There were 15 wrestlers representing Zone 4 at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games in Banff between February 6th and 9th. Held every second year the Alberta Winter Games divides the province into 8 different zones, with Zone 4 incorporating the central part of the province including Rocky Mountain house, Red Deer, Camrose and Wetaskiwin. This year was the 20th semi Annual Alberta Winter Games, and returned the completion to Banff for the first time since the inaugural even in 1976.
Coaching the team were three veterans of the Wetaskiwin wrestling club, two of which were also veterans of the Zone 4 wrestling team competing at the Alberta Winter Games. Barry Risto who wrestled in Wetaskiwin in the late 1970’s, and who is currently working toward his coaching certification, travelled as an assistant coach for the team. Shamus McDonnell, who has coached the Zone 4 team for the past 3 winter games and also wrestled for Zone 4 at the 1984 Winter Games in the Crowsnest Pass; 30 years ago! Justine Bouchard made her debute as a Winter Games coach after also competing at the 2000 Alberta Winter Games in Strathcona County. Justine went on to win High School Nationals, Sr. Nationals, gold at the Commonwealth Games in India, and Bronze at the 2010 & 2012 Worlds. “The entire purpose of these games is to introduce young athletes to the experiences that await them at higher levels of completion, so having Justine on our team with her extensive experience with national and international competition was a tremendous privilege for all of us” said coach McDonnell.
There were only four wrestlers from Wetaskiwin that entered the Zone 4 trials and qualified to participate in the games, so fills from other zones were recruited for 10 more of the total 18 weight classes. The empty weight classes required the zone 4 team to forfeit those matches in the dual meets against the other zone teams, but despite the handicap the zone 4 team managed to beat the Zone 1 (southern Alberta) team for a third place finish in their pool, and then lost their final dual against the Zone 8 (North Western Alberta) for 6th place finish overall.
Besides the team standings, wrestlers also compete for individual medals after the team dual meets are completed. Two of the Zone 4 fills finished first overall and took home gold medals, and one also got a bronze medal. Zone 4 received Zone 2 alternate Ford Witt from Chestemere to fill the 40Kg weight class. Ford lost the trials in his Zone to a rival local wrestler, but during the games Ford defeated all the wrestlers he faced, including the same rival who beat him in his local zone trials. With two black eyes and a big smile Ford received his gold medal on the podium for zone 4. In similar fashion Cameron Strandlund from Hinton was recruited onto the zone 4 team after finishing second in his home Zone 5. Cameron won all his matches through the round robin competition in the zone 4 pool, and then beat the Zone 8 wrestler in the final, before entering the crossovers. Cameron’s first crossover match was against the wrestler from Zone 3 (Calgary) and early in the second round Cameron pinned his opponent. This put Cameron in the final gold medal match against the wrestler from Zone 6 (Edmonton), and after giving up 2 points for a takedown early in the first round, Cameron took his opponent from standing to his back and sealed his victory with a pin.
Aerial Cope from Edmonton filled for the 46Kg weight class on the Zone 4 team and also overcame wrestlers with more experience to walk away with the bronze medal at the end. Wrestling at 42Kg Maya Szczepek from Edmonton also managed to make it to finals, but unfortunately lost both of her crossover matches placing her fourth overall.
The four Wetaskiwin wrestlers, all first year wrestlers, were Jakob Dormaar, Tyler Welsh, Braydon Nilsson and Mitchell Lyle, who all wrestled well and helped earn valuable points for the team toward the final position, but unfortunately none placed in the top 4.
These Junior high athletes will not get a break from their wrestling with the Junior Olympics taking place in St. Albert on Saturday February 15th.