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You didn't need to speak Japanese to understand the excitement surrounding Missoula Big Sky and Missoula Hellgate's friendly dual against the Japanese exchange team on Thursday

But to put it into words, a translator certainly helped.

"First I was confused and it was difficult, but once you start wrestling, it became enjoyable," Japan's Kouki Matsuo said through an interpreter.

Matsuo won his 132-pound match against Big Sky's Wyatt Gordon, 8-1, despite wrestling folkstyle instead of freestyle, the international style of wrestling.

Gordon, whose family hosted four wrestlers from Japan, said the nationally ranked wrestler from the island nation was very fundamental.

"He was really good about sticking to what he could do with the folkstyle wrestling and he was really strong, too," Gordon said.

The dual at Big Sky's gym was about more than wins and losses, though. It was about two cultures, worlds apart, coming together. After the Japanese and United States national anthem, Japan's team leader -- sort of like a manager and hype man -- delivered a message to the fans and wrestlers in attendance.

"We want to thank you for the wonderful experience and for hosting us," Norihiro Horiuchi said. "I hope they don't only enjoy the matches, but enjoy being able to meet."

***

Hellgate’s Asa Hoerner scored the first win of the night for the Missoula schools with a first-round fall, using an ankle trip to tally the takedown before securing the pin.

“I was trying to keep him wrapped up nice and close. So what I did, is I pushed him down, tried to push him forward so he’d get his momentum back and I hit his ankle and he fell back,” Hoerner said of his finishing move.

It was a big win for the Montana representatives facing a Japanese team comprised of the country's best wrestlers. Only Big Sky's Kyle Gordon (138 pounds) and Jett Rebish (154) added wins.

"It’s like if we put together the best team in the United States it would be pretty tough," Big Sky coach Lanny Bryant, who helped organize the exchange, said. "These kids understand that these are the best kids in (Japan). I’m really proud of our kids, they don’t back out, and they do the best they can."

Which included providing hospitality and sharing some American culture. Despite the language barrier, wrestlers from both sides of the pond gained an experience that will certainly stick with them.

"It was fun, they like to play video games, hang out and watch TV and everything," Gordon said. "It was kind of funny how they reacted to the Montana environment -- We took them to Cabelas to see guns and stuff, they were taking a bunch of pictures."

As for Matsuo, he and his host family went to the mall.

"The host family had four children and we got along very well, played so much, and we went to the shopping mall and we had a good time," he said.

The exchange team heads to Ronan on Friday to compete in the Western Montana Duals over the weekend. The Japanese team then makes stops in Bozeman and Billings to wrestle, as well as do some sightseeing and skiing along the way, before heading home.

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