Men’s, women’s wrestling teams drive each other to success at No. 1-ranked University of Alberta

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At the midway point of the 2022-23 season, the University of Alberta sits atop the U Sports wrestling world.

In a sport where it can be difficult to glean composite results with 10 different weight classes in men’s competition and nine different classes for the women, Alberta is well-represented anywhere you want to look.

The women’s team (called the Pandas) has held the top spot by a sizeable gap since the beginning of the season, but the men’s team (named the Golden Bears) has been in a battle with the Brock Badgers, McMaster Marauders, Saskatchewan Huskies and Western Mustangs for the No. 1 spot in the country since the season began.

“We’re looking to just make each other better,” said Golden Bears wrestler Elias Wile, the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 72 kg. “Whenever those girls step up, and they’re ranked No. 1 and we’re ranked No. 2 like a few weeks ago, obviously we’re really happy for them, but we want to be No. 1, too. That just pushes us to go a little bit further.”

The Golden Bears were plenty motivated to earn that top spot at the Huskie Open in Saskatchewan in late November. The sophomore Wile delivered one of four golds for the men’s team, taking down No. 3-ranked Brantley Saar of the Calgary Dinos in the final and propelling the Golden Bears to a team victory, along with top spot in the men’s rankings.

The Pandas added three gold medals of their own to win the women’s event, one of which was won by second-year Vianne Rouleau, the country’s top wrestler at 76 kg.

“Everyone was helping each other out, filming matches, and watching their teammates,” Rouleau said. “I can remember people cheering me on during my matches, which is really nice, because sometimes tournaments are very spread out and you don’t see your teammates as much… It was really incredible.”

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There is no shortage of top wrestlers to cheer on as Alberta boasts a combined 15 wrestlers that rank in the top five in their respective weight classes, 13 of which rank either No. 1 or No. 2.

On the women’s side, Rouleau is one of three women to be ranked No. 1, alongside Robbie Ann Pingal (56 kg) and Andrea Franko (72 kg). Four more are ranked second: Amy Bell (59 kg), Aleah Nickel (63 kg), Katie Mulkay (67 kg), and Deanna Eastman (82kg); while Jenna Petryna (53 kg) is third and Jaitlyn Labell (50 kg) is fifth.

Alec Montoya joins Wile at the top of the men’s rankings in the 65 kg weight class. Four more athletes are ranked No. 2: Talon Hird (57 kg), Ben Reid (61 kg), Aidan Stevenson (82 kg), and Taran Goring (90 kg).

Despite the varying weight classes of the athletes, it’s not just cheerleading at competitions and coaching tips between the men’s and women’s groups that help boost one another up, but a technical exercise at practice as well.

“There are times where our guys will train with our girls as well, and that gives us a different feel,” Wile said. “Although its the same sport, there are different technical pieces that are a little different. Getting some higher intensity from those practices definitely helps both sides.

“From top to bottom our teams are a really tight-knit group, a lot of us grew up together in the Edmonton Wrestling Club [EWC].”

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Born in Bridgewater, N.S., Wile moved to Edmonton when he was in the 12th grade in search of a more competitive wrestling environment, which University of Alberta head coach Owen Dawkins has helped foster, both at the University of Alberta, and the EWC.

While Wile has been a member and a coach at the EWC for five years, Edmonton native Rouleau’s path to the club was a little bit different.

“The Canada Summer Games was going on [the year I joined the Edmonton Wrestling Club],” said Rouleau. “I made the team as an alternate, and coach Dawkins was the head coach. He encouraged all of us who were in Edmonton to come out to the EWC practices.

“I just found that it was that next level of wrestling that I think I needed to push me from where I was with junior high wrestling. It helped elevate my techniques.”

Rouleau’s time at the EWC has set her on a track to contend not only at the U Sports level, but on the national level as well.

Fresh off of a gold medal at the Junior Pan-American Championships in Oaxtepec, Mexico in July, the sophomore also collected a silver and bronze at the 2019 and 2018 Cadet Pan-Am championships, respectively. She also has her sights set on making the U-23 Canadian team in the fall.

Coming off a gold medal at the Canada West (CW) Wrestling Championships, her trophy cabinet may have been stocked even more had the 2022 U Sports Championship not been cancelled because of COVID.

It all adds up to added motivation for the 2022 Canada West champions fuelled by healthy competition on the mats at the EWC.

“I see a lot of these guys seven days a week,” said Wile. “I’m with them every day, 12 hours a day. They’re like family to me, and especially [considering some of us] don’t have families out here as we live by ourselves, it goes a long way.”

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