Guelph, Ont. – The province’s top university wrestlers are hitting the mats this weekend to see who will reign supreme in the OUA’s talented crop of competitors. And while the Brock Badgers are entering as reigning gold medalists for both women and men, a slew a steady combatants stand in the way of another golden effort, making many of these matches, taking place on Saturday, February 1 at the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Complex, must-see.
Certainly, the Badgers will be looking to duplicate not only their recent success, but the storied past of their wrestling programs. Coming in with 17 and 21 provincial titles, respectively, the Brock women’s and men’s wrestlers are consistently among the best in the country, and this year is no different. With U SPORTS top ranks backing them up, the St. Catharines squad will turn to their talent-laden rosters to bring home yet another championship effort.
The women will be led, among others, by Samantha Romano (Welland, Ont.), who has been yet another star for the Badgers. After garnering OUA Rookie of the Year honours last year, the second-year standout has picked up right where she left off this season. She captured gold at the Ontario Junior Championships last weekend, and after also securing provincial gold in the 48kg weight class last year, Romano is battle-tested on the biggest stage to prepare her for another medal-run on Saturday.
While Romano is one of four returning wrestlers for the Brock women, also including the likes of Hannah Taylor (Cornwall, Ont.) and Emily Schaefer (Sarnia, Ont.), the men will see a total of five returnees from their banner winning group last year. Ligrit Sadiku (Summerside, Ont.) and Cruiz Manning are among those hitting the mats once again, but another Badger to keep an eye on is newcomer Garette Saunders (Brampton, Ont.). The first-year has recorded three consecutive wins since the Brock Open on January 12. Last weekend, he took gold at the Ontario Juniors and Western Open in the 57kg weight class and will be eyeing continued success in his first taste of the OUA Championships.
Among those teams looking to dethrone the reigning champions are this weekend’s hosts. The Gryphons took home a pair of bronze medals last year and the podium will certainly be within reach when they welcome the rest of the OUA’s wrestling elite to their friendly confines. Looking to wow the home crowd with continued success on the mats is Gracelynn Doogan (Elliot Lake, Ont.), who is no stranger to the championship event. The fifth-year Gryphon enters as the two-time defending OUA gold medalist and national champion (2017), having also represented Canada at the U23 World Championships.
While Doogan, along with fellow fifth-year Natassya Lu (Brampton, Ont.), are two veterans, the squad as a whole sees a strong mix of experience that they’ll look to ride to success in their home gym. Similarly, the men’s group brings some talented returnees and exciting rookies to the table, and it is a two-sport star that will look to lead the squad. Veteran Job Reinhart (Guelph, Ont.) is taking part in his third provincial championship. The fourth-year wrestler, who is also an OUA football all-star, is the defending 100kg champion after defeating Brock’s Ignatius Pitt, and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Meet. Along with Alexander Chaves (Guelph, Ont.) and Josh Rimando (Niagara Falls, Ont.), it will be a capable core carrying Guelph toward what could be their 20th men’s wrestling title.
A pair of silver-medal winning wrestlers will continue Lakehead’s proud wrestling tradition and lead Lakehead into their 49th year of the wrestling program. Among those who will take to the mats for the Thunderwolves on Saturday are Marco Palermo (Thunder Bay, Ont.), who finished in second at last year’s event (57kg), and Ashley Gravelle (South Porcupine, Ont.), who claimed second place for Lakehead in the 72kg category. The second-year wrestler was a key part of the silver-medal winning squad last year and will be another focal point within the team’s medal aspirations this year as well.
A silver-medal finish also highlighted McMaster’s wrestling efforts a year ago, as the Marauders men’s squad took home second place at the provincial finale. They’ll turn their attention to top spot this time around, a fate that will be largely influenced by their talent across several weight classes, with their sixth OUA men’s wrestling banner on their minds. Ben Zahra (Kingston, Ont.), the defending U SPORTS bronze medalist at 76kg, has continued his winning ways this season, and will enter championship action with a gold medal in his trophy case from the Ontario Senior Championships in November (79kg).
The women’s team will also have some decorated wrestlers suiting up on Saturday, including the likes of Ligaya Stinellis (Hannon, Ont.). The first-year wrestler won gold in the 48kg at the York Open, bronze at the McMaster Open, and finished fourth at the Ontario Senior Provincials (50kg). The rookie will be among the many young Marauders – five rookies and three sophomores – who will be looking to help the team grow and improve for a lengthy stay among the conference’s contenders.
Roaring into the championship event after fifth and sixth-place results a year ago are the York Lions, and they’ll turn to rookie Bailey Agard (Ottawa, Ont.) to make waves on the women’s side. Agard has had an outstanding debut campaign, winning a medal in six of the seven meets she’s competed in, including gold medals at the Ontario Junior Championships in London, Ont., as well as the Concordia Open and Ryerson Open. She also picked up a silver medal at the Brock Open, where she beat previous OUA gold medalist, Sam Romano, of the host Badgers.
The women’s squad, albeit young, has held their own this year after team captain and top competitor Alex Towns graduated. The Lions are looking to impress at the OUA Championships and continue to show that they are more than a “one-woman team”. Similarly, the men’s side will be striving to showcase their depth of talented wrestlers with their eyes on a podium finish this weekend.
The Western Mustangs are another team that has found wrestling success over the years, but after a few years off the top of the podium, the purple and white will have their eye on a top-three finish in Guelph. Buoying the team that has 18 OUA men’s championships under the belt is third-year Brayden Ambo (Tilsonburg, Ont.), who has plenty of experience to turn to this weekend, including taking part in the Pan Am Championships in the summer in Greco Roman wrestling.
On the women’s side, looking to anchor the team to their first top finish since 2013 is Julie Steffler (Tottenham, Ont.). After missing last season due to injury, the fifth-year wrestler will be back to defend her previous second-place OUA championship finish and third-place national result from 2016-17. She will look to do so backed by a medal-earning performance in each event she has competed in since returning, capturing three gold and two silver-medal finishes during that span.
A pair of seventh-place team finishes represented the Algoma Thunderbirds a year ago, but the young squad will have their sights set on more when they head to Guelph on Saturday, as they continue their hunt for their first provincial title in school history. If the T’Birds want to make a splash, then 2018 OUA silver medalist, Bryce Davis (Fenton, Michigan), will be a key figure, as the third-year standout is currently ranked first in the U SPORTS rankings (72kg). Fellow 2018 silver medalist, Brody Collison (Windsor, Ont.) will also bring a strong national ranking into the event, entering as the No. 4 U SPORTS wrestler in the 57kg category.
Toronto enters the wrestling ranks with their eyes on both experience and improvement on last year’s result. Hoping to spark this sense of improvement for the Varsity Blues is a first-year participant. Caleb Goodfellow (Belleville, Ont.) grabbed everyone’s attention at the Western Open in the 90kg category last weekend, pinning four-time national champion, Tejvir Boal, and went on to earn bronze. His older brother, Cole Goodfellow (Belleville, Ont.), who played running back for the Blues football team this season, will compete in the 82kg division. Competing for the Varsity Blues women, meanwhile, is Rachel Zack (Toronto, Ont.), who earned two bronze medals in the 72kg category this season – one at the Brock Open and one at the Western Open.
Fellow GTA squad, Ryerson, won’t have the largest representation at the event, meanwhile, but that doesn’t mean the Rams don’t have their eyes on podium finishes from their attending contingent. The men’s side will have three wrestlers head to Guelph for the championship, and it will be the first time competing on the provincial stage for two of them. The returning wrestler, Sarabnoor Lally (Brampton, Ont.), is back after missing last season with an injury, and after placing 2nd at the Ryerson Open in November, he’ll be aiming for top-three results and a spot at the U SPORTS competition. While injury kept Lally out last year, it is the women’s team that has been bitten by the injury-bug this year, and as a result, will not be competing.
Rounding out the field in this year’s competition is the Queen’s Gaels, who after a pair of eighth place finishes last year, are hitting the mats with the hopes of improved results in 2018-19.