A handful of high school wrestling teams in Japan and Okinawa faced a hectic few days.

They had regular-season dual meets Wednesday. Then they’d spend a few days preparing for the Nile C. Kinnick Invitational Tournament on Saturday at Yokosuka Naval Base Japan.

“It’s always important to go into a big tournament with some momentum,” Kinnick coach Robby Rhinehart said after his team tuned up by defeating Zama American 30-19 at Camp Zama.

“We’ll be busy,” coach Terry Chumley said after her Kubasaki Dragons of Okinawa fell 29-23 Wednesday to the Kadena Panthers.

It was their final meet before the Kinnick Invitational, which will feature all eight Japan Wrestling League and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools teams, Kubasaki and Kadena and two Yokosuka-area Japanese schools.

The meet serves as a major tuneup for next month’s Far East tournament at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The significance was not lost on coaches.

“It will really give us a taste of where we need to be, where anybody needs to be in order to be successful at Far East,” Rhinehart said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the competition from the areas where we haven’t seen it, and those we’ve already seen.”

He noted the presence of defending Far East individual champions Mark Striegl and Shu Yabui of St. Mary’s International and David Zielinski of American School In Japan, and especially the Shonan wrestlers.

“Those guys are tough,” Rhinehart said of a Shonan team that scrimmaged Kinnick at the start of the season. “They whipped us. Anybody who has to wrestle a Shonan wrestler is in for a fight.”

“It gives us mat time, a look at the competition and experience,” added Kadena coach Steve Schrock, who boasts 2002 101-pound champion Brenden Stanford, now wrestling at 135.

For the first time since Kadena opened in 1981-82, the school won consecutive dual meets over Kubasaki. In fact, it was the first time Kadena has won two duals in any season against the Dragons, owners of a record 18 Far East tournament titles.

But it was far different from Kadena’s landmark 44-11 triumph on Jan. 9. The Panthers trailed 15-9 halfway through Wednesday’s match, and rallied thanks to pinfall victories by Ian Copeland (141), Devon Copeland (168) and Cliff Johnson (180) and a Josh Phillips decision at 158.

“We were kind of flat,” Schrock said. “And obviously, Coach Chumley had them ready to wrestle.”

Chumley credited participation in open tournaments sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services, one of which Kubasaki hosted on Jan. 17, for its resurgence.

“Those helped us with our confidence, technique and endurance,” she said, adding that the Kinnick tournament will “add to what we’ve already done. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

By contrast, Kadena does not participate in open tournaments, Shrock says, as a matter of safety: “I won’t jeopardize my high school kids’ wrestling in that kind of tournament.”

The price the Panthers pay is having just three regular-season meets with Kubasaki. “That’s the single most inhibiting factor in our development,” he said.

Kinnick had no trouble staying unbeaten in Kanto Plain duals (4-0). Leading the way with pins were Yamato Cibulka (135), Kenji Doughty (141) and Joey Wood, wrestling at 158 pounds for the first time after staying at 168 until Wednesday.

“I feel we got a little [momentum] right now,” Rhinehart said. “We’ll see how far we can ride it.”

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