By: Griffin Marsh

The Ontario University Athletics’ wrestling season is a grueling affair. Opportunities present themselves through October, November and January, eventually building to the OUA Championships in February.

For McMaster wrestler Benjamin Zahra, the season has certainly been taxing, but has resulted in a rewarding season that is worth writing home about.

As Mac Wrestling heads into the OUA Championships this weekend, Zahra is coming off of an OUA Male Athlete of the Week Award at the end of January, and a perfect performance at the Ontario Junior Championships.

Zahra’s performance at the Junior Championships led to a gold medal in the 79 kg category, posting three clean performances, as he did not give up a point all weekend long.

This performance was even more impressive as it was not Zahra’s first gold medal on the season, adding to his 86 kg Senior Championships gold medal in November. Zahra has already established himself as a top athlete, performing at the top of his game in two weight categories, against two different age categories. He is a wrestler who begs more attention.

However, Zahra is not about to rest on his accomplishments anytime soon. There are still key challenges ahead this season and Zahra treats each practice as an opportunity to work on his technique and continually improve.

“My motivation this season has just been to focus on pushing myself as hard as I can in practice to get better,” said Zahra. “I have been able to push aside all the season’s distractions and really focus on trying to get the best performance out of myself in every practice so that I can be in the best condition for competitions.”

Zahra’s athletic ideology reflects a mindset that was also echoed by head wrestling coach, Cleo Ncube.

Coach Ncube, in his first season at McMaster, brings the mentality of the former Olympian he is, instituting a strict and demanding schedule that challenged many members of the team in the early stages of this season.

Zahra took this challenge and ran with it, still constantly checking in with his motivations and drives.

“It’s a sport that forces you to push yourself harder than you ever thought you could push yourself, which can be very hard,” Zahra said. “This makes the flashes of success throughout the season that much more enjoyable.”

“The motivation for me is the joy I get from the sport,” Zahra added. “It’s important for me to find enjoyment in wrestling because in the big picture, that’s why I have always wrestled.”

Even with what Zahra has accomplished up to this point, he is still looking for more, looking beyond this weekend to the National Championships. Still, one of Zahra’s strongest traits seems to be his poise and focus. He clearly has lofty ambitions, but they are all kept in perspective with clear attention being paid to the small things.

“At the start of the year my main goal was to win the junior national championships at the end of year,” said Zahra. “Although I think this is a goal I am capable of achieving, I have really tried not to focus on it too much throughout the season. Instead, I have set goals for myself in practice that I know if I follow will give me the best chance of becoming a national champion.”

This mindset is one strongly advocated for by Ncube. The wrestling team’s head coach regularly emphasizes the importance of personal growth and consistent effort, not simply a focus on results.

Coach Ncube added that this mentality has been paying off dividends in his eyes, having seen dramatic improvements throughout the roster.

“Up to this point the season has been good,” Zahra added, reflecting on the season. “I have had a chance to compete in many of the university open tournaments along with both the senior and junior provincial championships. I have not had much of a chance to reflect on the season because of the busy tournament schedule, but overall I am happy.”

Looking ahead, the OUA Championships are on Feb. 11 and Zahra is focused on another key performance.

“For this upcoming OUA championships my goal is to compete the best I can and hopefully have an excellent performance,” said Zahra. “This is the same goal I have going into every tournament because it is the one thing I am in complete control of.”

This idea of complete control is something that runs through of Zahra’s competitions. It feels like at this stage in his young career he is in control — in control of his regime, in control of his preparation and in control of his game. Week in and week out, he is in charge. This is a McMaster athlete to keep your eye on, this weekend and beyond.

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