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Local wrestlers battle to stay on top - and keep their sport alive

Taking a Covid-related hit far more than most sports, high-school wrestling is trying to get back up off the mat.

Thankfully, those who remain involved are more than willing to put in the time and effort required, allowing it to do so.

What the wrestling contingent may have lacked in size (total numbers), it more than made up for in enthusiasm and energy as the Ron Preston SDSSAA Championships were contested last week at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier.

“It’s not for everyone; some people are uncomfortable,” noted 15 year old Lo-Ellen Park Knights’ junior Sophie Keenan, named Girls MVP a little later in the day. “It’s much closer than a lot of the martial arts so you have to get used to your body touching other bodies.”

“You and your opponent are much closer together. You are smooshing your faces together.”

With seven combattants on hand, Lo-Ellen was among the schools with fairly decent representation (Sudbury Secondary – 10; Lively – 10; Macdonald-Cartier – 10), thanks in large part to the efforts of coach and former OFSAA medallist Erica Turcotte.

“The only thing I hear in the matches is sometimes my coach screaming at me,” admitted Keenan. “She can be really loud; she gets very excited. It’s so cute.”

An OFSAA participant in her grade nine year, the athletic teen is a clearly more in her element with wrestling and the like – “other sports didn’t really interest me; I like more the combat ones” – notices a difference as she battles to return to provincials.

“I didn’t have the confidence I have this year, that’s for sure,” said Keenan. “That changed my game this year. I’m more aggressive and learning to circle better, having a more natural flow to my movements. That’s what I am most proud of.”

Facing the likes of Lileigh Dormer (Lively) and Kale Gainer (Sudbury Secondary) as part of the 61kg class at the Preston Meet, Keenan is targetting a drop to 57.5kg by the time that NOSSA rolls around on February 22nd.

“When I went to NOSSA and OFSAA last year, all of the girls were bigger than me,” she said. “I want to be one of those girls who is bigger than the others. I’m planning ahead and working on it – no junk food or anything to transition into it.”

And, of course, plenty of hard work.

“All of that training that leads up to OFSAA that feels awful, you are going to be so glad that you did it when you get there,” said Keenan. “The people there are so much more serious.”

Sporting the identical 2-2 record as Keenan at the All-Ontario competition that took place in Ottawa last March, Noah Paredes shared similar observations to his Sudbury counterpart as the senior at Lively District Secondary School captured the 64kg division and was named Boys MVP at cities.

“OFSAA showed me the level of competition that is out there as you go further in wrestling,” said Paredes. “It really helped motivate me to improve. It changed my mindset about how I should be wrestling.”

Step one was likely much greater diversification to his skill-set.

“When I first started wrestling, I had a really good throw,” noted the 17 year-old student athlete.

“The throw was pretty much all that I used last year. I learned, as I moved on to the higher levels, that one move was not going to help me. For beginners (new wrestlers), I would suggest learning three good techniques and practice them until you master them.”

“And then continue to grow your arsenal,” Paredes added. “The more variety that you can put into your match, the more success you will enjoy.”

His theory was put to the test at the city championships as the young man who is also considering dropping one weight class for OFSAA (to 61kg) prevailed over a trio of wrestlers that included Nathan Blackwell (LEP), Alanis Abuan (SSS) and Sebastien Zaher (LEP).

“What I try and do when I am facing someone who knows my technique is to try and find something new to do, something that maybe they don’t know, something I learned somewhere else,” said Paredes, who supplements his high-school training with workouts at Troop MMA.

Boys Top Rookie Kane Chartrand (Bishop Carter) might also follow that pathway, at some point.

For now, the son of a former wrestler is trying to get his feet wet in making the transition from one of the martial arts to his new interest in wrestling.

“I had never wrestled at all until this year, but I have been in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for 11 years,” noted Chartrand, a grade nine student who will turn 15 next month. “It helped me with my ground game and to be able to stay on top, stuff like that.”

Still, there are those times when challenges arise in remembering just what combat sport you are engaged in at any given time. “In Jiu-Jitsu, you can touch your back to the mat (which results in a pin in wrestling), so starting in wrestling was a little rough,” he said. “And in Jiu-Jitsu, there are submissions and holds and things that you can’t do in wrestling.”

“But generally, they both help each other. They both have qualities that help each other.”

One of the more unique aspects of wrestling, and one which appears to be driven by the common understanding that with smaller numbers comes the need to try and retain as many newcomers to the sport as possible, is the fact that developmental assistance comes from every direction imagineable.

“The coaches are really nice and have helped me with a lot of stuff, giving me some pretty good tips,” said Chartrand. “But sometimes, you go over and talk to your opponent and tell then what they did wrong, maybe next time to try that. It’s pretty friendly.”

In fact, an exhibition match against a bigger opponent earlier this year provided the talkative lad with at least one takeaway that came in handy as he bested Logan Constantin from Champlain to take the 51kg class.

“I was trying to force something and he suggested going the other way,” said Chartrand.

It’s all part of the growth curve, something that he noted is observable even in his general approach to each bout. “At the beginning, I was always waiting for them to do moves first,” said Chartrand. “I was pretty defensive in Jiu-Jitsu.”

“But I am a more offensive wrestler now because I like to get my grips and not let him get his. Once you get in there, you are kind of on auto pilot.”

The wrestlers will reconvene next week at Cambrian College, site of the 2024 NOSSA Championhips. Following are the weight class champions and award winners who were not already noted above:

Girls Divisions:
41 kg – Janelle Jolette (Lively)
51 kg – Alyssa Howard-Smith (SSS)
54 kg – Mia Dufresne (Marymount)
57.5 kg – Grace Beange (SSS)
61 kg – Lileigh Dormer (Lively)
64 kg – Sophie Coutu (SSS)
72 kg – Sophie Simo-Tchuente (SSS)
77 kg – Danika Brennan (SSS)
83 kg – Lola Beauchamp (Marymount)
Girls Top Rookie – Haydee Johnson (Horizon)

Boys Divisions:
41 kg – Kaden Dixon (CFD)
47.5 kg – Lucas Laquerre (Lively)
57 kg – Kayden Van Santvoort (CFD)
61 kg – Joe Vakareskov (LEP)
67.5 kg – Max Hunter (LEP)
72 kg – Mauricio Pulido Mejia (LEP)
77 kg – Tanner Jackson (LEP)
83 kg – Ryland House (ESMC)
89 kg – Romeo Mishibinijima (Lasalle)
95 kg – Adam BenBayda (ESMC)
130 kg – Owen Parro (CFD)
130+ kg – Rilley Liefso (ESMC)

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