On Feb. 11, the McMaster wrestling team welcomed teams from across the province at the Ontario University Athletics Championships in Sports Hall.
While OUA teams like Western and Guelph showed promise during the season, it would take a lot for anyone to match the Brock Badgers, who came in as the defending champions and the number one ranked team in the country.
Overall, the hosting Marauders grabbed 12 medals at the event, and will be sending 12 wrestlers to the University of Winnipeg on Feb. 24 to compete in the U Sports Championships.
“Cipriano does a good job in preparing us for the big tournaments. I have full confidence in him and myself that I will be where I want to be in two weeks right before the championships.”
Leading the way on the men’s side was fourth-year Jobanjit Phulka, who was the lone Marauder to finish first in his weight class. Phulka, wrestling in the 90kg weight class, beat out Clayton Pye from Brock to capture gold, and was a huge contributor to the McMaster men’s team, who placed second overall. Winning gold is special in its own right, but for Phulka, doing so in front of the Maroon and Grey faithful made it even sweeter.
“It’s always nice to compete at home,” Phulka said. “I have competed at Mac before, but this being the OUA Championship was a little more special. Having the home crowd cheering you on adds to the excitement and winning in front of them makes it more special… I’d rather focus on the competition at hand, but being at home is definitely nice.”
Phulka highlighted the efforts of wrestling head coach Nick Cipriano as a key contributor to his success and for the rest of the team.
“Cipriano does a good job in preparing us for the big tournaments,” Phulka said. “I have full confidence in him and myself that I will be where I want to be in two weeks right before the championships.”
The McMaster men’s team came into the championships ranked third in the U Sports top ten rankings, and was always going to have their work cut out for them. The Brock Badgers, the top team in the nation, ran away with the overall gold, having captured eight gold medals out of a possible 11 on the men’s side.
“Brock runs a good program, and it shows in their results,” Phulka said. “They are definitely one of the top teams in most weights, but there were a lot of other great schools like Western and Guelph. We were more focused on the competition as a whole and not really just one team in particular.”
The men’s team managed to place second overall ahead of Western, thanks in large part to the gold medal performance of Phulka. The Marauders found success in most of the weight divisions, with multiple wrestlers – including third-year Robert Smith, rookie Bennet Zahra, and team captain and fifth-year Ahmed Shamiya – all capturing silver in their respective weight classes.
On the women’s side, Monica Wood and Nicole Roach both managed to capture silver medals, while Jenna Leslie and Charlene Forde-Smith finished third. Thanks to their respective podium finishes, all four women will also be travelling to Winnipeg. Overall, the women’s team fell just shy of reaching the podium, finishing fourth, just three points behind Western.
As the team shifts their sights to the U Sports Championships, the Brock Badgers are not the only power house team in front of them. The Marauders will face stiff competition from wrestlers from the University of Alberta, who have been ranked second behind Brock for the majority of the season. The University of Winnipeg – hosts of the tournament – rank fourth, while the University of Calgary rounds out the top five.
With two weeks to prepare for the last tournament of the season, the team will hope to bring their hometown success out west with them.