It all came together for the Dinos men’s wrestling team last weekend. For the first time since 1988 the men captured the Canada West team championship for the University of Calgary. After several years of near misses and mishaps, the first team win for head coach Mitch Ostberg affirmed years of training and development.
"It is very gratifying," said Ostberg. "We have been knocking on the door for a long time."
For filling out two teams strong from light to heavyweight, Ostberg was awarded Conference Coach of the Year as well as both men’s and women’s team titles.
Though the men have been ranked at or near number-one in the country for the entire year, the win was far from predetermined. The universities of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Regina (CW champions 1995-1999) provided tough competition. However, the win was decisive. Calgary, with 52 points, finished 13 ahead of the U of S (39). The U of A with 34 points, edged out the U of R (30) and the U of M finished well back with 21.
The Dinos gained the tremendous point advantage by capturing six of the 10 weight classes. In lightweight (54kg) Mike Stitt, a rookie to the Dinos but a nine-year veteran of the sport, finished 4-0 to capture his first CW championship.
"I knew they were a really good team before I came [to Calgary]," explained Stitt of his decision to come to Calgary after three years of university in Edmonton. "I knew they would be competitive for Canada West and CIs. I wanted to be a part of that."
In the 57kg weight category Andy Hutchinson finished off his university wrestling career by claiming his fifth straight individual CW title but is prouder of the team effort.
"I have waited five years to win a Canada West title," said Hutchinson. "It’s the icing on the cake for me and the people on my team.
The 61kg weight class went to Travis Drew of the University of Saskatchewan and the Male Outstanding Wrestler Mickey Jutras, also from the U of S, took the 65kg title. Dino Joe Loucks (61kg) did not place and has been eliminated from the national championships, but Ryan Murray (65kg) will have another chance at his western rivals after finishing third.
"I’m a little disappointed," said Murray. "I qualified for CIs. That’s what counts. I will have another shot at them."
The 68, 72, 76, and 82kg weight classes went to Jason Cain, David Kooperberg, D.J. Ledrew and Brad Neve of the Dinos. The return of Ledrew and Cain after absences from the team filled in the holes of the impressive lineup. Kooperberg’s powerful attack gave him four wins, all by pin or technical superiority, and kept his competitors scoreless. However the most exciting win of the day came from Neve. After chasing Chris Cox of the U of R all season Neve came ahead when it counted, beating Cox in a 4-1 decision.
"He has been doggedly competing again Cox," commended Ostberg. "Cox used to beat him pretty badly."
However, Neve has narrowed the margin of Cox’s victories since the beginning of the year and his victory provided the climax to the Dino-Cougar competition.
"It was a very emotional dual", said Ostberg.
Paul McConnell (90kg) finished second, behind Owen Dawkins of the U of A. Ryan Slee (heavyweight) did not qualify for nationals. He did not place after withdrawing due to injury from his final match.
The momentum of the team was undeniable and was well supported by a small but exuberant group of fans.
"The team altogether was just on fire" explains Neve. "There was an advantage to having Canada West at home."
The Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union championships take place Feb. 25-26 at the University of Western Ontario.