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St. Mary's International 168-pounder Jeffrey Koo executes a right-shoulder throw on Nile C. Kinnick's  Charles Gann during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Koo is one of two returning individual gold medalists for the Titans, who've swept all four Division I team titles in the Far East tournament the last two years.
St. Mary's International 168-pounder Jeffrey Koo executes a right-shoulder throw on Nile C. Kinnick's Charles Gann during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Koo is one of two returning individual gold medalists for the Titans, who've swept all four Division I team titles in the Far East tournament the last two years. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
St. Mary's International 168-pounder Jeffrey Koo executes a right-shoulder throw on Nile C. Kinnick's  Charles Gann during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Koo is one of two returning individual gold medalists for the Titans, who've swept all four Division I team titles in the Far East tournament the last two years.
St. Mary's International 168-pounder Jeffrey Koo executes a right-shoulder throw on Nile C. Kinnick's Charles Gann during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Koo is one of two returning individual gold medalists for the Titans, who've swept all four Division I team titles in the Far East tournament the last two years. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Nile C. Kinnick 180-pounder Aaron Stravers executes a three-point throw on St. Mary's International's Jeff Ogutu during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Stravers, now a senior, transferred to Okinawa over the summer and will wrestle at 180 pounds for the Kubasaki Dragons, the most decorated Division I team in Far East tournament history with 21 team titles.
Nile C. Kinnick 180-pounder Aaron Stravers executes a three-point throw on St. Mary's International's Jeff Ogutu during last year's Division I dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Stravers, now a senior, transferred to Okinawa over the summer and will wrestle at 180 pounds for the Kubasaki Dragons, the most decorated Division I team in Far East tournament history with 21 team titles. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Zama American 148-pounder Chad Wilder tosses Robert D. Edgren's Terry Swedberg to the mat during last year's Division II dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. 
Wilder, now a senior, returns at 158 pounds for the Trojans, favored to win the D-II titles this season.
Zama American 148-pounder Chad Wilder tosses Robert D. Edgren's Terry Swedberg to the mat during last year's Division II dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Wilder, now a senior, returns at 158 pounds for the Trojans, favored to win the D-II titles this season. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Robert D. Edgren 158-pounder Joel Loy nails the shoulders of Zama American's Josh Mumford to the mat during last year's Division II dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Loy is the Eagles' lone returning wrestler with varsity experience.
Robert D. Edgren 158-pounder Joel Loy nails the shoulders of Zama American's Josh Mumford to the mat during last year's Division II dual-meet championship bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Loy is the Eagles' lone returning wrestler with varsity experience. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Kadena's Justin Duenas gains the advantage on Robert D. Edgren's Francis Estacion during last year's 101-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Duenas returns at 108/115 pounds for the Panthers this season.
Kadena's Justin Duenas gains the advantage on Robert D. Edgren's Francis Estacion during last year's 101-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Duenas returns at 108/115 pounds for the Panthers this season. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Kubasaki's Steven Walter gets the upper hand on St. Mary's International's Kaimi Miyazawa during last year's 108-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Walter is back in Kubasaki's lineup, seeking a three-peat, and will wrestle at 115 pounds.
Kubasaki's Steven Walter gets the upper hand on St. Mary's International's Kaimi Miyazawa during last year's 108-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Walter is back in Kubasaki's lineup, seeking a three-peat, and will wrestle at 115 pounds. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Zama American's Chad Wilder, right, gets the advantage on St. Mary's International's JP Kwak during last year's 141-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. 
Wilder, a senior, returns at 158 pounds for the Trojans, favored to win the D-II titles.
Zama American's Chad Wilder, right, gets the advantage on St. Mary's International's JP Kwak during last year's 141-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Wilder, a senior, returns at 158 pounds for the Trojans, favored to win the D-II titles. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Kubasaki's Fred Suniga gets the upper hand on Seoul American's Jack Barnes during last  year's 215-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Suniga, now a senior, returns at 215 pounds for the Dragons.
Kubasaki's Fred Suniga gets the upper hand on Seoul American's Jack Barnes during last year's 215-pound gold-medal bout in the 35th Far East High School Wrestling Tournament. Suniga, now a senior, returns at 215 pounds for the Dragons. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
Zama American senior 158-pounder Chad Wilder goes through his paces during Wednesday's high school wrestling practice at Camp Zama, Japan. Wilder won the 141-pound Far East tournament championship last year and is the tournamen's reigning Outstanding Wrestler.
Zama American senior 158-pounder Chad Wilder goes through his paces during Wednesday's high school wrestling practice at Camp Zama, Japan. Wilder won the 141-pound Far East tournament championship last year and is the tournamen's reigning Outstanding Wrestler. (Hannah May Greer Hicks/Special to Stars and Stripes)
Zama American senior 180-pounder Mitchell Harrison goes through his paces during Wednesday's high school wrestling practice at Camp Zama, Japan.
Zama American senior 180-pounder Mitchell Harrison goes through his paces during Wednesday's high school wrestling practice at Camp Zama, Japan. (Hannah May Greer Hicks/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Brian Kitts could only look on in grudging admiration. St. Mary’s International, coached by his chief on-mat rival and off-mat friend, Ian Harlow, had just edged Kitts’ Yokota team 35-33 – on Kitts’ home mat – as the Titans began this season like they’ve ended the last two.

“We should have beaten those guys,” Kitts said later Wednesday by phone. “He’s a pedigreed coach. He’s the best in the Pacific. I respect the heck out of him.”

He has good reason. In the last two years, since international schools were welcomed back to Far East tournaments, the Titans have racked up the following record:

-- Four Far East Division I team titles, two runaways in the individual freestyle portion of the tournament, two scares in the dual-meet portion. That gives the Titans 10 total in school history, second behind only Kubasaki of Okinawa (21).

-- Five individual gold medals, eight silvers, two bronze.

“You simply have to outwrestle them, if you can,” Kubasaki coach Ron Geist said. “That’s not an easy task. They have dedicated wrestlers, whereas our athletes are two- or three-sport athletes. We have a wrestling season. They have a wrestling program.”

Starting in middle school, Titans wrestling wanna-bes work under the tutelage of former three-time Far East champion Shu Yabui, who serves as Harlow’s assistant and may one day take over the program.

“The program we run is different from the one they run,” Kitts said. “They’re able to develop. That’s the way it is. We get good athletes; they develop good wrestlers.”

So, what can a team do to at least slow down, if not stop, the speeding Titans juggernaut?

“You can’t worry about what they’re doing or how good or how bad they are,” said coach Gary Wilson of Nile C. Kinnick, who along with Yokota, look like the top dogs in DODDS Japan but still trailing St. Mary’s in the Kanto Plain.

“You have to pick up the intensity in practice, focus on what we’re doing, get the guys to improve every week, pick it up from the bottom up,” Wilson said. “But it’s going to be a process.”

With two Far East champions in Fred Suniga (215) and Steven Walter (108) and Kinnick transfer Aaron Stravers, Kubasaki looks the contender part, as does Yokota, with four Far East top-six finishers, and Kinnick with four. Seoul American, with its third coach in five years in Ben Pak, returns just one silver medalist in Jack Barnes.

Reigning Division II champion Robert D. Edgren suffered a major housecleaning. That likely opens the door for Zama American, with reigning Far East Outstanding Wrestler Chad Wilder, to retake the throne it held two years ago, or for Daegu, with 148-pound silver medalist Xavian Washburn, to make a title run.

Division II welcomes a sixth team to the mix, as Matthew C. Perry, which began last season as a junior varsity level program, joins the DODDS Japan varsity ranks for this season.

ornauerd@pstripes.osd.mil

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