Old champs, new foes highlight wrestling finals
Stars and Stripes February 10, 2011
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Two years ago, they flew virtually under the radar, unknown quantities who battled their way to gold medals in their first Far East High School Wrestling Tournament appearances.
No such luxury exists any more for Nile C. Kinnick junior Marcus Boehler and Zama American senior Michael Spencer. They’ll each chase three-time gold medal stardom starting Monday, fitted with virtual bull’s-eyes on front and back.
“It’s good and it’s bad,” said Spencer, who’ll vie for his second straight 168-pound gold; he won at 158 in 2009 as a sophomore. “It’s good because I’ve actually accomplished something. And it’s bad because everybody’s targeting me. Everybody knows me and is out to get me.”
As a Far East novice, “they don’t know you. They go, ‘Oh, what is this kid going to do?’” said Boehler, who won at 108 last year and 101 in 2009. “But when you wrestle for two years, they know exactly what you’re going to do.”
So, what does one in their shoes do about it? Stay longer hours in the wrestling room, drill over and over on the moves they already know and add something to keep foes off balance.
“I have to practice and train as hard as anybody else, and even harder,” said Spencer, adding that he’s working on new shots and techniques to break down opponents and has gotten more aggressive in trying to dispatch opponents more quickly.
All the while, a reigning champion is also battling rivals hungry to take their place atop the gold-medal podium. Boehler faces a big rival in St. Mary’s International’s Kelly Langley; he holds a 2-1 edge over him in three bouts this season.
“That’s the past,” Boehler insists. “What’s happened before … it’s all about today, working on the present and the future.”
That present and future come to a head in the 34th Far East Tournament, a combined individual freestyle and dual-meet event being held for the second straight year at the Super Gym on Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Kinnick is the defending individual freestyle team champion; Kadena owns the dual-meet team title.
Boehler and Spencer aren’t the only returning champions – Devin Day of Yokota, who won the 129-pound title in 2009 and finished second at 135 a year ago, also returns.
This year’s event features some new old faces. For the first time since 2005, international schools are eligible to compete. Last spring, the DODDS Pacific’s Far East Activities Council recommended that international schools rejoin DODDS schools in the event - adding more wrestlers and competition.
St. Mary’s and American School In Japan, with a combined four Far East team titles, will compete along with Christian Academy Japan and Father Duenas Memorial of Guam.
“I’m really excited. I think we’ll have something to look forward to, bringing international schools back,” said Langley, who didn’t wrestle in 2010 but returned this year, drawn by the Far East lure.
And what if the three returning gold medalists achieve that repeat dream? “It would be a great way to end my senior year,” Spencer said.