BURLINGTON, Ont. – The mats will soon be laid out across the Thérèse Quigley Sport Hall, on the campus of McMaster University, in anticipation of the 2017 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Wrestling Championships, on Saturday, Feb. 11.
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The Brock Badgers will undoubtedly be the focal point of this year's championship once again, as both the men and women are ranked No. 1 in the U SPORTS Top 10. Furthermore, both teams are not only the defending OUA champions, but also the reigning U SPORTS champions as well.
On the men's side, the Badgers return six of their 10 podium finishers from last year's event as they chase their 19th Porter Trophy in program history.
Coming off a 54 kg silver medal at both the OUA and CIS championships, Sam Jagas (Kitchener, Ont.) will be going for gold this time around at 57 kg.
A season after finishing second in the 61 kg event at the OUA championship, Brock's Mizam Tamaradze (West Springfield, MA) will compete in the 65 kg weight class on Saturday.
Badgers standouts Matt Jagas (Kitchener, Ont.) and Jevon Balfour (Brampton, Ont.) return to defend their 68 kg and 82 kg titles, respectively, from a season ago. Jagas would go on to win silver at the last year's CIS championship, while Balfour defeated Saskatchewan's Andrew Johnson in the finals to claim gold.
After a silver medal finish in the 72 kg weight class at both the OUA and CIS championships last year, Tyler Rowe (Barrie, Ont.) surely hopes this trip to Hamilton is golden. In potentially the biggest matchup of the tournament, Rowe will move up to 76 kg where he'll face off against his rival Ahmed Shamiya of McMaster in a rematch of last year's 72 kg gold medal match.
With a pair of gold medal winning performances last year, 2015-16 OUA Rookie of the Year Clayton Pye and Ignatius Pitt (Pickering, Ont.) are both back for the Badgers. If the pair of Pye and Pitt is able to find their way back to the top of the podium, it could go a long way to helping Brock claim their second consecutive OUA championship banner.
Last year, the Badgers women won seven of the eight events and with five of those student-athletes back in the fold once again, Brock is considered a favourite to three-peat as champions on the women's side as well.
In her third season with Brock, Farrantina Gatta (Niagara Falls, Ont.) enters Saturday looking to defend her 48 kg title from a year ago.
Representing her hometown Badgers, Tina McLaren (St. Catharines, Ont.) is the defending OUA and CIS champion at 51 kg and with the silver and bronze medalists from last year not competing this weekend, she should be considered a favourite to repeat.
After winning gold last year in the 59 kg weight class at the OUA and CIS championships, Brock's Emily Schafter (Sarnia, Ont.) will enter the 55 kg event this time around as she looks to pick up right where former Badgers teammate Carlene Sluberski left off and bring home gold.
Indira Moores (Whitefish, Ont.) and Jessica Brouillette (Barrie, Ont.) are both back for the Badgers, as the pair looks to defend their titles. Moores was victorious at 63 kg last year and earned silver at the national championship, while Brouillette won gold in the 67 kg event at the provincial level and silver at nationals.
The host Marauders enter Saturday's championship hoping that the pro-McMaster crowd can help fuel them to another strong showing. However, things won't come easy for the No. 3 ranked Marauders men following the graduation of two-time OUA Outstanding Male Wrestler Jason Buckle.
However, in his fifth and final season, Ahmed Shamiya (Burlington, Ont.) has proven he's more than capable of leading a young McMaster team. Shamiya, who captured double gold last year at 72 kg, will enter the 76 kg event on Saturday.
With Shamiya slated to represent the Marauders at 76 kg, second-year standout Bradley MaGarrey (Hamilton, Ont.) will move to 82 kg. As a rookie last year, MaGarrey, who previously wrestled at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, captured a silver medal in his first OUA championship appearance.
MaGarrey and Shamiya aren't the only McMaster wrestlers to be shifting weight classes as Jobanjit Phulka (Abbotsford, BC), who earned silver at 82 kg last year, will compete in the 90 kg event this weekend. Ameen Aghamirian (Kingston, Ont.) is also moving up as he'll compete at 120 kg on Saturday after claiming bronze at 100 kg last year.
McMaster's only podium finisher sticking with his weight category from last year is Robbie Smith (Sarnia, Ont.) who earned a bronze medal at 54 kg a season ago.
In search of their first women's title in program history, the No. 9 ranked Marauders are hoping to improve upon their sixth place finish at the 2016 OUA championship. The Marauders return both their podium finishers from a year ago and will be led by fifth-year veteran Monica Wood (Hamilton, Ont.). Representing her hometown Marauders, Wood finished third last year and fourth at the CIS championship and will make the jump to 51 kg on Saturday.
Wrestling at 63 kg, Marauders fifth-year veteran Nicole Roach (Coldwater, Ont.) is hoping to turn her silver medal from 2016 into gold in front of the Marauders faithful on Saturday.
The No. 8 ranked Western Mustangs men will make the trip to Hamilton this weekend looking to return to the podium following a fourth place finish at last year's event.
Two of the Mustangs four medalists from 2016 are back as Caleb Rutner (Winnipeg, MB) and Kyle Bonk-Dann (London, Ont.) return as the defending silver medalists at 68 kg and 120 kg, respectively. In his fifth and final year with the hometown Mustangs, Bonk-Dann would like nothing more than to go out on top as an OUA champion. With the reigning gold medalist not competing this year, the London, Ont. native has to be considered a favourite in the event.
On the women's side, the Western women enter the championship as the No. 10 ranked team in the country and the defending bronze medalists in the event. Of the Mustangs three podium finishers in 2016, Western wrestler Julie Steffler (Tottenham, Ont.) is the only competitor returning this year. With the gold and bronze medalists not back in 2017, you have to like her chances of finding the top step of the podium on Saturday at 55 kg.
The Guelph Gryphons will make the trip down Highway 6 on Saturday as they invade the campus of their most bitter rivals.
Coming off a second place finish at the 2016 OUA Championship in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the No. 3 nationally ranked Gryphons women have their sights set on the Badgers as they chase that illusive first team title in program history.
For the Gryphons, it begins at 48 kg with Natassya Lu (Brampton, Ont.), the defending silver medalist in the event. If Lu plans on bring a gold medal back to "The Royal City," she'll need to find a way to solve Brock's Gatta who defeated her in the event at last year's championship.
While Jade Papke and Alison Carrow will not be in Hamilton to defend their medals, third-year phenom Gracelynn Doogan (Elliot Lake, Ont.) is considered by many as one of the favourites at 72 kg. Doogan, who is studying Zoology at the University of Guelph, is the defending OUA and CIS silver medalist and the only returning podium finisher in the event from a season ago.
Several key pieces of the Gryphons men's bronze medal winning team are back this season as they look to chase down the rival Marauders.
Representing his hometown Gryphons, Elvir Uzunovic (Guelph, Ont.) is back and looking to defend his bronze medal at 61 kg from last year's championship. Uzunovic isn't the only podium finisher from Guelph to be back in the mix for the Gryphons as Alexander Chaves (Guelph, Ont.) is also hoping to capture his second OUA medal in as many seasons. Chaves, who won bronze in the 65 kg event last year, will wrestle at 68 kg in just his second year in the conference.
Daniel Humphrey (Elora, Ont.), who claimed OUA bronze in 2016 wrestling at 82 kg, will be dropping down to compete at 76 kg for the Gryphons.
Tyler Tate-Austin (Brampton, Ont.) of the York Lions and Brooke Jarrett (Whitby, Ont.) from the University of Toronto Varsity Blues round out the returning medalists from last year's OUA championship. As a rookie, Tate-Austin wrestled his way to a bronze medal finish at 120 kg, while Jarrett, a third-year Mental Health Studies/Neuroscience, won bronze at 63 kg in 2016 and will compete at 67 kg on Saturday.
Other teams competing this weekend are the Lakehead Thunderwolves, Queen's Gaels, Laurentian Voyageurs and Algoma Thunderbirds.
Action will commence and conclude on Saturday, Feb. 11, with preliminary matches beginning at 9:00 a.m. Gold medal matches are slated to start at a 3:00 p.m. Individual and team medals, as well as the OUA championship banners, will be presented following the championship.