It wasn't a big team, but the Olds High Spartans wrestling club was able to secure top spot among 3A schools female teams to capture the rural provincial banner on their home mats on the weekend.
The three-wrestler team of Amber Maschke, Sarah Hunder and Shayley Harris garnered 15 points to edge out co-hosts Wetaskiwin for the banner with all three individual wrestlers qualifying for the full ASAA provincials in two weeks in Stony Plain.
“It was probably one of the tightest races we've seen in a few years with first to third separated by two points,” explained Spartan wrestling coach George Grant.
Leading the way for the Spartans was Maschke who grappled her way to the 57kg title, beating Kayla Thompson of Lindsay Thurber in the final. Fellow rookies Hunder and Harris finished third and second in the 70kg and 80kg-plus categories.
“I didn't anticipate winning a banner,” Grant suggested. “I just wanted them to wrestle well and have some fun, but they did a great job and I'm really proud of how they've worked all season and especially this weekend here at home on our own mats.”
To win her title Maschke, a Grade 10 student in her first high school championships, had to better seven other wrestlers in the tournament while Hunder faced five in her category. For Harris, there were only two, but the other competitor is one of the top wrestlers in the province providing great experience for the rookie.
In total, 172 wrestlers were registered for the two-day event that excludes wrestlers from Calgary and Edmonton. The top five from rural provincials will join the top five from each of the cities for up to 15 competitors per weight class at ASAA provincials.
Grant said overall the numbers were strong for the rural event, which they put on with the help of Wetaskiwin Composite High School. He said there has been overall growth in the sport in non-traditional areas, but the female numbers have dropped slightly.
“Unfortunately our female numbers were down a bit in comparison but it's good to see that we've got growth in areas that are not normally wrestling communities,” Grant summarized.
One of the biggest ovations of the weekend was for the facility, which provided two competitive mats and plenty of room for warm-up and spectators. With the facility passing the test, Grant said they'd like to bid for a full provincial tournament in order to show off the amenities the team in Olds enjoys.
“It's just an absolutely fantastic venue for something like this, plenty of seating and nobody was crowded and great sightlines from no matter where you were,” he added. “Everything fell into place, the way wrestling should be.”
The three qualifying competitors will now focus on the full ASAA provincial meet where they'll face a new level of competition. Grant said the addition of the cities adds an unknown element to preparations because of the diversity of styles that comes from the bigger schools.
“You're definitely going to see a different element,” he explained. “You've got to be prepared from the opening whistle to the final buzzer.”