West Coast wrestlers are fixing their game-faces for the season’s final push.
Ucluelet Secondary School’s wrestling season follows a fast and furious format with roughly 10 tournaments squeezed between November and the provincial finals in March.
An Alberni Invitational tournament held this weekend served as the final tune-up before the Island Championships on Salt Spring Island Feb. 12.
The Islands will determine placing at the Provincials being held in Abbotsford.
Wrestling coach Mike Rhodes believes his USS Girls team will make it to the Provincials and be successful at them but he’s currently focused on reclaiming the Island title lost to Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS) last year.
He said the second-place Island finish was disappointing but his girls shot back up to place second at the provincials, the best BC-wide finish in USS history.
“The girls finished really well last year and so far they’ve picked up where they left off, we’ve had some very strong placings,” he said.
He expects ADSS to again be worthy Island adversaries but is optimistic about his team’s chances.
“Given the crew that we have, they’ve got a pretty good shot at the Islands. Provincials are up in the air,” he said adding he expects a top five finish from the USS girls in Abbotsford.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to compete well individually and that should hopefully put us in good standing for another strong finish.”
He said the USS Boys team has produced solid individual wrestlers but does not have the numbers to effectively compete Island-wide.
“It’s more a mainstream sport still for boys in a lot of other communities, whereas here in Ucluelet I think the success of the girls has led to more success,” he said.
“For whatever reason it’s been very popular with the girls out here and success breeds success. They’re very tough. Even the ones who are new to the sport are doing well and it’s a good solid team atmosphere. They have each other to train with and train against and that really helps.”
He said USS offers a solid roster of alumni for aspiring wrestlers to look up to and once students get into the sport they stay.
“It tends to be one of these sports that once you get bit by the bug, so to speak, it sticks with you,” he said adding many young locals follow older siblings onto the wrestling mat.
“Once they get into it they find they really enjoy it.”
He added the sport is a key character-builder that helps develop physical and emotional strength.
“There’s a lot more to it then just the wins or the losses, it’s a real character-building experience. You learn discipline, you learn that hard work pays off, you learn sportsmanship and leadership,” he said.
“Our senior athletes are fantastic leaders they work well with the younger members on the team and when they’re competing around the province and they’re wrestling against newer or less competitive athletes they display fantastic sportsmanship and will even help guide or coach other wrestlers.”
He added USS’ wrestling success has been well-earned.
“It’s not a fluke. They work hard, they’re at practice and they’re pushing each other and they’re working hard and they’re sweating but they’re loving it. They’re enjoying that hard work and pushing each other,” he said.
“That leads to success and it’s not necessarily the end results, it’s the whole process of the season that I think really sticks with these kids and is a really positive thing to have in our school and in our community.”
Local kids don’t need to wait for high school to get into the game as the West Coast’s wrestling program starts in Grade 1.
“We get out and roll around, we play games we have a good time, they learn a few skills and then we finish off with a couple little mini tournaments,” Rhodes said of the younger wrestlers.
“It’s a really positive activity for kids, especially those that have been around the sport for a few years, they’ve made fantastic connections with other teams and students and athletes around the province; they’ve gotten to travel and see other things.”
He added students who stick with the sport gain tremendous benefits.
“It’s a fun sport and it’s a great foundational sport. You learn body awareness, you learn balance, you learn strength you learn the ability to tumble and to roll and to feel comfortable within yourself and you notice it more and more the older the kids get,” he said.
“The young kids love to do that stuff anyhow, they tumble around, but the physical confidence that wrestlers have is very noticeable as they get older.”