Three wrestlers of the Cochrane Cowboys are in Fredericton, NB this weekend competing in the national U17 and U19 championships.
U17 Eli Fine and U19 Connor Pointen are both on the mats today and U17 Jaityn Labelle competes tomorrow for the national titles. The championship weekend also serves as the cadet team trials for the 2019 Cadet World Championship and Cadet Pan Am Championship teams.
A fourth wrestler, Keath Dostaler had to withdraw due to a sprained ankle.
While not a member of the Cowboys, Bow Valley High student Braydon Pease is also competing at the nationals after winning gold at the Alberta Open in the U19 92 kg weight class.
It's been another storied season for the Cochrane Cowboys. A talented group of young wrestlers has been leaving their mark in tournaments across Alberta this season.
Only a few weeks ago, the team members returned with a load of medals and team wins at the Alberta Open Wrestling Championships, hosted by Calgary. Both the novice and bantam male and female Cowboys finished first while the female kids team won their team went and the junior boys team won bronze.
Competing in the 53 kg women's freestyle event, Jaityn Labelle comes into the national tournament as a gold medal winner at the Alberta Open. Eli Fines, also having a stellar season, won silver in the 52 kg bantam weight class.
Connor Pointen won gold in the U19 80 kg weight class at the Alberta Open as he continues to excel in his final year of high school age wrestling and trains both with the Cowboys and U of C Dinos. Competing in the Junior Wrestling championship a few weeks back came fifth against some season wrestlers.
That's impressive, says Cowboys head coach Vern McNeice.
"Connor really is wrestling at a varsity level while he's at high school," says McNeice. "That's not just because he's a good athlete it's because he's worked his tail off. It's a credit to him and his family; they've sacrificed a lot of make it happen and he's a super nice kid."
"I have no doubt he's going to be one of two guys that should be challenging for the gold medal there."
Yet, it's not just Pointen that McNeice speaks highly of. He's proud of the entire team--the wrestlers, the coaches, the parents and the volunteers that make the Cowboys a highly successful team.
"It takes a village to raise a child and that same thing goes for an athlete. We've got a team that supports these kids in every way. I'm very excited for them."
The coaching staff continues to grow and help develop the athletes.
"You have a number of coaches who have leveled at a high level who are coming here to coach these kids. That's pretty exciting, that's going to take this program further than I can."
First Cowboy to Win Sr. National Gold
Cochrane Cowboys alumni continue to excel at the university level and recently Callum McNeice became the first Cowboy to win gold at the senior national level.
In his fourth year with the University of Calgary Dinos, he held off a comeback from Juwan Burgess of the Brock Wrestling Club, in the 79 kg weight class.
McNeice had a 6-1 lead in the first round but went changed to a defensive tactic in the second. With many years remaining as an elite Canadian wrestler, he says it's all part of the learning process
"Even though I did win gold I definitely know I have a lot of work on and learned a lot of lessons," says McCallum.
"Now that I look back at it I should have stayed on the offensive and kept the pace going. But you live and learn, it's kind of a process. It's definitely not the pinnacle of my career. I hope to make a few more national teams in the future."
Another elite Cochrane wrestler in the same weight class, Aidan McKeage, who wrestles with the Golden Bears, was out with injuries. Being new to the weight class, McNeice says he consulted with his close friend prior to the matchup.
"I talked to Aidan and see where his strengths and weaknesses are and made a game plan from there."
"I knew he would be really tough guys. Aidan has wrestled in the past and they had some really close matches."
Vern McNeice says it was a special moment for the Cowboys and his family.
"It was a pretty powerful moment. It was the result of a lot of years of hard work and I think there were tears from all of the McNeice family, including his brother (Connor) who was first down there to give him a big hug. It was pretty cool."
The younger Connor McNeice competed at the junior level and came third, He later successfully challenged for the silver medal.
While the wrestling team has wound down for most, there's plenty of international competition ahead for elite wrestlers. Several of the Cowboys are also expected to be participating for trails for the Western Canada Games being hosted by Swift Current in August.
"I believe we have a really good chance to have several kids on the Western Canada Games team."