By Kara Martens
The warriors of the University of Calgary came away from a hard fought battle with both triumph and defeat last weekend.
The University of Western Ontario saw the Dinos awarded another women’s team title while the men were denied glory a the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union Wrestling Championships. The women’s team title started a two-year streak that is sure to continue well into the future.
"Our team was very dominating," said Trish Leibel, one of three Dinos to repeat as ciau champion.
Julie Harris, another double champion, put it more bluntly.
"We kicked some butt!"
Starting from lightweight, up through the classes, the Dinos women’s wrestling team revealed the strength that has been developing here.
In the 48kg weight class Harris’ control over the entire field earned her the Wrestler of the Meet title as well as her second gold medal. After knocking off a rival from Guelph early, Harris’ only real competition came form Melissa Hillaby of the University of Alberta.
"It used to be that I would win one and she would win one, but the last couple of matches I have beat her up pretty good," said Harris.
"[Julie] dominated her," said head coach Mitch Ostberg, who received Female ciau Coach of the Year honours. "She just beat her up."
Harris attributed her improvement over the past year to a change in mental conditioning.
"I have tried to be more confident," explained Harris. "I try to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared for my matches."
The 53kg weight class was filled by world silver medallist Erica Sharp.
"For Erica, it was just a matter of wrestling the tournament," said Ostberg. "She is at a higher level."
"No one got a whiff of her," elaborated Leibel.
Kate Eckfeldt represented the Dinos in the 57kg class. Well-trained and conditioned, a deficiency of experience made the difference for Eckfeldt in the gold medal final.
"She wrestled well in the final but needs more experience under her belt," said Ostberg.
Eckfeldt finished second behind Tonya Verbeek of Brock.
The 61kg weight class gold went to Breanne Graham of the U of C. Though a first-year university student, Graham’s experience at a national level with the U of C wrestling club gave her the edge over the competition a the ciau championships.
"She pretty much dominated; she wasn’t really pressed," said Ostberg.
Leslee Laverdure returned to the CIAUs in a heavier weight class than she usually wrestles. To contribute to the team, Laverdure has often competed against heavier women to fill in spaces in the Dinos line up. In return, the team gave her their support.
"Leslee had a motto, we gave her a motto," related Leibel. "Pin or be pinned."
"She competes very tenaciously," said Ostberg.
Her effort earned her fifth place.
Leibel fought in the 70kg weight class to earn her second individual title. She faced her toughest competition in Friday’s round robin competition. Kim Bergey from Regina had beaten Leibel before and has previously been a Canadian national team member. After a 6-1 decision over Bergey, Leibel pressed through to gold.
Rookie Robyn MacDonald, also wrestling up a class, filled the 77kg weight category.
"Robyn wrestled the best I have seen her wrestle all year," said Ostberg, who was as impressed by her wrestling as by her determination.
"She ended up breaking her nose [on Friday]," said Leibel. "She came back to wrestle on Saturday. She wanted to wrestle. She had that tenacity to come back."
That tenacity earned MacDonald a win in the fifth place match against a wrestler who did forfeit due to injury.
The team of strong individuals earned the Dinos 56 points. Second place Brock earned 29 points, one ahead of the U of A. Despite the large point differential the Dinos agree that the field is improving.
"The depth is getting better," said Ostberg. "I was pleased to see that there were girls from across the country. As time goes by those teams will build too."
Any real competition for the Dinos will likely come from the U of A or the quickly developing Ontario teams.
"Brock is a really up and coming team," said Leibel.
Entrenched in a long-developed field, the Dino men did not fair as well. Though they moved up to second from last year’s third the team was disappointed with its finish.
"We really had our sights set on the team title," said Ostberg.
The Dinos fell just short with 58 points, four behind Brock’s 62. Lakehead rounded out the top three with 48 points.
"We did about as well as we could," conceded Ostberg. "[Brock] had an exceptional tournament and they had some great luck."
Brock went undefeated in Friday’s round robin after a favourable draw.
"We needed one Brock athlete to lose on Friday," said Ostberg. "Every time there was a Calgary or Brock athlete in the match everyone from Calgary and from Brock was watching to see how it would turn out."
In the 54kg class, Mike Stitt garnered the first gold for the Dinos.
"He did a really nice job," said Ostberg. "He was contested but he has some experience behind him."
Stitt is in his first year of eligibility as a ciau athlete, although he is about to finish his third year of university. The club experience he gained in his home town of Sherwood Park proved a useful asset in his 8-2 decision win over Matt Muscat of Guelph.
In the 57kg class, returning ciau champion and fifth-year veteran Andy Hutchinson added another gold to his bronze, silver and last year’s gold.
"He has been a true team player," commended coach Ostberg. "I wish we could have won a team title for him and the other fifth-years."
Fifth-year Ryan Murray received a double disappointment placing sixth in his weight division after strong performances in duals throughout the year.
"He performed to his potential but his weight class was really competitive," explained Ostberg.
The 68kg class saw Jason Cain of the U of C receive fourth place. The medals slipped out of his grasp after a couple of close matches gave the advantage to his opponents including a 7-3 decision in the bronze medal match.
In the 72kg class David Kooperberg, the dazzling rookie of last year, added a gold to complement the silver he earned at his last ciau outing.
"He dominated his weight class," said Ostberg. "No one scored a point on him."
D.J. LeDrew of the Dinos captured the 76kg weight division. Ledrew returned to the Dinos as a veteran this year after a one-year absence.
"I didn’t expect too much, that I would do so well going into the tournament," said Ledrew.
His performance was impressive, however as he captured the gold medal with a 10-0 technical superiority over Josh DeHeus of Brock.
"He was head and shoulders above the competition," said Ostberg.
After completing a Kinesiology degree this year LeDrew plans to come back to complete a Science degree and take another shot at the team title with his two remaining years of eligibility.
Brad Neve will also look to improve next year over his fifth-place finish last weekend. The strength of his weight class gave Neve, Canada West champion this year, difficulty early and Friday’s round robin pushed him out of contention for a medal.
Calgary’s last competitor, in the 90kg weight class, was Paul Mc-Connell. In his fifth year McConnell wrestled to a bronze medal finish. A controversial call in overtime against eventual champion Dante Berlingeri of Brock eliminated a chance at a title, but McConnell still had an exciting finish against Canada West champion Owen Dawkins of the University of Alberta.
"He wrestled an outstanding match to beat Dawkins for the bronze," said Ostberg. "Four of them [in the division] were really tough, wrestling at a national level."
Many of the wrestlers will continue their training for upcoming club events. The Alberta Open this weekend, the junior national championships, and the senior national championships on the first weekend of May will have representatives from the U of C.