Brad Hildenbrandt grappled his way to gold and Karla Godinez Gonzalez earned a bronze medal and the Canada West rookie of the year award at the conference wrestling championships in Saskatoon on Saturday.
Hildenbrandt, a sophomore from Surrey, B.C., claimed the men’s heavyweight (120 kg) title in impressive fashion, winning all five of his matches in the dual-meet round-robin format.
Fellow Surrey product Godinez Gonzalez finished third in the highly competitive women’s 51 kg class, and accepted the Canada West female rookie of the year award at the post-tournament banquet on Saturday evening.
Ashley Coupal (women’s 48 kg) and Amtoj Dhaliwal (men’s 82 kg) will also be coming home with hardware, each having won bronze in their respective weight classes.
All four UFV medalists advance to the U Sports national championships, Feb. 24-26 at the University of Winnipeg.
Three other Cascades competed in Saskatoon: Haseeb Javed (men’s 61 kg) won a pair of matches and landed just off the podium in fourth place, Kamil Golowko (men’s 100 kg) took fifth, and Pravi Dhaliwal (women’s 59 kg) finished sixth.
Team-wise, UFV was sixth on both the men’s and women’s sides.
“It was a great tournament for us,” summarized Arjan Bhullar, who co-coaches the Cascades alongside Raj Virdi. “We’ve got a young group, and if you look at our results, we got some great results from our veterans like Brad and Ashley, and from our rookies too. The future looks bright, and the national championships look bright for those individuals as well.”
Hildenbrandt surrendered just five points in his five victories, and only one match – an 8-3 decision in his tourney opener against Jordan Tholl of the Regina Cougars – went the distance. He wrapped up the other four matches early, three by technical superiority and one via pin. It’s the second career Canada West medal for Hildenbrandt, who won silver at 90 kg in 2015.
“Brad’s been our leader throughout the season, and he handled himself like a true professional and set the example for the group this weekend,” Bhullar said. “That (heavyweight) class was very strong – all of the other coaches were confident in their guys. But Brad was very prepared, and he got it done.”
Godinez Gonzalez came within a whisker of upgrading the colour of her medal. In her final match vs. Regina’s Amber Wiebe, she led 3-1 in the late going, but Wiebe picked up two points with two seconds on the clock to level the score 3-3 and win the match – in the event of a tie, the last wrestler to score is the victor. Had Godinez Gonzalez hung on to win, she would have been in a three-way tie for first with Wiebe and Farah Taj of the Alberta Pandas with matching 3-1 records. According to Virdi, the gold would have gone to Godinez Gonzalez based on tiebreaking criteria.
Nevertheless, she carved out some Cascades history, becoming the first UFV female athlete to win a Canada West rookie of the year award. Overall, she’s the second Cascade to be named the conference’s top freshman – Sam Freeman was the men’s basketball rookie of the year in 2008-09.
“Throughout the whole tournament she wrestled great, and it was tremendous seeing it happen,” Virdi enthused.
“The reason she’s had so much success is, she wants to be the best. She trains harder than any other woman I’ve seen in U Sports – she’ll sometimes practice three times in a day because she wants to get better quickly. She started wrestling one year ago, and she’s this good already. I can’t wait to see what she achieves in the future.”