The Lakehead men’s wrestling team made history on Saturday, ending one of the OUA’s most dominant championship runs, to a certain extent. With 59 points apiece the CIS No. 3 Thunderwolves shared the conference title with the 15-time defending champion No. 10 Brock Badgers at the Western Mustangs-hosted event at London, Ontario. It was the first OUA championship in the rich wrestling history of Lakehead men’s wrestling and the first time since 1970-71 that the OUA men’s championship was shared when Waterloo and Western earned top honours.
Always a contender, Lakehead, despite having produced several national champion and Olympic wrestlers dating back to its years in the Great Plains Athletic Conference had consistently been hidden in the large shadow of the powerhouse Badgers program since joining the OUA in the late 1980s. Behind gold-medal efforts from junior Gaston Tardif (Calgary) in the 57 kg division, freshman Dustin Helwig (Belfountain, Ontario) in the 61 kg weight class, and senior Corey Lee (La Salle, Ontario) in the 82 kg group Lakehead grabbed a piece of the conference spotlight in head coach Brock Curtis’ first season at the helm.
Lakehead’s three men’s gold medals tied the Guelph Gryphons for tops at the meet while five others reached the podium.
On the women’s side, the Thunderwolves snagged 39 points and earned a team bronze with sophomore Aislynn Torfason (Winnipeg) winning the 59 kg gold and senior Nicole Plummer (Windsor, Ontario) taking top spot in the 82 kg weight class.
Coach Curtis, named OUA coach of the year, was humbled by his alma mater’s unprecedented ascent but thrilled by the persistence and camaraderie of his squad. “Not only did the men’s team win, but the women’s team wrestled incredibly well,” said Curtis, a former CIS silver medalist. “It was great wrestling. What a team. We had such support on the sidelines for our teammates. It was like a family on the sidelines, like a home crowd.”
The Thunderwolves’ accomplishments were attained despite several obstacles. Defending CIS 72 kg champion Chadd Lee (La Salle, Ontario) was unable to compete due to injury and in the 130 kg division, freshman Preston Mikulasik (Thunder Bay) capped an improbable recovery from a lower body injury to grab a silver medal.
On the women’s side, senior Katelyn Proulx (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) was a late substitute for CIS 82 kg champion Emma Brightwell (Guelph, Ontario) in the 72 kg weight class and also took silver.
Other Thunderwolves wrestlers to contribute to the overall medal haul were men’s grapplers Steve Gross (Cambridge, Ontario) winning 54 kg bronze, Jason Bresele (Thunder Bay) attaining 65 kg bronze and Scott Christian (Brampton, Ontario) pinning bronze in the 68 kg class. Junior Laurel Knowles (Desbarats, Ontario) took the women’s fourth medal in the 63 kg group.
Lakehead podium finishers will all head to the CIS Championships, March 5-6 at the University of Calgary.