Packed house watches as Japanese wrestlers win 13 of 16 matches against Cenral Oregon all-star team

Tuesday night was something of an eye-opener for Central Oregon wrestling.

The Central Oregon all-stars were able to win just three of 16 contested matches as a team of Japanese wrestlers dominated a cultural exchange freestyle wrestling exhibition at Crook County High LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lon Austin/central ORegonian
ABOVE: Crook County's Trevor Rasmussen works to pin Ryoma Kubo during their 96 KG match at Tuesday night's cultural exchange wrestling exhibition between Japan and a Central Oregon all-star squad. Rasmussen was one three Central Oregon wrestlers to score wins on the night.

“It’s not about the results, it’s about the experience,” said Crook County wrestling coach Jake Huffman following the exhibition. “What a great opportunity for our kids to learn about a different culture and to see some of Japan’s best.”

The Japanese squad won a sparsely attended match at Barlow High School on Monday. The team, which included 14 athletes who placed third or better at any one of the three national high school tournaments in Japan, practiced at Crook County Tuesday afternoon. Then the team wrestled the Central Oregon all-stars in front of a near capacity crowd at Crook County Tuesday night.

The atmosphere was electric as Takahiro Mitsunaga and John Hickey took the mat for the first match of the day, which Mitsunaga won by a first round technical fall.

The Central Oregon wrestlers, who normally wrestle folkstyle rather than freestyle rules, looked outclassed early as Japanese wrestlers Kirin Kinoshita, Ryuki Amano, Raimu Maeda, Yushi Sakamoto, and Mao Okui won consecutive matches either by technical fall or major fall over their Central Oregon opponents.

The crowd became more vocal as Seth Nonnenmacher of Burns and Koji Takeda of Japan were tied 5-5 at the end of the first three-minute period of their 84 KG match. Takeda took control in the second period and went on to win 11-5. However, it was the first match of the evening where a Central Oregon wrestler was able to go the LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Ryuki Amano controls Crook County's Trayton Libolt during their 50 KG exhibition match. Amano went on to win the match 14-3.

Japan’s Kenta Miyauchi made quick work of Bend’s Michael Hageman in their 96 KG match, winning by technical fall in less than 30 seconds. Then Kazuya Kouyanagi, a current junior world champion, pinned Ian Oppenlander of Madras less than a minute into their match.

The Central Oregon wrestlers finally won a match as Redmond freshman Mitch Willet pinned Takashi Arinobu in their 60 KG match.

Several of the Japanese wrestlers had done celebratory backflips following their victories, and Willet followed suit, doing a backflip in front of the Japanese coaches as the crowd roared.

Japan quickly returned to their winning ways as Shota Shirai defeated Crook County’s Clark Woodward 8-0 before Crook County’s Trevor Rasmussen (96 KG) and Jason Williams (129 KG) won back to back matches by major fall over their Japanese counterparts.

Williams, not able to do a back flip, celebrated by doing a forward roll near the Central Oregon bench as the crowd cheered.

“It was a great experience to see this really tough competition coming in from Japan and it was cool to see the cultural thing,” Rasmussen said. “They really like to bow a ton. I mean they are always bowing and they shake your hand constantly. They are very polite.”

“It’s just cool in general to wrestle these guys and getting to see what other places do,” added Williams. “Their type of wrestling is different from ours and it’s kind of cool to mix with them. To pin somebody internationally, it’s a very unique experience for me, one that I’ll always remember and cherish.”

Japanese wrestlers went on to win the final three matches of the night.

However, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the experience was more important than who won or LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Japan's Takahiro Mitsunaga forces Grayson Munn off the mat to earn a point. Mitsunaga won the 60KG match 14-8.

“It was unbelievable,” said Chuck Holiday of Restore Oregon College Wrestling, which sponsored the match. “You saw some really good moves, and I was surprised that we won three matches. Both groups, you should have seen them in the wrestling room. They were having a blast doing things that all wrestlers do — whatever that might be.”

Huffman was also pleased with how the cultural exchange was working out.

“These are some of the best kids in their country,” he said. “For us to come over here and compete and actually get some wins, that’s exciting.”

However, the cultural exchange wasn’t just about the wrestling. Despite the fact that none of the Japanese wrestlers spoke English, and much of the time there was no translator, the Japanese wrestlers and the Crook County wrestlers and fans spent much of Tuesday and all of Wednesday interacting.

During an intermission in the match, Japanese wrestlers shot video as the Crook County High School Sparkles dance team performed. Following the match, the wrestlers posed for photos with members of the crowd.

Tuesday night the Japanese wrestlers stayed with members of the CCHS wrestling team. Then Wednesday they toured the Prineville area, seeing a working ranch, petting elk, chasing cows, and cutting down trees.

“Some Crook County things,” Huffman said.

In the afternoon, the Japanese team and coaches were scheduled to run practice for the Crook County team.

“They are going to run a session for us,” Huffman said Tuesday night. “It’s going to be completely different. We don’t know what to expect so it’s going to be fun.”

However, plans quickly changed Wednesday afternoon when the Japanese wrestlers learned that they will be expected to wrestle folksyle when they continue their tour in Washington next week.

“They have never wrestled folkstyle,” Crook County athletic director Rob Bonner said. “They have never even seen a folkstyle match, so our kids taught them how to do it. It was great to watch the way the two teams worked together.”

Japan vs Central Oregon Cultural Exchange Match

Tuesday, January 7

at Crook County

60 KG — Takahiro Mitsunaga, Doshishakori High School, Japan, def. John Hickey, Redmond, by technical fall 12-2. 66 KG — Kirin Kinoshita, Kanoya Chuo High School, Japan, def. Clay McClure, Culver by major fall. 50 KG — Ryuki Amano, Akita Commercial High School, Japan, def. Trayton Libolt, Crook County by technical fall 14-3. 55 KG — Raimu Maeda, Hanasakitokumaru High School, Japan, def. Austin Rystedt, Redmond by fall. 60 KG — Yushi Sakamoto, Hiryu High School, Japan, def. Samuel Flores by technical fall 10-0. 74 KG — Mao Okui, Wakayama Technical High School, Japan, def. Brendan Harkey, Crook County, by major fall. 84 KG — Koji Takeda, Saitamasakae High School, Japan, def. Seth Nonnenmacher, Burns 11-5. 96 KG — Kenta Miyauchi, Yamanashi High School, Japan, def. Michael Hageman, Bend by technical fall 10-0. 50 KG — Kazuya Koyanagi, Nirasaki Technical High School, def. Ian Oppenlander, Madras by major fall. 60 KG — Mitch Willet, Redmond def. Takashi Arinobu, Chikujonishi High School by major fall. 74 KG — Shota Shirai, Teikyo High School, Japan def. Clark Woodward, Crook County 8-0. 96 KG — Trevor Rasmussen, Crook County def. Ryoma Kubo, Kokoku HIgh School, Japan by major fall. 129 KG — Jason Williams, Crook County def. Yukihito Yamada, Toyoura HIgh School, Japan by major fall. 55 KG — Hiroki Watanabe, Ikuei High School, Japan def. Kurt Mode, Crook County by major fall. 60 KG — Takahiro Mitsunaga, Doshishakori High School def. Grayson Munn, Crook County 14-8. 66 KG — Kirin Kinoshita, Kanoya Chuo High School, Japan def. Tyler Berger, Crook County 10-3

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