Photo C/O Ligaya Stinellis
McMasters men’s and women’s wrestling teams went to the Ontario University Athletics Wrestling Championships to compete in Guelph on Feb. 1 and 2. The tournament consisted of ten of the top wrestling programs across Ontario, the Algoma University Thunderbirds, Brock University Badgers, the University of Guelph Gryphons, the Lakehead University Timberwolves, the Queen’s University Gaels, the Ryerson University Rams, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, the Western University Mustangs, the York University Lions and your own Marauders. With medals on the line, Mcmaster stepped up to the occasion and armlocked the competition, coming home with a respectable haul of hardware.
Even though the championship has been historically dominated by Brock University, the Marauders medaled in eight individual weight categories. The men’s team finished with a total of 66 points, earning them second overall in the tournament. Points are scored by pulling off maneuvers that all have a different weight in the point system. The maroon and grey totalled four bronze, two silvers and two gold medals.
For the past five years, Brock University has held the OUA Wrestling Championships banners for best overall performance in men’s and women’s wrestling. This year alone they received ten of the 19 gold medals up for grabs, but with nine left on the table they allowed McMaster to get a few of their own.
Ben Zahra, in the 76 kg weight class, and Ameen Aghamirian, in the 82 kg weight class, were the Marauders draped in gold on Sunday. Zhara’s dominant performance led to him being declared the OUA Male Athlete of the Week on Feb. 3.
Previously, Zahra had earned silver for three consecutive years at the tournament, but was never able to break the top of the podium.This year, however, he finally cracked the code and took home gold.
“Placing second for the past three years at OUAs really fuelled me throughout this season. When I was able to come out on top at OUAs this past weekend it really gave me confidence in my training,” said Zahra.
He won three tech falls, outscoring the opponent, in the pool rounds to start the day as he took down Queen’s, Toronto’s, and Algoma’s performers in the 76 kg weight class.
Having performed in the OUA regular season with such dominance, he earned a shot at the title match against the previously undefeated in the OUA regular season Ty Bridgwater of the Brock Badgers dominant wrestling team. The match was a close one as Zahra narrowly won by a margin of eight to five in his favour. On top of this performance, he was honoured with the title of the OUA’s Outstanding Male Wrestler of the year.
Zahra’s unbeaten day and breakthrough performance was a terrific way to end his fourth year in the OUA with the Marauders squad, before potentially heading to Canadian Junior/Senior Championships.
While Zahra delivered one of the more impressive performances, let’s not forget about the other medalists in the men’s category. Francesco Fortino was the bronze winner in the 57 kg weight class. Trystan Kato also took home a bronze medal in the 72 kg weight class. The silver winners were Connor Quinton in the 68 kg weight class and Bradley MaGarrey in the 90 kg weight class.
Two of the women’s team contenders who earned a bronze medal are Simi Jayeoba within the 63 kg weight class and Joelle Vanderslagt in the 67 kg weight class. It is important to recognize that the women’s team is outnumbered 20 to five by the men’s team, making their two medal mark impressive.
The women’s team ended up with 40 per cent of participants placing with medals and the men’s team finished with 30 per cent of their participants placing with medals. With almost half of the women’s team and just under a third of the men’s team placing on the podium, it is clear that the program has a good shot to continue their success at nationals on Feb. 20-22.
Zahra said, “going into the U Sports Championships I am looking forward to just competing and really leaving it all out there on the mat no matter the result. I’m also looking forward to watching all my teammates compete and show their skills on the national level.”