparent that Kadena’s wrestling team is living up to the words of a coach at the “Beast of the Far East” tournament earlier this month: “Kadena’s going to win Far East, hands down.”

Three dual meets against Kubasaki, and three victories, each in resounding fashion. The only blotch on Kadena’s resume right now is finishing second to Kubasaki at “Beast,” 34 points to 32. That was partly the product of execution in gold-medal bouts; the Panthers had six finalists and came away with six silvers, while the Dragons came away golden in five finals. Two golds for Kadena would have resulted in the Panthers’ carrying away the team gold.

Were we to have more teams at the sixth edition of Rumble on the Rock this weekend, it would have been far more conclusive just how strong Kadena really is. Rock solid and contending at all weights from 108 to 168.

I’ve seen teams with good wrestlers in three or four weight classes back to back (what I called Nile C. Kinnick’s “Minefield” from 129 to 148 comes to mind), but not so many consecutively.

From 108 to 168: Reigning Far East champion Justin Duenas, David Hernandez, Zach Fenton, Cole Milburn, Vao Mustafa (STRONG!), Elijah Takushi, Alaska state champion Alex Rojas, James Alexander and Kyle Milburn. These guys will give everybody up north a run for their money.

I guess the case could be made that Kubasaki didn’t sport its full lineup on Wednesday. Steven Walter, the Dragons’ two-time weight-class champion, was out injured, forcing Kubasaki’s coaching staff to move 108-pounder Daniel Mora up to 115, where he lost to Hernandez in an exciting three-period bout that was the most competitive of the night. Zach Tyler, inserted in Mora’s place, gave Duenas a tough go, but came up short in a two-period decision.

Still, there are some matchups that I can.not.WAIT to see at Far East. Particularly the rematch at 158 between Alexander and Zama American’s Chad Wilder, the reigning Far East Outstanding Wrestler. Alexander thought he had it won against Wilder at “Beast.” That will be fun to watch.

All that said, don’t sleep on Kubasaki. If anything right now, they’re the SECOND-best wrestling team in the Pacific, given their resume. Mora is still a very, very dangerous customer, as is Austin Cyr at 148, and especially at the upper weights. Aaron Stravers is beast at 180, as is reigning Far East 215-pound champion Fred Suniga. Jesse Hogan of Yokota should be considered the favorite at heavyweight, but he won’t have as many bouts to prepare for Far East as will Kubasaki’s Josiah Allen.
We clearly need more teams at Rumble if it is to remain a viable tournament. Time was when we’d have six teams at that tournament, and it gave teams sorely in need of Far East tournament map preparation just what the doctor ordered.

But fewer … and fewer … and fewer … are the competitors making their way to the Dragons’ Den for the sixth edition. What the tournament’s founding father Fred Bales calls: “3.1 teams,” charter members Kadena and Kubasaki, plus Father Duenas Memorial and one wrestler from Okkodo of Guam. The latter two in sore need of freestyle experience in what (apparently) will be the last year that Far East will employ the freestyle format (more on that later).

Sure was nice back in the days when Christian Academy Japan, American School In Japan and St. Mary’s International populated the tournament; they don’t need to now, because back in that day, Far East was limited to DODDS teams only. They get plenty of wrestling in the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools these days. They used to treat Rumble as their Far East alternative. No need to do so now.

Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam would be an ideal partner for Rumble, especially if they do pull the trigger on the freestyle to folkstyle switch. Even if they don’t, the four IIAAG teams that partner with Far East could sure use the refresher in the differences between the two styles.

Then, there are the southwestern DODDS Japan schools, E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry, and perhaps even Robert D. Edgren in northern Japan, who would probably welcome the opportunity to Rumble. They get exactly four events per season, less than half that of the Kanto DODDS and international schools. A full day of dual meets on Friday and individual bouts on Saturday against the likes of Kadena and Kubasaki would give them an outlet of competition just two weeks before Far East.
Sidebar to that: Why, oh why is it that DODDS Japan outlying schools can’t get a fair shake and be permitted to wrestle in one or two of the Kanto invitationals like they used to before the 2007-08 season? Even if they’re allowed to compete as invited, non-scoring guests, they would welcome the chance. I thought we’d gotten past the exclusionary practices of pre-2000 before Mike Diekmann became the DODDS Japan district superintendent and ordered the paths to full competition between ALL DODDS Japan schools in ALL sports opened.  Another story for another day, I guess.
Regarding the proposed switch from freestyle to folkstyle, discussed at the DODDS Pacific Far East athletics directors video conference … a decision has been tabled until at least March, possibly as late as May. That’s according to a draft of the meeting minutes, a copy of which was obtained by Stripes. They’re still discussing the logistics of the switch, everything from training referees at each locale to ensuring student-wrestlers are properly educated as well. New referees would have to be found, particular in Kanto and DODDS Korea, where indigenous officials schooled only in freestyle are currently employed. “Arrange yourself,” longtime Kanto referees head Takashi Noda said in response to a question about whether his charges would officiate folkstyle. And there are some who continue to argue in favor of keeping freestyle, suggesting that students who wrestle folkstyle in Europe and freestyle in the Pacific get a more well-rounded mat experience. Stay tuned.
If anybody needed any more proof that the race for Kanto Plain basketball title space is as competitive as it’s been in years, look no further than the top of the current heap.

On the boys side, I have Zama American, winners of 10 straight games, at 6-2, a half-game ahead of 5-2 Nile C. Kinnick and American School In Japan (based on all games reported to Stripes).

ASIJ took one on the chin Wednesday, losing by three points in overtime at Kinnick, then rebounded to win at CAJ on Thursday. Even Yokota and St. Mary’s, each at 2-4, are within striking distance if a lot of things go their way.

Once you get past league-leading ASIJ, at 7-0, the girls race for second place is a tight one. Lamari Harris and Zama American are knotted with De’Asia Brown and Kinnick at 5-2; the Red Devils’ only losses are to ASIJ. And Seisen International, long a doormat prior to Elizabeth Jury’s arrival as coach, finds itself right in the thick of things at 5-3. That said, one would presume that Bessie Noll, Liz Thornton and ASIJ are favored to win that race.
Not all is hunky dory at Mustang Valley these days, however. A precious small handful of healthy wrestlers remain to compete for ASIJ, just five in a 58-3 thrashing at the hands of Kinnick on Wednesday. We’re a long way from the glory days of the 1980s and ’90s. Not your father’s Mustangs, by any stretch. And very definitely a year in which DODDS schools will rule the Kanto roost. Expect Kinnick to win the Kanto tournament on Feb. 9 at Yokota, with Zama and St. Mary’s in trail.
What a close call Zama‘s boys basketball team had at CAJ the other night, barely hanging on to win 52-50. That said, could it be a Trojans party – for both the boys and girls – at center court on Feb. 9 in the finals of the DODDS Japan tournament at Edgren? An historic first, that would be. And.it.is.possible. Although I’m sure Perry’s and Kinnick’s boys and Kinnick’s girls will have much to say in that conversation, but we’ll find that out in another week.

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Ornauer on AFN


Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)


Sept 28:Dave Ornauer is back with the latest on the Pacific sports scene.

May 22:Yokota has dominated in first year at D-II spring championsihps.

May 8: Dave Ornauer highlights a few athletes who are participating in the Kanto Plains track and field finals Saturday.