Parity scrambles Far East wrestling tournament field
Terry Chumley could be forgiven if she feels as if her Kubasaki wrestling team is wearing a bull’s-eye after the Dragons’ surprise triumph at last year’s Far East Tournament, adding team titles 19 and 20 to the Pacific’s most storied program.
She’s having none of it, though.
“We were happy with winning last year, but this is a whole new year,” the fourth-year Dragons coach said. “Every year is another year, with a new group of kids. There’s no pressure involved. I don’t feel pressure. It’s whether we wrestle our best, whether we can be strong mentally and challenge ourselves to succeed.”
Kubasaki sets out to defend its team titles, while seven returning champs will try to repeat as champions, starting at 9:45 a.m. Thursday at Yokosuka’s Old Thew Gym. The Far East tournament features two days of individual competition, followed by a one-day dual-meet tournament.
It’s the first time Nile C. Kinnick has hosted the tournament since the Red Devils swept the individual and dual-meet titles in 2001.
This is the second year the tournament is a DODDS-only event.
While some coaches wish that international schools were still in the mix, others acknowledge that DODDS schools benefit from wrestling only against one another.
“It has an impact on parity,” Seoul American coach Julian Harden said. “In previous years, those non-DODDS schools had seasoned wrestlers who stayed around a lot longer than ours; it’s harder for us to build a program. This opens the door for a lot of folks to strut their stuff. Smaller schools who … have only a few decent wrestlers have a chance to do well.”
Harden pointed to Aaron Clifton, last year’s 180-pound silver medalist from tiny Osan American, with its enrollment of just over 120.
“That would never have happened with those other schools there,” Harden said.
While 21 teams attended the Far East tournament at Yokosuka five years ago, the field is down to 11, giving those teams “a better chance,” Yokota coach Brian Kitts said.
“It evens the playing field. Last year was proof,” Kitts said of the individual team standings (Kubasaki led island-rival Kadena by just two points) and the dual-meet championship (which ended with Kubasaki tying Kinnick 26-26 but winning the meet because the Dragons had three pins to Kinnick’s two).
In past years, a team could win a team title with two or three gold medals, but with fewer teams, “you have to have four or five Far East champions and your others have to place” to win a team title, Kitts said. “Sixth place means a lot more than it used to.”
It could yet again come down to Yokota, Kinnick, Seoul American or Kubasaki, with a combined 29 Far East team titles between them, or “it might be a surprise, somebody nobody expects to win,” Kitts said. “Last year, Kubasaki was under the radar.”
The question, Chumley said, is which teams and which wrestlers have the most desire.
“It’s easier said than done, [but] you take things one match at a time and walk off knowing you left everything on the mat and gave it everything,” Chumley said. “Everybody’s in physical shape. It’s who has the mental toughness and who wants it the most.”
Far East wrestling tournament
Dates: Feb. 16-18, 2006.
Site: Old Thew Gym, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan
Format: Individual tournament, first two days. Wrestlers drawn into pools per weight class on first day, modified single-elimination with consolation bracket on second day. Dual-meet tournament on third day, single-elimination with consolation.
Teams competing: Seoul American, Osan American, Taegu American, Guam High, Robert D. Edgren, E.J. King, Nile C. Kinnick, Zama American, Yokota, Kubasaki, Kadena.
2005 champion: Kubasaki (dual-meet and individual).
Returning champs (last year’s weight class, this year’s projected weight): Jason Rodriguez, Yokota (115, 122); Matt Maza, Kubasaki (129, 129); Brandon McCullough, Kadena, (135, 135); Kenji Doughty, Nile C. Kinnick (141, 141); Yamato Cibulka, Nile C. Kinnick (158, 148); Steve Courtney, Kubasaki (148, 158); Zach Dopslaf, Yokota (180, 180).