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U of R wrestlers shine at Canada West championships

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

While the University of Regina men’s wrestling program proved that it is bigger, faster and stronger than the rest of Canada West, the women’s team was still experiencing some growing pains at the Canada West championships last weekend.   

The Cougars had the extra pressure of having the big stage set up at the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport. Although some wrestlers shied away from the spotlight, others fed off of competing in front of their hometown crowd.

For Leo McGee, the head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams, hosting the championships was an absolute joy.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “In the sport of wrestling we do it on a rotational basis, so it cycles through the conference and so it was our turn to host this year. Of course, as a coach you look at that ahead of time and you want strong representation from the institution.”

With the university backing them up, the men’s team was able to successfully defend its title and capture its 10th Canada West championship in school history.

“People talk about a ‘student-athlete experience’ and it couldn’t be better than this,” McGee noted. “Here we are, we are in our own gymnasium, you have a chance to win a championship – the tenth championship in this history of the school – get a cut of history, and it doesn’t get better than that.”

Although the youthful women’s team may not have taken home the trophy, a place on the podium is something its members can also be proud of.

“The women had a strong performance,” McGee said. “That was really, really good for a young team.”

A humble McGee suggests that, by taking one look at the personnel of other universities, some fans may be surprised that the women finished as strongly as they did.

“When you are finishing ahead of the University of Calgary with a coach like Mitch Ostburg, things are going right,” McGee said. “I like [our] team; we had two kids come back to it that played a huge role for us and we have the nucleolus of a strong team for the future.

“We have a lot of good kids here, and I just think that the women’s program is going to move very, very quickly.”

One member that McGee was extremely pleased to have back on his roster was Jasmine Slinn, who returned to the mat after taking a season off to have her first baby.

Slinn – who finished the weekend with a gold medal around her neck, and atop the 48 kilogram division – was quite pleased with her progress over the weekend.

“I am happy, I learned a lot about myself too,” Slinn said. “I know that I lost a match and I ended up winning, but from losing that match it made me a better wrestler and it prepares me more for CIS.

“The [Canada West Championships] is where you know if you qualify and CIS is more of a big deal so I was happy. Our team did a lot, we have a young team, that’s the thing, but I am happy about it.”

Although Slinn was able to become a Canada West champion, she admits that wrestling in front of her hometown crowd was a little bit unsettling.

“I felt a lot more pressure just because all of my family came and my brothers drove down from La Ronge and my daughter is here too,” said Slinn, who is in her fourth year of eligibility. “Just to have them and have that extra pressure – especially from being off the mat previously – I am happy to have it at home but it was way more pressure.

“It was also nerve-racking; I was prepared to go out and beat up the girls but it is a lot more pressure when you want to impress your family.”

Coach McGee also realized there would be added pressure for not only Slinn, but for all of the Cougars wrestlers that had friends and family in attendance.

“Well I think there is always a lot of pressure when you are at home,” he said. “When you are a coach – there is no pressure on the coach – but you want to modify the environment a little bit. We had a couple of kids that started out yesterday afternoon that started out like a deer in the headlights.

“It was just like ‘wow,’ they were doing stuff that they never do, and trying to talk to them between periods they would just be staring off into space. That takes place in sports, you have to be very conscious of that, that was the biggest concern wrestling at home.”

While Slinn may have been nervous on the inside, it was clear to McGee and everyone else in attendance that she was able to harness the nervous energy and use it to her advantage, something that she hopes to continue at the CIS championships on Feb. 24 in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“I want to win it, I do,” Slinn admitted. “I am not going to go in there second guessing myself. I want to go in there and win it and I am going to train to win.”

While this was the first Canada West gold medal for Slinn, finishing first in the country is somewhat old news for the men’s team.

“We have won it nine times before, this is the big ten,” McGee said. “This started a while ago, [these kids] have grown up with the program, and with the addition of a couple of kids at weights that we needed, we have had a tremendous tradition here and a lot of outstanding teams. For these guys to be in a position to win a tenth championship it is a little bigger than eleventh or eighth.”

For McGee, the 10th championship is not only an accomplishment for the current wrestlers at the U of R but also a testament to all current and former members who have passed through the university.

“It was huge not only for these kids but big, big, big for the program and for all of those guys that were here before them,” he said. “All of those teams that were champions and kids that came up close trying to win it. In wrestling, there is a lot of guys out in the community who are coaching now or who have coached who have put there heart and sole into this program; it is about those guys, so that is why this championship is so big.

“It wasn’t just these 10 guys. It was about all of those other teams that came before them.”

With the Canada West title secured, McGee is now looking towards a chance for another national title, and he doesn’t plan to waste any time making preparations.

“We will practice for the day and we will start probably [Sunday] afternoon,” he said. “[Sunday] I will start looking at the expectation from across the nation and see where we stand there and we will be strong going into it. We have some strong individuals, and I think that we have a chance to do well.”

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