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Kubasaki looks to rejoin ranks of Pacific mat elite

Oakley Mueller and Jacob McConville are two Kubasaki wrestlers vying for the 158-pound spot in the Dragons' lineup.

DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 26, 2017

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Ever since Kubasaki wrestling extended its Pacific-record run to 25 Far East tournament titles five years ago, it’s been a run of frustration for the Dragons, thanks mainly to Kanto Plain-based powerhouses St. Mary’s and Nile C. Kinnick.

Between them, the Titans and Red Devils have won all the Division I team titles there were to be won, a run of domination that’s left the Titans with 16 titles.

Kubasaki hopes this could be the year all that ends, according to Dragons second-year coach Brent Cook. The ranks are no longer thin; Kubasaki has 15 more athletes in the wrestling room than last year. They have plenty of returners. Even the PCS Plane was good to them.

“I’m excited,” Cook said during practice last week. “The ability is there. I have to put them on the mat to see what they can do. I’m flush; all weight classes are full. We’ve done a lot of recruiting.”

Cook says he might have real battles at several weight groups. Far East meet veterans Nick Burwell (215 pounds), Luke Moseley (148), heavyweight Jeremy Liu and Oakley Mueller (168) each have company. No fewer than six wrestlers, Cook says, are vying for the 122 spot.

“I even have three new ones, but they’re not new to wrestling,” Cook said. “I’ve filled all my gaps.”

Among those newbies are a pair of brothers from California, Victor and Ruben Savedra, battling at 135. Hayden Peterson (215) is a first-time wrestler, while Jacob McConville, who should challenge at 148 and 158, suited up a season ago.

“I’m hopeful for the prospects and the abilities they have,” Cook said. “This could be an exciting season.”

It’s not as though the Titans and Red Devils have fallen sharply; each team has a strong group of veterans.

Gary Wilson, in his eighth season at Kinnick’s helm, welcomes two-time Far East champion Lucas Wirth back, along with defending champion Devoney Stanley and three-time Far East medalists Kameron Leon Guerrero and Darius Swenson.

“But we have to continue to improve as we go through the season,” Wilson said, adding he may have first-year starters in three weights.

Veteran Titans coach Shu Yabui doesn’t have as many medal winners, but “overall, it’s a balanced team,” he said, acknowledging that the Titans should likely have their hands full with Kinnick and Kubasaki.

“If the level and dynamic of the competition is about the same as last year, we should still have a shot at a fifth straight Far East title” - which no school has ever done, Yabui said. Two-time Far East champion Rio Lemkuil and two-time runner-up Tatsuhito Matsumoto are back.

The 2017-18 season is one of change, with new coaches in place at five schools and two veteran coaches returning to their teams after taking a year or so off.

Justin Edmonds, a winner of nine Division II titles at Robert D. Edgren’s helm, returns after sitting out last season. Jeramie Lentz is back coaching Daegu after taking the last two years off.

One Division II team that looked strong early is Matthew C. Perry, which hosted the season-opening event Nov. 18 and had six wrestlers take second place. This despite coach Chris Munsell missing his best two wrestlers, Andrew Borrero and Mason Graydon, due to injury.

All told, seven former Far East champions are back in uniform, including last year’s Far East Outstanding Wrestler, Hunter Lane, a Daegu senior who became just the fourth small-school wrestler to capture the award.

“It’ll be more exciting,” Lane said, adding that it should be more difficult now that his regular training partner, Jake Carter, has graduated and he’ll be working with yet another new coach.

“I’m currently trying to recruit soldiers as training partners,” Lane said. Other than that, Lane says he’s looking forward to “more pins. More throws. More finesse. And bring home the gold.”

Kadena visits Kubasaki on Wednesday in Okinawa’s season opener. Korea’s teams gather at Seoul American on Saturday, four teams wrestling dual meets. And Edgren hosts DODEA-Japan’s second tournament of the season on Saturday.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

Far East 101-pound runner-up Caleb Heino, a Yokota sophomore.
GREG HOLLADAY/SPECIAL TO STRIPES

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