Glendale High School's small but mighty team of wrestlers won two gold medals, a silver and bronze Monday at the WOSSAA wrestling championships, hosted by Glendale in Tillsonburg.
Representing the Gemini at WOSSAA were Andrew Leliveld, Jack McCormick, Brayden Ambo, Michael Ram, Adam Fardella and Ben Harvey.
Flawless summed up Leliveld's performance wrestling in the 47.5 kg division. The Grade 10 athlete won two matches to take the gold, earning his first trip to OFSAA in Brampton, March 4-6 with a quick pin.
"I didn't have a point on me in two matches," noted Leliveld, a first-year wrestler who dropped down a weight class for WOSSAA with an eye on qualifying for the provincial championships.
"I was hoping to make it to OFSAA. I had to work at it, but it was worth it. Usually I'm in 51 kg, so I've never wrestled this group of guys before. My opponents weren't very experienced."
By dropping down, Leliveld, who was 15-4 this season at 51 kg, avoided wrestling Grade 10 Glendale teammate Adam Fardella, who dropped into the 51 kg category.
"I didn't want to end up wrestling a teammate," said Leliveld, who needs to maintain his 47.5 kg weight for OFSAA. "I didn't want to wrestle Adam and I thought this way he could probably go too."
"I'm hoping there's a lot more competition at OFSAA – I'm sure there will be. It's going to be tough. I want to get a medal, that would be great."
Michael Ram won back-to-back to reach the bronze medal match after an early loss in the 83 kg division, including a 17-6 decision over Clarke Road's Matt Ross.
"Overall, yeah, seventeen's a lot," Ram nodded. "I'm not really used to having a long match. At the start of the match it was basically trying to get little points, like two points to get around him and stuff. Then at the end I knew I had to pick it up so I was going for the bigger points, bigger moves."
Ram said fatigue was a factor in his early loss to a wrestler who trains with the UWO team (as does Gemini teammate Brayden Ambo).
"I'm pretty sure he gained weight to come into ours, so he's a bit faster than everybody else. And overall really good. It was close but he just outwrestled me."
Without a full season last year, and an ankle injury to start the current season, Ram, who wrestled with a taped ankle Monday, figures they combine for one full year of wrestling experience.
He did not get a chance to challenge the silver medallist, who lost to Ingersoll's Clayton Pye, who Ram said was a national-level wrestler.
"I wrestled him (Pye) last time and it was a close match. He won 4-2. I went for a takedown, he re-rolled me and pinned me. It was a good match – really good."
Ram finished with a bronze medal pinning his opponent within 30 seconds.
"It was really quick," he nodded. "I expected more of a match, more of a fight.
"It was a good day, I basically just faced one of the better guys in my first match. I just wish it was Top 3 going to OFSAA."
Ben Harvey lost 11-9 to a London Beal wrestler trying to reach the bronze medal match, then pinned St. Joe's John Robbins for fifth overall in the 64 kg division. It was 7-7 late in the match, then Harvey went up by one point. In hindsight, he might have changed strategy.
"Right at the end, instead of being so offensive and coming at him I probably would have let him come to me," said Harvey, a rookie Grade 9 wrestler. "I had 13 seconds to kill. I was trying to play it offensively and it kind of misfired.
"I was ready for it... I was pretty sure it was going to be a double leg. I was just tired. I didn't have enough strength left – he's very strong."
Harvey's season leading up to WOSSAA included "a lot of firsts and two thirds," and coach Lloyd Renken said he was overall relatively dominant.
"Every match gives you a lot of experience," said Harvey, looking forward to next season. "I need to try new things... I need to get better at hand fighting, I need to get better at setting things up."
Adam Fardella won a silver medal in the 51 kg class, losing to Huron Park's Sheldon Macdonald by two points in Monday afternoon's final.
"It was 7-0 at the end of the first round," said Fardella, who fell behind early but rebounded in the second round to make it 9-9.
"At one point I was actually winning because I had a four-point takedown. Then he got a quick one on me when I wasn't expecting it. So he got a couple points from that and he was up. Right at the end I knew I had to shoot quickly and I took him down. I got the points for that and it was 15-13 for him. I was just getting him into a pin position, literally, I had him in the cradle position... then the buzzer went. Another few seconds and I would have had him. It was so close."
Like Leliveld, this will be Fardella's first OFSAA.
"We both wanted to lose weight because the competition's a little bit easier," said Fardella, who at 53.6 kg took off nearly 3 kg in two-three days leading up to Thursday's weigh-in. "The guys are little bit smaller, less strong. It's not a huge difference, but it's noticeable."
The veteran on Glendale's team, fifth-year wrestler Brayden Ambo, cruised through WOSSAA winning gold in his 72 kg division. Ambo, who was 33-0 in high school matches leading up to Monday's tournament, won comfortably all day, including a 13-2 decision in the gold-medal match.
"I'm not even sure how he scored the two, it was just kind of a interpretation that I had 'maybe' exposed my back. But other than that, I shot in, got behind and got wrenched for the rest of the points and got the win for having 10 more points than my opponent."
His semifinal round lasted a little longer, and Ambo was tossed for a four-pointer, but quickly scored multiple points on the mat rolling his opponent.
"I didn't feel the momentum change (by the four-point toss). I feel like I was a better wrestler, it was just a mistake on my part. I kept my weight up too high and he just tossed me."
Ambo had qualified for OFSAA in Grade 9, returned in Grade 10 but did not medal, then won an OFSAA bronze medal in Grade 11. There was no provincial tournament last year, but he would have been seeded Top 2. This year he expects to be seeded Top 3.
"It's been an awesome season so far," said Ambo, looking forward to his final OFSAA. "My goal is to make semifinals and finals."
Ambo said his coach puts "just the right amount" of pressure on him when it comes to OFSAA.
"He doesn't make me feel overwhelmed, but he does let me know that I'm good enough and where I can finish. That really helps with my confidence knowing I can make my goal happen."
"Gold is the goal," said Glendale coach Lloyd Renken, "and he has the potential to do it. It's just a matter of doing it that day and staying healthy."
There were 207 wrestlers competing at WOSSAA, which had been postponed from Friday.
"It's pretty much what we expected," said Renken, looking forward to taking three wrestlers to Brampton. "On the optimistic side, we were hoping a couple more might sneak in to OFSAA – Michael Ram (bronze) and Ben Harvey.
"Overall, I'm proud of the kids."