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Ucluelet Secondary School wrestlers celebrate success at provincials

Olivia Rhodes wrestles her way to a gold medal

The West Coast welcomed home a beaming team of star athletes last week, including a newly crowned provincial champion.

The Ucluelet Secondary School wrestlers shined at the provincial wrestling championships at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver from February 24-26 with the girls’ team earning a third place finish overall.

The girls were led by Grade 10 wrestler Olivia Rhodes, who fought her way to a gold medal, besting the silver she received at the provincials two years ago.

“It was amazing,” Rhodes told the Westerly News. “It was like a dream, I just started jumping in the air.”

She said her favourite part of the experience was having her dad Mike Rhodes and brother Owen Rhodes blasting support from her coaching corner.

Mike said coaching his daughter alongside Owen was an unforgettable experience.

“There is almost no way to describe the feeling of getting to coach beside my son while my daughter wrestled her way to a gold medal. Watching the referee raise his hand to call a pin was almost surreal, and then the energy and excitement just exploded as it all sunk in. It’s a moment we will all cherish forever,” he said.

Olivia said she’s excited to attempt a repeat performance next season.

“I’m definitely going for gold again next season,” she said. “This year I was the underdog, but next year I want to be the best, so I’m going to have to step it up.”

Paul Cagna, who coached the team alongside Owen, said he was thrilled to see Olivia’s tenacious commitment to training and improving pay off at the event.

“She’s definitely an exceptional wrestler. It was awesome to watch her, in my opinion, just roll right through everyone,” he said.

He added the girls’ third place finish overall was a significant feat for the relatively small USS over much larger schools thanks to strong performances from Olivia as well as Caitlyn Midlane, Ava Duncan and Elsa Wagner, who suffered a dislocated elbow during a match but quickly returned from the hospital to cheer on her team.

Midlane was taking in her first provincial championship experience and earned a bronze medal.

“I was so proud. I was jumping up and down,” Midlane said. “It’s really exciting.”

She added her confidence kept up with her nerves throughout each of her six matches.

“I was more excited than nervous, but I was definitely really nervous,” she said, “The last match for sure I thought I was going to win and that I definitely had it, and then she really gave me a challenge and I got really scared for a second, but then as soon as I got her on her back I knew I was going to get it.”

The school placed 13th overall, with Grade 12 wrestler Owen Rhodes—who didn’t lose a single match on Vancouver Island this season and earned a gold medal at the Island championships—and Evan Johansen each earning sixth place finishes.

Owen took on a coaching role this year and said he enjoyed the added responsibility.

“It was a challenge, but a challenge that I wanted for sure. I was confident in myself that I could do it,” he said. “We needed somebody and I felt I was the guy for the job, so I stepped up.”

He added that while he’s just wrapped up his final high school wrestling season and is headed for graduation this summer, he hopes to return to coach the USS team again next season.

“As soon as you start wrestling, you never really stop. It’s kind of a lifelong endeavour it seems like,” he said. “I can’t wait until next year to see everybody improve again. Certain people you can tell are just going to be naturally good wrestlers and we definitely have a few of those on our team, so it’s great for me to be able to watch them and help them improve.”

Cagna got involved with the team immediately after accepting a teaching position at USS and moving to the community from Terrace mid-season and said he was fortunate to have a team leader like Owen to lean on.

“He’s been doing it for quite some time, so he ended up showing me a lot of things and it was a great season,” Cagna said. “The sporting behaviour, the sportsmanship and the comradery was just amazing. Everyone is very welcoming. Everyone wants to grow the sport.”

He added the team is chock to the brim with a natural dedication to support each other.

“Everyone just sharpens each other up,” he said. “It’s an atmosphere of learning. They go through the positions and the motions and everyone learns together.”

Wrestling season will start up again in November and Cagna encourages any students interested in getting involved to give it a try.

“It helps build confidence, self esteem, self efficacy and all that good stuff and it’s a good workout,” he said. “If you want to be part of a team of individuals who wants everyone to get better and a team of individuals who care, then join up and come see what it’s all about.”

He hopes to see USS continue its wrestling success next season, despite the departure of the graduating Rhodes.

“You can’t replace someone like that, but we do have a lot of dedicated wrestlers and community members who all continue to make the team be successful,” he said.

“We have a defending provincial champion now so everyone is going to be looking to us and, hopefully, we can get back on the horse, saddle up and have another good year next year…We’re definitely going to go out there and have fun and continue to grow the program and continue to represent.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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