By Brad Halasz
Energy poured from the home crowd stands of the Jack Simpson Gym last weekend during the Canadian Interuniversity Sport wrestling championships. Energy seeped through the locker room speeches and on to the mat. Energy burst through the faces of each contestant, but ultimately it was the harnessing of that energy by six University of Calgary women wrestlers that allowed them to claim as many individual gold medals and the CIS women’s team title.
Perhaps no one realized the energy of the weekend better than Gen Haley, who had the nervous privilege of watching her five teammates wrestle and win one after the other before she got her chance.
“I was behind the curtain the whole time and I peaked my head through to watch and one after the other I could see that we were winning, and I was trying not to get too emotionally involved, so I had to focus in,” she said. “It’s fun to have that kind of challenge.”
Haley managed to keep her head and beat Regina product Jade Parsons handedly in a 6-0 decision. There’s no doubt Haley was happy to fight under pressure.
“You have to try and take the energy you’re getting from them and try and focus it in,” she said. “It’s okay to get excited as long as once you’re stepping on, you’re able to focus in and use that energy properly.”
Haley wasn’t the only one faced with the task of mentally processing energy– Heidi Erdle won her match after several momentum shifts caused by protests from both sides.
“I won the original match and there was a questionable call at the end so we had a protest round and I lost the protest round,” she said of her gold- medal-winning match against the University of Saskatchewan’s Amy Dyck. “Even just having won then knowing you have to wrestle again and you could lose.”
After another round the Dinos protested a questionable call and won.
“I was smiling, I was crying, then I was super happy again, then I had to refocus because I had another match that day,” said Erdle.
Despite the mental strain of protested calls, Erdle emerged victorious and claimed CIS female wrestler of the year for her efforts.
Fifth-year Vanessa Wilson also wrestled a too-close-for-comfort match, leaving two of the rounds up to clinch decisions– both of which she lost.
“I did a cut back and it scored for me and we took it to third round and I thought, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t let this one go to clinch since you lost the other two,”‘ she said of her gold-medal-winning match against Simon Fraser University’s Stacie Anaka adding it was nice to beat her at home in her last year in CIS.
“It felt really good,” she said. “She’s the world junior bronze medalist from a couple of years ago; she’s definitely a tough cookie to beat.”
Another Dino senior, Justine Bouchard, fed off the energy of her family’s support as she took down Brock’s Celeste Rodrigues to claim her gold medal.
“It was better than I expected,” she said. “I was expecting to wrestle my best and move, but to come out and get the points on the board, that makes it better. You’re always upset when you only see one or two points on the board. For me, it felt really good.”
Leah Callahan credits the hard practices of Dinos coach Andy Hutchinson to the excessive winning on the weekend.
“We had a hard week of training, hard practices and live wrestling,” she said. “[Hutchinson] pushed us through it and told us we were supposed to be feeling crappy.”
Crappy like a champ, Callahan recalls her match.
“It took three rounds. I came out on top in the first round and won by points. The second round was close, she threw me to my back and I got off. It was an exciting match. Third round I was leading and got a throw and held her there and time ran out.”
Second-year wrestler Erica Wiebe stated that although the energy of the home crowd was “electric” it was Hutchinson that helped propel her to her gold medal victory against the University of New Brunswick’s Rachelle Pinet.
“Our intensity on the mat is a reflection of his intensity in coaching,” she said.
Heading into her match, Wiebe seemed rattled by the rowdy fans.
“I was trying to focus on my wrestling, but I could just hear the crowd.”
That didn’t stop her from focusing on the task at hand.
“I knew it was going to be a big match, but I watched her wrestle the day before and I had a game plan that I went into the final knowing what I had to do to beat her and I executed it perfectly,” she said. “I was really disciplined, and that’s what my coaches and teammates told me to do.”
With such a dominant finish at the CIS finals, it’s no wonder all six girls have aspirations for the 2012 Olympics. Many have already banked several national level matches and now turn to international exposure to build their name.
Rest assured the time spent in the Dino system will be carried with them, as the fifth-years look to other endeavours.
Wilson summed up being a Dino best.
“I started out as a Junior Dino,” she said. “In your first year you’re really shy and you don’t really know anybody, by the end of the fifth year you’re super outgoing and you realize it’s a close-knit family. It’s cool giving our rookies advice. We had some of our Junior Dinos come up to me and know me by name and I didn’t even know some of them. This is weird for me.”