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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It took him 11 tries, but Julian Harden finally won a Far East High School wrestling championship.

It took 28 years, since the tournament’s inception in 1976, for a school outside Japan to collect the team championship.

Both happened Friday, when Seoul American defeated Nile C. Kinnick 34-19 in the dual-meet portion of the tournament.

“It’s been a long time in the trenches,” said Harden, whose team had little preparation for Far East — four dual meets against Osan American, while traditional powers from Japan and Okinawa wrestled about twice as many, along with a few regular-season tournaments.

But for Far East, Harden filled every weight class and watched as his wrestlers grew, matured and started believing in themselves as the tournament progressed.

“They come over here scared, thinking they can’t do it,” Harden said. “But then they see that these kids aren’t any better off than they are and they just get better and better. During the season, we weren’t that good, but when they came over here, they started believing.”

With the dual-meet crown, Seoul American becomes only the seventh school to win a Far East team title, joining Kubasaki of Okinawa (18), Kinnick (6), St. Mary’s International (5) and the American School In Japan (4) of Tokyo, host Yokota (2) and Zama American (2).

Ben Mancini, a 115-pounder who hadn’t won a bout before Friday, collected four pins in the dual-meet battle, including one over Harvey Gonzales in 5 minutes, 11 seconds. Pins by Travis Johnson (101) and superior decisions by Chris Steuerwald (108) and Alex Kim (122) helped Seoul American take a 16-0 lead.

The Red Devils cut it to 18-11 on a technical fall by Kenneth Cardwell (129), Yamato Cibulka’s decision (135) and a pin by Kenji Doughty (141).

Then came the turning point, when senior Linus Lee met Jonathan Cordell at 148 pounds. After a back-and-forth struggle, Lee managed to turn Cordell to his back for a pin in 3:58.

“For the seniors, this was their last match,” Harden said. “He turned to look at me as if to say he did it for me. But he did it for himself.”

Kinnick rallied one last time, closing to within 23-18 on a Joey Wood decision (158) and Tairiku Tejada’s pin (168).

But Scott Tunis clinched it for Seoul American by pinning Chris Sanders at 101 in the 180-pound bout. Marques Snow (215) and Mike Warhurst (heavyweight) punctuated the Falcons’ victory with victories.

“They’re in great shape. They had no holes in their lineup,” said Kinnick coach Robby Rhinehart, referring to the Falcons.

During the individual freestyle portion of the tournament, Rhinehart kept an eye on the surging Falcons, who finished three points behind champion St. Mary’s.

“I started looking at who was in those (final) matches and said, ‘Holy cow! Where did this come from?’” he said.

Rhinehart expressed pride in his wrestlers, who sparked their drive to the finals with a 31-22 victory over St. Mary’s in the quarterfinals.

“We wanted this badly,” he said, pointing to Cardwell’s upset of three-time Far East weight-class champion Shu Yabui in the quarterfinal. “He’s wanted to beat Yabui all season. Shu’s a great kid, a great wrestler. It just went Kenny’s way this time.”

But a seventh Far East team title was not in the cards for Kinnick.

“Seoul American had a plan, they executed it to perfection. They had to to beat us,” Rhinehart said. “They’re a juggernaut. I hope they have a lot of seniors.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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