CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Out of action since mid-December thanks to the Christmas break, wrestlers from one end of Japan to the other are preparing to end that hiatus by jumping headlong into the season’s second-biggest tournament, the Nile C. Kinnick Invitational “Beast of the Far East.”
Is it asking too much, too soon for wrestlers to enter such an intense event having had little practice and little or action since Dec. 15? Or does it strike the right note, a reminder of what real competition is all about by throwing them in the proverbial mat pool and hoping they float?
“It gets these kids back into the frying pan,” Zama American coach Steve Scott said. “The season has to get going again. It also keeps the kids focused during the break. They know they have to stay in shape.”
His 158-pound senior, reigning Far East tournament Outstanding Wrestler Chad Wilder, agrees. “If you want to win Far East, you have to be at your best at any point during the season,” he said.
Tournaments such as “Beast” go a long way toward “separating those types from those who aren’t,” Wilder said.
Absent those schools from Guam and Korea that participate in the Far East tournament, “Beast” serves as the next-best thing, a dress rehearsal for nine DODDS and international schools in Japan, Kubasaki and Kadena of Okinawa and the Japanese Shonan Military Academy.
Entrants from Japan are E.J. King, M.C. Perry, Yokota, host Kinnick, Zama, Edgren, Christian Academy Japan, American School In Japan and two-time reigning Far East team champion St. Mary’s.
“Beast” can be a seminal, make-or-break moment for wrestlers who’ve had a handful of practices and have worked out on their own over the holidays, Yokota coach Brian Kitts said.
“It’s when most kids who quit do so” thanks to the lack of activity and monotony broken by such a high-intensity event, Kitts said. “You have to be creative to keep the wrestlers engaged.”
“Beast” will feature five returning Far East champions, including Wilder, two-time winner Steven Walter and 215-pound champion Fred Suniga of Kubasaki, Jeff Koo of St. Mary’s and Justin Duenas of Kadena.
A budding rivalry can be found at 158 pounds, where Wilder met his match at the DODDS dual-meet tournament on Dec. 15 against Kinnick’s up-and-coming Alex Banks, who finished third in last year’s Far East but has also beaten Koo this season.
Wilder is reminded of his rivalry last year with St. Mary’s JP Kwak, who beat Wilder in the first go-round, only to lose all six to Wilder after that. “We’ll see how it goes,” Wilder said.
Matches begin at 9 a.m.