This might be the year that someone breaks the St. Mary's-Kinnick monopoly
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2018
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – After five seasons of dominance by St. Mary’s and Nile C. Kinnick on the Far East Division I wrestling scene, it’s pretty much starting-over time for the Titans and Red Devils - particularly for the latter.
The reigning Kanto Plain, DODEA-Japan and Far East D-I champion Devils lost 12 of 13 starters, have just one returning champion in senior Chris Mason and will bring to the mat a youngish lineup looking to develop.
The Titans are in somewhat better shape, sporting a lineup top-heavy in underclassmen, including six seniors, three of whom placed during last year’s Far East. But they only return one defending champion in sophomore Eiji Kasahara.
“It’s really wide open,” ninth-year Kinnick coach Gary Wilson said of the upcoming season and who might be in line for a shot at Division I honors. “It’s pretty cyclical here. You have some down years when you have to build again. We have a lot of work to do. We’re all rookies.”
So who might be in line to bypass St. Mary’s and Kinnick, with 28 Far East wrestling titles between them, and seize the Division I crown?
“I liked Kubasaki last year, and American School In Japan, too,” Wilson said of the Dragons, who have 25 Far East titles, a Pacific-record in any sport; and the Mustangs, with four Far East mat titles. “They have some things going on.”
The Dragons return five wrestlers, three of whom placed at Far East a year ago. Coach Brent Cook, in his third season, says his team is deep at all weight classes, including one, 215, where he’s torn regarding which one he’ll keep as his No. 1, Clint Reventlow or Haydn Peterson.
“They’re focused, concentrating, hard-working; they’re pretty impressive,” Cook said of his group of wrestlers, which as of Tuesday numbered 30. “I see a different team than I’ve seen the last couple of years.”
Senior Luke Moseley placed second at 148 last year and sophomore Jaylan Mayers fifth at 122. Peterson finished fourth at 215 a year ago, but is getting a strong challenge from Reventlow.
And there’s experience among Cook’s cadre of assistants: two-time Far East runner-up Josh Bales, Kubasaki Class of 2010, and two-time champion Bobby Duncan, Kubasaki Class of 2001.
Thanks to a spike in enrollment, due to the transformation from Yongsan Garrison south, Humphreys moves from Division II to Division I, and coach Ben Pak from Seoul American to the Blackhawks’ helm.
But Pak and the Blackhawks face the same issue he and Seoul American faced when they were top of the Korea heap. Humphreys can fill just about every weight class, but the same cannot be said for the Falcons, Osan and Daegu, where the ranks are thin. Osan does sport two-time champion Kojiro VanHoose at 122.
“I’ll have several wrestlers who will go through the season with no matches and when they get to Far East, they will struggle due to limited competition as well as experience,” Pak said.
“With Humphreys’ student population getting larger, we’re going to be at a disadvantage compared to schools in Japan and Okinawa.”
In Japan Division II, Zama’s and Edgren’s numbers are also down and E.J. King will not field a team.
The two most populous D-II teams in Japan are defending Far East champion Yokota and last year’s runner-up Matthew C. Perry. Each has a reigning Far East champion on its roster, Caleb Heino for the Panthers and Marshall China for the Samurai, and can fill almost all weights.
“If you’re not contending, you’re pretending,” Samurai third-year coach Chris Munsell said. “We will always contend as long as I’m coaching here.”