Abbotsford (Dan Kinvig) – The University of the Fraser Valley wrestling program is taking the deepest roster in its young history into the 2018-19 Canada West campaign, which kicks off this weekend at the Calgary Dinos Invitational.
The Cascades, now in Year 5 of their Canada West tenure, have athletes entered in all 11 men’s weight classes for the first time. Additionally, five of eight women’s weight classes are covered – also a program-high.
And it’s not just quantity for the Cascades, it’s also quality. Head coach Raj Virdi welcomes a highly accomplished recruiting class to join forces with a strong group of returnees.
“It’s very challenging, when you have a small team, to compete for a championship,” noted Virdi, whose Cascades will host the Canada West wrestling championships for the first time, Feb. 8-9 at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre. “But we’ve got a big team now, and they’re pushing each other to get better every day.
“We’re a young group, but I expect big things from them regardless, and they do of themselves as well. I hope this weekend goes well, so we can show Canada West and U SPORTS where we’re at.”
On the men’s side, the UFV squad is led by returning U SPORTS national gold medalists Brad Hildenbrandt and Parker McBride. Fourth-year Cascade Hildenbrandt won his second straight national crown in the heavyweight (120 kg) division, and he was co-winner of UFV’s male athlete of the year award (shared with golfer Daniel Campbell).
“Brad has been awesome for the program,” Virdi enthused. “He’s a great leader, he’s very responsible, and he’s loyal. He’s worked hard his entire time here. He leads by example – he doesn’t have to say much, but all the freshmen look at him and want to train like him.”
McBride, meanwhile, won gold in the 54 kg weight class, and was subsequently voted the U SPORTS male rookie of the year. He became the first UFV athlete across all sports to win a rookie of the year award at the U SPORTS level, and he’s moving up to the 57 kg weight class this season.
The Cascades’ returning contingent also features 2018 Canada West medallists Jacob Torres (silver, 61 kg), De’Andre Williams (silver, 76 kg) and Karan Dhillon (bronze, 72 kg). All three will wrestle at new weight classes this season (65 kg, 72 kg, and 82 kg, respectively).
The men’s rookie class is headlined by a pair of athletes who have competed for Team Canada at the youth level, Sunny Benning (90 kg) and Jason Bains (100 kg). Fellow first-years Amarvir Atwal (76 kg), Simren Brar (54 kg), Gurjot Gill (68 kg) and Ali Rahguzar (61 kg) also sit atop the depth chart in their weight classes.
The Cascades women’s team is headlined by reigning Canada West rookie of the year and U SPORTS silver medalist Ana Godinez Gonzalez.
“She works so hard every single day, all the girls already look up to her and she’s only in her second year,” Virdi said of Godinez Gonzalez. “She’s a great leader because she doesn’t just look out for her own interests, she looks out for others. She’s going to be very successful, not just in U SPORTS but wherever she goes in wrestling.”
Amber Wiebe, a fourth-year transfer from the University of Regina, brings great experience and skill at the 51 kg level. She’s medaled each of the past two years at the Canada West level (gold in 2017, silver in 2018), and she added a U SPORTS bronze medal in 2017.
Sophomore Cascade Brittany Chiu (59 kg) returns, aiming to build on a fourth-place finish at last year’s CW championships, and former Team Canada competitors Calista Espinosa (48 kg) and Hannah Tuplin (55 kg) comprise an outstanding rookie class.
After training since the start of September, Virdi is excited to watch his new-look squad in a proper competition setting this weekend.
“I want to see how they execute during tournaments, when the matches get long and tough,” he said. “Most matches are lost in the last 30 seconds, and I want to see how they deal with the pressure of a university tournament, many of them for the first time.”