The Brock Badgers won their seventh-straight U SPORTS Wrestling Championship Saturday, Feb. 22 with four women’s gold medals and three men’s. They pulled off the sweep on home soil, winning their 10th women’s title and 20th men’s title in the Bob Davis Gymnasium at Brock University.
“We’ve been looking forward to this all year,” said Head Coach Marty Calder. “To be able to win here in front of our home crowd is everything.”
Despite the wrestling dynasty that Brock has become, Calder said the pressure was more on winning the 2020 title and less on continuing the legacy of success.
“It’s hard to put the pressure to sustain that on them. They’re just looking at this national championship – our team, this year,” said Calder, who was named the U SPORTS Wrestling Fox 40 Coach of the Year at the post-tournament banquet Saturday night. “Maybe that’s why we’re able to do it because we’re not looking to load the last six years on our back and say we have to keep it going.
“We’re extremely proud of the effort these student-athletes make day-in and day-out in the wrestling room and the classroom,” he said.
Among the four women’s gold medals won by Brock were the two captured by Julie Steffler and Hannah Taylor, who were rivals on the wrestling mat for four years before becoming Brock Badgers teammates.
A year ago, Taylor beat Steffler, who was with Western at the time, to win her second-straight women’s 59 kg title. After graduating with her undergrad degree, Steffler decided to switch to Brock to take a Master of Professional Kinesiology, and brought with her one more year of U SPORTS eligibility.
“It really feels like a big family at Brock,” said Steffler, who sat out her third year at Western after tearing her ACL. “We’ve had an ongoing rivalry, but we’ve always respected each other so it’s been awesome to be her teammate.”
After watching Steffler win the 59 kg gold medal bout, Taylor dominated the 63 kg final, beating Lakehead’s Madison Clayton.
“It means a lot. I’m at a new weight class so I wanted to continue being dominant,” she said. “It also feels great to have the home crowd and showcase what Brock is about and our abilities as athletes.”
Taylor said she has enjoyed having her former rival now pushing her as a teammate.
“It’s good that I have such a strong competitor as a teammate,” she said. “I get pushed by her every single day, so it’s a good relationship. I’m grateful to have her as my teammate.”
The first gold medal of the day Saturday came from fourth-year Badgers wrestler Ligrit Sadiku, who beat Calgary’s Emmanuel Olapade in the men’s 65 kg final.
While it was Sadiku’s third-straight U SPORTS title, the Summerside, P.E.I. native admitted his attention is focused more on the 2020 Summer Olympics.
“This isn’t what my ultimate goal is. I want to go to the Olympics, so this is just a stepping stone,” said Sadiku, who will next compete in the Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament in Ottawa from March 13 to 15. “Just winning isn’t enough so I’m glad I was challenged. Even though I won, I’m not happy with it. I let off the gas a bit and he took advantage of that. That’s the mistake I made and that’s what I’ll learn from.”
While the Olympics are also his biggest priority, a gold in the men’s 100 kg category was a big relief for Brock’s Clayton Pye.
The fifth-year Ingersoll native won the U SPORTS title in 2018 but lost in the semi-finals last year. He came into the 2020 Championships having won the Olympic Trials in Niagara Falls in December.
“There was just so much pressure on me to win, and I was pretty dominant throughout the tournament, but I was still a little bit nervous because it meant so much more,” Pye said. “I really wanted to win.”
In addition to the gold medals won by Sadiku and Pye, their teammate Cruiz Manning took gold in the 68 kg division, where he quickly beat McMaster’s Connor Quinton.
Winning additional gold medals for the Brock women were Shauna Kuebeck, who beat Saskatchewan’s Maddison Haney in the 82 kg division and Skyler Grote, who handily beat Calgary’s Ellise Daynes in the 67 kg division.
The title was was redemption for Grote, a New Jersey native who chose to wrestle at Brock over going the NCAA route. In her rookie year, she had to overcome adversity to win a bronze medal at the 2019 U SPORTS Wrestling Championships.
“I was the first seed going in last year and in the first match I lost by a point and had to battle back,” she said. “That was in the back of my mind in this tournament. I just wanted to come back and prove that I am number one.”
An American citizen, Grote is trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. To do so, she has to finish first or second at a final qualifying event in Pennsylvania at the end of March, and then make it through the Olympic trials five days later.
“I think this was a great opportunity to put pressure on myself because I am going to be under pressure in a month,” she said. “There was a national championship on the line, so it mimics the situation I’ll be in. I wanted to win this and get a little momentum.”
Other Brock wrestlers on the podium included Samantha Romano, silver in 48 kg, Garette Saunders, silver in 57 kg, Joseph Martin, Joseph Martin, bronze in 61 kg, Ty Bridgwater, bronze in 76 kg, Ignatius Pitt, bronze in 90 kg and Richard Deschatelets, silver in 120 kg.