Coast wrestlers earn training spots on Team BC

Two Sunshine Coast School District students took home hardware at B.C.’s high school provincial championships in mid-February to finish out a successful wrestling season. “It was an amazing season. In many ways it surpassed a lot of my expectations,” head coach Eric Sullivan told Coast Reporter.

Eight of 10 secondary students on the Sunshine Coast qualified for provincials and seven attended.

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Grade 10 Elphinstone Secondary Student Jessica Wentzel took home third place in the 110-kilogram category. Matt Drope, also an Elphinstone student in Grade 10, took home second in the 45-kilogram category. Both wrestlers have been invited to train and potentially compete for Team BC at Nationals in April and at upcoming international matches.

There is no age class in the provincials, meaning athletes compete against everyone from Grade 8 to 12. “Almost every other region within Canada offers age and weight [classes],” Sullivan said.

Students from all participating B.C. school districts competed between Feb. 17 and 19 at the Langley Events Centre. Top Female and Top Male wrestler awards went to Mission’s Victoria Seal and Karan Gill of Tamanawis, respectively. They also won in their categories.

The success at provincials is the latest in a string of wins for the club, which for the first time combined its elementary school and secondary school teams to create a district-wide club that runs out of Gibsons Elementary School, using a new mat purchased by the school district.

At the Western Canadian Championships in January, 11 of the club’s 25 members finished among the top three in their categories. Matt Drope clinched first place in his category.

The Canadian Championships are regional and offer a high-level competition leading up to provincials. “It allows the top wrestlers to be seeded for provincials,” said Sullivan. Grades 5 through 7 can also compete, which isn’t the case with provincials.

The girls program has been especially strong. While Drope was the first boy to make it to Nationals in recent history, girls from the club have been selected for Team BC in each of the last six years.

This year, the Elphinstone Girls team were three points shy of winning North Shore high school wrestling championships, and Grade 11 Elphinstone student Eilis MacKenzie was recognized with the North Shore Secondary Sports Most Outstanding Wrestler Award, which is judged by participating coaches. The award typically goes to students in Grade 12. “For her in Grade 11 to win it is also quite extraordinary,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan has been working to increase high school participation in wrestling since he assumed the role of head coach in 2013. His strategy has been to encourage participation at the elementary school level, which then brings more athletes into the more competitive secondary school level. “Our senior wrestlers are the biggest cheerleaders of their younger counterparts,” Sullivan said. The Coast now boasts one of the largest wrestling programs in the North Shore Athletics Association and Sullivan expects the program to become the league’s largest by next year.

Sullivan also attributes the success of the team to retired school district teacher George Richey, who was ranked within the top 10 in the world when he competed.

“Older coaches recognize him and come over and shake his hand… It’s phenomenal to have someone like him on the mat,” Sullivan said.

With the season behind him, Sullivan is already looking ahead to the “unfinished business” for next year – winning the district’s first ever North Shore league banner for wrestling. “[It] was the only one that kind of snuck away from us,” he said.

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