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OCEANIA’S TOP WRESTLERS GATHER FOR 2024 CHAMPIONSHIPS

Regions best take to the mats on Guam

By Jay Leon Guerrero

Wrestlers from American Samoa, Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, and Samoa all took the mat on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Leo Palace main ballroom to see where they rank in the region.

Wrestlers in the men’s and women’s senior division in the 2024 Oceania Wrestling Championships were competing with one goal: to advance to the Africa and Oceania Olympic Games qualifier scheduled for next month in Alexandria, Egypt.

Gold medalists in their respective senior weight divisions will likely earn a spot to wrestle in Egypt. Should wrestlers make it to Egypt and make the finals for their respective weight division, they will earn a spot in the Olympic Games to be held this summer in Paris, France.

For Team Guam, the pressure was there, but a handful of athletes advanced with ease.

Aquino sisters, Duenas win Gold
Paulina Duenas (50KG), Mia Aquino (53KG), and Rckaela Aquino (57KG) won gold to advance one step closer to qualifying for the Olympics. Guam’s Laralei Gandaoli won bronze in a tough 62KG division.

For the three female gold medalists, they got the job done. There will be no time to celebrate. Training starts immediately for the next qualifier, which will be held from March 22-24 in Egypt. 

“Wrestling is so special to me, and I’m truly grateful to my coaches and my team,” said Duenas. “I will not be here without them.”

Duenas said her journey continues and she is excited to share that journey with her training partners Mia and Rkaela Aquino. “They’ve helped me throughout my high school years till now. We will all do our best to put Guam on the map,” added Duenas.

Men’s Senior Division
Guam’s John Rojas won gold in the 79KG division with an 11-0 VSU (victory by superiority). Rojas showed patience and good defense against Australian Anthony Haweil during their gold medal match. Rojas led 7-0 after the first round and won by superior victory after taking Haweil’s back early in the second round.

Guam’s Thomas Santiago (57KG), Ethan Aguigui (65KG), and Gavin Whitt (70KG) won silver in their respective weight classes.

Taking bronze from Guam were Robert Alexander (70KG) and Joshua Cantara (74KG).

“You’re in front of your home crowd, and you always want your hand raised at the end of the day,” said Aguigui. “Regardless of the outcome, if I can step off the mat and I know I did all I could, then I’m happy with that.”

After taking some time off to focus on his college studies, Guam’s Gavin Whitt said he was grateful for the opportunity to wrestle in the Oceania Championships.

“I was 16 years old when I competed in the last Oceania Championships, which was also here at Leo Palace,” said Whitt. “I’m just grateful to my coaches for this opportunity to compete for Guam again.”

Aside from the senior division, youth wrestlers competed in the U17 and U20 divisions. These wrestlers used the Oceania stage to build their resume for larger events,  such as the youth Olympics and the World Championships.

U17 division
Koa Deloach, Kai Duenas, and Christopher Angoco Jr. won Gold in the U17 freestyle division for their respective weight classes.

Deloach defeated New Zealand’s Kai Fyson (9-2) to win gold in the 55KG division. Kai Duenas defeated fellow countryman Christian Valencia (10-0) in the 60KG division. Angoco Jr. won his match by pinfall over New Zealand’s Jaxon Friend.

For Kai Duenas, the Oceania Tournament was a tool to gain experience against regional competition.  “I do jiu jitsu as well, and Wrestling has helped me become physically and mentally stronger,” said Kai Duenas.

Duenas, a 15-year student at Guam High School, said his goals are to continue training with his team and use their guidance to get better.  “Me and my teammates train six days a week. The ultimate goal is to make the junior Olympic team and/or qualify for the World Championships. “

U20 division
Ian Kim won Gold in 86KG division via pinfall over Australian Chance Willis. Kim was down in points but was able to secure the victory with a pin.  

Tavion Duenas also won gold over Australia’s Trent Jaeggi via forfeit to win the 74KG division. Angoco Jr. wrestled above his age bracket and managed to win a silver in the 65KG division.

Wrestlers from overseas said they enjoyed the competition and the island hospitality.
“Im thankful to the Guam Federation! They are always willing to help us,” said Lowe Bingham from Nauru. “This is my third time here, and this time around, I want to do a little more sightseeing.”

“My goal was to do the best I could, and I fought till the very end,” said Victoria Chen from Australia.

“I scored when I needed to score. Unfortunately,  my opponent scored a little more than I did,” added Chen. “But i did enjoy my time here – Guam is such a beautiful, beautiful place. I love the beaches too. They are stunning. ” 

Here are the local medal winners:
Women’s senior division
50 kg – Paulina Duenas (gold)
53 kg – Mia Aquino (gold)
57 kg – Rckaela Aquino (gold)
62 kg – Laralei Gandaoli (bronze)

U20 women’s division

50 kg – Auriana Hobson (gold)

Men’s Senior Division
57 kg – Thomas Santiago (silver)
65 kg – Ethan Aguigui (silver)
65 kg – Jun Jun Asebias, representing FSM, (bronze)
70 kg – Gavin Whitt (silver)
70 kg – Robert Alexander (bronze)
74 kg – Joshua Cantara (bronze)
79 kg – John Rojas (gold)

U17 division
55 kg – Koa Deloach (gold)
60 kg – Kai Duenas (gold)
60 kg – Christian Valencia (bronze)
65 kg – Christopher Angoco Jr (gold)

U20 division
65 kg – Christopher Angoco Jr (silver)
74 kg – Tavion Duenas (gold)
86 kg – Ian Kim (gold) 

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COMING SOON …

10th Micronesian Games from Marjuro June 15-24

Guam National Bodybuilding Championship June 29

QUICK HITS

Coach Donan Cruz and the U.S. Men’s U21 National Team took home gold at the 2024 NORCECA Continental Championship with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 27-25) win over Canada on Sunday evening in Nogales, Mexico. The victory guaranteed the U.S. a spot in the 2025 FIVB U21 World Championship.
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Congratulations to the 2024 Guam Rugby Cup Champions: Tao Tao Mana (Men’s Cup Champions) and Southern Rugby Club (Women’s Cup Champions)

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