It was another banner weekend for Brock University’s juggernaut of a wrestling program.
The Badgers dominated the U Sports championship meet, winning the women’s team title for the sixth year in row and the men for the fourth straight.
Saturday’s victory at the University of Winnipeg’s Axworthy RecPlex was emphatic.
On the women’s side, the Badgers won medals in seven of eight weight classes â€” four gold, two silver and one bronze â€” to finish with 67 points. Guelph was runner-up with 34 points.
Brock men earned medals in eight of 11 weight classes â€” four gold and four silver â€” for 77 points. McMaster was second with 37 points.
Coach Marty Calder was named both U Sports men’s and women’s coach of the year, upping his number of coaching awards to 33 â€” 16 CIS and 17 OUA honours.
Calder pointed to the commitment of Brock’s administration to the sport as well as that of his staff and wrestlers.
“It’s a big task. We’re talking about four hours a day training â€” commitment, dedication and sacrifice,” he said of his athletes. “A lot of the things that normal people do on an average day, these guys don’t have those opportunities.”
For Calder, wrestling is a character-builder.
“I was actually a better lacrosse player than I was a wrestler at 20 years old,” said Calder, who turned 50 in January. “I got drafted to be a pro. But my choice was to join wrestling and continue on with wrestling â€” I was with the junior national team at the time.
“I can say pretty confidently that there hasn’t been a sport that’s even come close to teaching me about myself like wrestling does. That’s why the people who get in it â€” when you get in it deep â€” are so passionate about it.”
Calder is a Canadian wresting legend, both as competitor and coach.
He was a member of the team that won Brock’s first national championship in 1992. Some 25 years later, Brock wrestling now boasts 24 national championships (17 men, seven women) and 35 OUA crowns (19 men, 16 women).
As a wrestler, Calder was a four-time Canadian university champion and five-time OUA champion. A seven-time national title-holder, he represented Canada in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
He is not one much for hardware, however.
“The one thing I will say is that I don’t reflect a lot about my career,” he told the Brock website in 2015. “One day I pretty much threw all of my medals away. All of my lacrosse medals, all of my wrestling medals, I put them in the garbage.
“Some kid was driving by on a bike and I said you want them? He got them. I kept some. I kept my Commonwealth gold medal, my Pan-Am medals, but not my CIS medals, not my national medals.”
Brock wrestling doesn’t really have a trophy case on show although it might add one if the Niagara region’s bid for the 2021 Canada Games is successful. The bid includes a “national training centre-like” wrestling facility.
Calder says past success is a “confidence piece in the back pocket.” But that’s it.
“I don’t think this program really looks behind us too much.” he said. “We just look forward … I think these kids are more consumed with what they can do tomorrow rather than what they did yesterday. I think that’s another ace in the hole for us.”
The challenge continues for Calder and his wrestlers, with national championships and international competition beckoning.
“Long-term for a lot of these kids, the U Sports championship is a gateway for them to get to where they ultimately want to get â€” which is representing Canada on the mats at the Olympic Games. And winning medal, not just representing.”
Tina McLaren (51 kilograms), Emily Schaefer (59 kilograms), Jessica Brouillette (63 kilograms) and Indira Moores (67 kilograms) won U Sports gold for the Badger women. Chris McIsaac (61 kilograms), Matt Jagas (68 kilograms), Tyler Rowe (76 kilograms) and Jevon Balfour (82 kilograms) earned gold for the Brock men.
Brouillette, named female rookie of the year in 2014, won women’s wrestler of the year honours. New Brunswick’s Illya Abelev (71 kilograms) was chosen top male wrestler.
Hannah Taylor, runner-up at 55 kilograms, was named female rookie of the year.
“They also do a lot of good things off the mat,” Calder said his wrestlers. “They’re good people. They contribute in the communities, back to their team. They’re good to one another.”
There is pressure representing Brock on the mat. “But pressure’s not a bad word,” said Calder.
Still the strength of the program can be both a blessing and a curse when recruiting, with some athletes feeling they have a better chance of starting right away at other programs.
“We have our challenges,” said Calder. “We have to sell our program, just as much as others.”
Calder has no plans to move on.
“I’m still trying to get better,” Calder said with a laugh. “I’m enjoying myself.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press