Prior to her final at the national cadet freestyle wrestling championships earlier this month, Nadja Schwarz expressed her sense of dispbelief to head coach Nick Zuback.
“What she said to me while we were warming up was, ‘I can’t believe this is real,’” Zuback recalled. “I said, ‘You better believe it’s real. You’re gonna go out there and be a national champion.’”
Zuback was right, as Schwarz went out on the mat and won by a pin to claim the gold medal in the 65kg weight class in her very first trip to nationals, the best result by a Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club athlete at this year’s meet in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Schwarz also competed in the national team trials, held in conjunction with the national championships, and finished sixth, with the top two qualifiying for Team Canada. Zuback promised that Schwarz will be back for more next year.
“Her goal for next year will be to compete in the same weight class and make the team,” he said.
Schwarz wasn’t the only local wrestler to come home with hardware as the CVWC proved once again that it can compete with the best clubs in Canada.
Charlie Roberts, a Grade 9 wrestler like Schwarz, was aiming to compete the 44kg weight class but just missed the mark and ended up being one of the lightest in the 49kg class, where she still managed to claim the silver medal.
“She had her best tournament of the year,” Zuback said. “That was pretty amazing of her, obviously being a little bit lighter than most of the other girls.”
Miaya Brownbridge surprised with a silver medal in the Greco-Roman competition. Not only do the Cowichan wrestlers have very little experience in the Greco-Roman format, Brownbridge’s personal style also strongly favours freestyle over Greco.
“She’s more of a shooter; she likes attacking legs, so this put her in a position where she can’t do what she likes,” Zuback said. “I was pleased with the way she finished.”
Stephanie Mould placed third in freestyle in her final appearance as a high school wrestler, and while that wasn’t the result she was hoping for, she will have more chances to win gold in the future as she begins a post-secondary career at Simon Fraser University.
“It was nice to see Steph end up getting third,” Zuback said. “I really wanted to see her win. She was in a tough weight class. She battled every match and came up a little short, but she always leaves it all on the mat.”
Mould, Roberts and Hayley Bye-Pace all finished fourth in their respective classes at the national team trials. Bye-Pace had to battle through a nagging injury to get her result.
“You could see it in her reaction time,” Zuback said. “It made it tougher for her to compete at her best.”
Bye-Pace won gold in the Greco-Roman nationals a year ago, but had to decide between the Greco competition and national team trials this year.
“It was the last chance for her to make it,” Zuback explained. “It was the best decision for her.”
Four-time defending provincial champion Talon Hird ran into a difficult draw at nationals, his first opponent being the two-time defending national champ. A loss in that match sent Hird to the back side of the draw, but he worked his way into the bronze-medal match before finishing fourth.
Hird was the lone Cowichan wrestler to take part in all three competitions in Fredericton as he also finished third in the national team trials and second in the Greco-Roman nationals. A loss in one match against provincial rival Elijah Lazar of Salmon Arm ended up costing Hird in the national team trials. He made it to the gold-medal match in Greco, in which he won his class a year ago, but was penalized when the officials felt he used his legs, which isn’t permitted in that discipline.
Ashton Combdon earned sixth-place results in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman nationals.
That’s the end of the season for most of the Cowichan wrestlers, but Roberts, Mould, Bye-Pace and Hird will all head to Las Vegas later this month with Team BC for a massive meet.
“It’s a really huge tournament,” Zuback said. “To bring hardware home will be tough. It would be great to see a Canadian end up on the podium, especially someone from here.”