Ian Harlow’s debut as St. Mary’s wrestling coach was hard enough, given the pressure that accompanies coaching a traditional Far East power.

Making it that much more difficult was facing off against Zama — the team Harlow coached and resuscitated the last four seasons — and his former assistant, current Trojans coach George Nowells.

“It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Harlow said after his Titans prevailed 40-24 over Zama Wednesday in the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools season-opening dual meet at St. Mary’s in Tokyo.

“It was different. Unusual. Never had to do that before. You can’t put those kind of emotions into words.”

The victory was Harlow’s first at the helm of a Titans program that’s a perennial Kanto Plain power and has five Far East tournament titles to its credit.

But it came after four years of helping lead the Trojans out of the abyss. Zama hadn’t won a Far East team title since sharing it with St. Mary’s in 1982. It was on the verge of folding as a program when Harlow, an Oklahoman with deep wrestling roots, took it over in 2002-2003.

The Trojans finished sixth in the last two Far East dual-meet tournaments before St. Mary’s offered Harlow the chance to replace retiring coach Jon Rhodes. Harlow still lives at Zama, where his wife, Brandie, teaches at Zama American High School.

Nowells found going up against Harlow equally difficult.

“We were both really nervous,” Nowells said. “We’d worked together for three years. You come up against a buddy and you know each other’s stuff. It was really interesting.”

Harlow said he would have preferred that the two teams meet in January or February. “It would have been easier if it were later in the season,” he said.

Still, St. Mary’s won with relative ease, helped by Zama giving up six weight classes due to ineligibility. Mickey Langley and Mikey Guilfoile won by pin at 115 and 122 pounds for the Titans.

But Zama’s other five wrestlers left Harlow suitably impressed, with Josh Johnson (141), John Leipheimer (158), Daniel Polaski (168) and Tim Campbell (180) each pinning their foes and Adam Godfrey (148) winning by technical fall.

“They’re a good team,” Harlow said. “For sure, I expected four of them to be solid, tough matches to win. … You want those guys to wrestle and get those first-match jitters out.”

“I wish we could have brought a full team,” Nowells said. “But I’m happy we did what we did.”

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