By Chad Ouellette
Ottawa athletes finished strong with 13 top six finishes at the OFSAA Wrestling 2019 Championships, which took place from March 1 to March 4 at TD Place.
With 786 athletes competing from across Ontario on what is usually the hockey rink reserved for the Ottawa 67’s, the arena was booming with fans, coaches and volunteers showing their support. It was the first time since 1966 that Ottawa held an OFSAA wrestling championship.
Longfields-Davidson Heights’ Ismail Ayyoub, who was the reigning OFSAA champion in the 83-kg weight division, built on his success from last year by repeating as champion again this year. He dominated his opponent, Arjun Cheema of Louise Arbour Secondary School, in the gold medal match, with a 10-0 thrashing.
Ayyoub beat Cheema at last year’s nationals as well, but said he keeps his mind open that “anything can happen.”
He won both the provincial and national championships last year, which typically would qualify a wrestler to compete internationally, but Ayyoub hadn’t completed his Canadian citizenship in time. An opponent he beat at nationals last year would go on to finish 3rd in the world in his division. Having acquired his citizenship and secured gold at OFSAA, Ayyoub is on his way to qualifying for his first shot at the world championships this year.
“It’s an exciting feeling,” Ayyoub says. “I’ve been waiting a whole year for this moment. To finally get out. If you keep winning, you’re not learning. You’re learning from your winnings, but you’ve got to lose sometimes to learn, you know, from your mistakes.
“I don’t believe I’m going to get challenged here in Canada. I feel like I’m going to get challenged somewhere internationally.”
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Ottawa’s other gold medallist, Jessica Hong of Sir Robert Borden, secured her third OFSAA medal after capturing gold for the second-straight year. Hong believes that her past success in this level of competition helped her compete.
“Honestly, OFSAA is very mental,” she explains. “It’s very different you know, in the finals everyone’s watching you.”
Hong says that a lot of her teammates who she thought would have had a chance to make the finals didn’t make it there. She beat Our Lady of Lourdes’ Israel Roberts in a 12-3 decision to secure gold, in what wasn’t their first encounter.
“I wrestled her in the Grade 10 semifinals,” she says. “And I beat her then. Last year I didn’t face her because she was on the opposite side of the bracket. And she lost to the girl I beat at finals.”
Out of the 13 top six finishes recorded by Ottawa wrestlers, Sacred Heart Secondary School had the most dominant performances with five of their athletes registering top finishes. Most notable is Max Roxburgh who placed 2nd in the 67.5-kg division after falling victim to the strength and technique of Forest Height’s Colby Saunders. Roxburgh was pinned in the first round.
“You have to go into every match with the same attitude,” says Roxburgh. “You have to always expect your next match to be the toughest. You can’t take anyone lightly.”
Even though he fell short of 1st place, Roxburgh completed what he set out to do.
“My goal in Grade 9 was to make it to OFSAA. I did it,” he recalls. “In Grade 10, my goal was to make the second day, I did it. This year, it was to make the podium. I didn’t really expect to medal, but it’s a bonus. Now it’s all about gold.”
He believes that the success of Sacred Heart’s athletes has to do with the dedication put forth by coaches Ryan and Tim Hickey who take time out of their lives to help train up-and-coming wrestlers.
This OFSAA tournament was brought to Ottawa by two dedicated members of the wrestling community, co-convenors Jason Kirby and Guy MacDougall. Their vision when they became convenors was to help build the sport in the city, which they feel they’ve partially accomplished by successfully hosting the championships.
Athletes who placed on the podium include Ayyoub; Wong; Roxburgh; Yallini Deshpane of Sacred Heart (silver); Matthew Vecchio of Maurice-Lapointe (silver); Luca Brancatelli of Sir Robert Borden (bronze); and Mika Smith of South Carleton High School (bronze).
Ottawa athletes also picked up medals at the OFSAA Swimming championships. In the junior girls division, Ashbury College’s Hannah Laquerre won 1st in the 50 metre breaststroke and 2nd in the 100 metre individual medley. Colonel By’s Kayla Whitehead won a gold medal in the 200 metre individual medley in the open girls division. Glebe Collegiate’s Declan Tucker finished 3rd in the individual medley in the open boys division.
At the OFSAA championships for alpine skiing there were Ottawa-region athletes who won medals as well. Bell High School’s Katie Devenny won gold medals in the girls slalom and giant slalom and Sir Robert Borden’s Weslie Wang won the bronze medal in the boys slalom. South Carleton High School boys team won a bronze medal in the team slalom competition.
At the OFSAA Nordic Skiing Championships, Glebe’s junior boys and Nepean High’s junior girls each won relay championships. Nepean High’s senior girls team placed 3rd in their relay event. St. Pius X’s Katya Semeniuk placed 2nd amongst junior girls, with Glebe’s Katie MacIntosh a spot behind her. Ashbury College’s Luke Allan won the junior boys race.