Local wrestlers thrilled to compete against Team Japan in Bulldog Grappler Invitational

Centennial senior wrestler Nico Antuna is used to wrestling against local opponents.

On Saturday afternoon, though, he had to overcome an unfamiliar foe.

From an unfamiliar place.

Antuna, a three-time state tournament qualifier, worked his way to a 4-2 victory over Niito Tokuhiga of Team Japan to claim the 138-pound championship at the 19th annual Bulldog Grappler Invitational at Centennial High School.

Team Japan’s wrestlers, however, had far more victories than losses, and scored a meet-high 209 points to win the team title.

The Bulldogs led local teams with 155 points and Shadow Ridge was third with 142½. Nonetheless, Bulldogs coach Steven Wike was pleased with the event, and was thrilled to welcome the Japanese wrestlers to his gymnasium.

“They’re a class act,” Wike said. “Any time you get international (competition), especially at this level, it’s good wrestling. I talked to my guys and some of the other coaches. They we’re all excited to have them here.”

Wrestlers in Japan are used to freestyle wrestling, and had to adjust to the more traditional American folkstyle wrestling. But the change didn’t stop Team Japan from winning titles in the 126, 152, 160, 220 and 285-pound weight classes.

Antuna was up for the challenge in his bracket, though, and was grateful for the opportunity to compete against Tokuhiga.

“It’s a lot different out there from here, because a lot of kids here, you can predict what they’re doing,” Antuna said. “A lot of the moves that (Team Japan) is doing, you don’t see them coming. You’ve got to react.”

Palo Verde’s Jonathan Carpenter scored a dramatic 6-5 decision victory over Takuma Otsu in the 195-pound title match, too, and paid proper respect to his opponent afterwards.

“Going that third period against a really strong, really good (wrestler) with good stamina helps build my stamina for the bigger matches,” Carpenter said. “That’s what it’s going to be like at state.”

Other local champions included Virgin Valley’s Rudy Cannon (106 pounds), Virgin Valley’s Gage Woods (113), Shadow Ridge’s Triston Curtis (120), Shadow Ridge’s Matt VanRiel (132), Arbor View’s Nathan Egbalic (145), Centennial’s Richard Kilgore (170) and Virgin Valley’s Cresent Crandall (182).

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.