In high school, the man now in charge of McMaster’s wrestling team called soccer his true passion. So when Cleo Ncube took up wrestling to get stronger during the soccer offseason, he had no idea the sport would take him so far.
Making the provincial team within his first year of wrestling, Ncube also went on to win a Canadian Interuniversity Sport silver medal for Brock University. Soon enough, Ncube was a three-time Senior Canadian Champion, a Pan-Am Games silver medalist and spent nine years on the Canadian National Team. Now, he finds himself as the newest head coach for the McMaster wrestling team.
After retiring from professional wrestling due to injuries, Ncube came to Mac to be a mentor to the team. It was a huge shock to him when he was offered the position of head coach following the retirement of the Nick Cipriano, Mac’s head coach and face of the wrestling program for the past 36 years.
“It’s been a surreal experience in that regard,” said Ncube. “It’s been very interesting but truth be told, it’s been very fulfilling. Each day I’m amazed of how fast the time goes by. It’s been a pleasure working with these kids and to see young minds that have so much hope and are really passionate about something.”
Prior to coming to Hamilton, Ncube had been an assistant coach at Selwyn House, an all-boys high school in Montreal, for several years. Ncube coached several young men who are now current members of the Canadian national team over his tenure there. Although his résumé proves he has what it takes, being the head coach at Mac is something he is still getting used to.
“It’s the first time I had to work with a full team with a men’s program and women’s program, and developing a junior program,” said Ncube.
Another adjustment for Ncube was learning what it takes to run a program at the university level.
“It moves at a different pace than I’m used to,” said Ncube. “I’m used to getting things done without having to go through so many people. So now it’s just adjusting to how they operate, which can be challenging, but it’s an exciting challenge for me.”
Six competitions into the season, Ncube and the McMaster wrestling team have been able to do pretty well and the men’s team is currently sitting at tenth place in the U Sports rankings. With the men’s team winning silver in last year’s Ontario University Athletics Championships the women finishing in fourth place, Ncube’s goal is to continue to help the team grow as a whole and as individuals.
“I believe I have planted the right seeds to really make things flourish properly, but it’s still quite early,” said Ncube. “In terms of individual results, I look at it like I did when I was competing. I’m going to do everything I can do to prepare my athletes to be the best they can. Other than the actual results in and of itself is something we do not know because we have no control over our opponents.”
Current individual standouts amongst the Marauders include first-year wrestlers Olivia Menard, Viduran Thanarajah and Connor Quinton, second-year Benjamin Zahra and fourth-year Jenna Leslie who won an OUA bronze medal in the women’s 59 kg category last season. All of these standouts have really implemented Ncube’s style, focusing on technique and the discipline that is required in order to be successful.
“Overall, I think the team has risen to the occasion and they have really stepped up and are all applying the techniques that they have learned,” said Ncube. “I’m more than proud of what the team has accomplished thus far.”
For the Marauders, the wrestling season is far from over as they still have four more competitions, including the Ontario Junior Provincial Championships and the OUA Championships before they face athletes from across Canada at the U Sports Wrestling Championships on Feb. 23. Under Ncube’s new leadership and competitive drive, Mac’s wrestling team is certainly in the right hands.