The University of the Fraser Valley’s crop of 2017 wrestling recruits is notable for its quantity and quality.
Cascades coaches Raj Virdi and Arjan Bhullar have signed 14 athletes – nine male, five female –as they continue to build a program which delivered UFV’s first U SPORTS national gold medal (courtesy men’s heavyweight Brad Hildenbrandt) last season.
Headlining this year’s class are a pair of local products – Abbotsford’s Navdeep Toor (men’s 57 kg) and Ana Godinez (women’s 63 kg) of Surrey. Both have national titles in the cadet and/or juvenile divisions to their names, and Virdi said they were “on the radar for every single university team in Canada.”
The Cascades were also able to reach outside the fertile recruiting ground of the Fraser Valley for several other blue-chip athletes, including Parker McBride (men’s 54 kg) of Duvall, Wash., Brampton, Ont. product Jacob Torres (men’s 61 kg), and Tristina Howse (women’s 72 kg) of Prince George, B.C.
“I think this class’s impact will be great,” head coach Virdi analyzed. “We have great quantity and quality this year. I can see us contending for a Canada West banner with the group we’ve brought in on the men’s side. We’ve still got some work to do on the women’s side, but we’re improving quickly and we’re not too far out.”
57 kg men’s division
Rick Hansen Secondary (Abbotsford, B.C.)
Miri Piri Wrestling Club
Toor was named the most outstanding male wrestler at the 2017 B.C. high school championships after claiming his fourth provincial gold medal. He’s a three-time national champ, and has represented Canada three times internationally at the cadet level. In 2015, he won a bronze medal at the Pan-Am championships.
“We’ve been following his progress for quite some time, and we knew we wanted him on the team,” Virdi said. “He’s got all the talent in the world, and he’ll have a big impact right away. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got great technique. Now we’ve just got to get some toughness into him to get him ready for the international stage.”
“I chose UFV because it was a close to home – a program where I could further myself in my studies and in my wrestling while still having the support system I grew up with,” said Toor, who will study criminology at UFV.
54 kg men’s division
Cedarcrest High (Duvall, Wash.)
Eastside Wrestling Club
McBride had an outstanding prep career at Cedarcrest High – he won bronze at the Washington state championships each of the last two seasons, and he’s a four-time district champ and a two-time regional gold medalist. He won the Northwestern freestyle title in 2016 and 2017, and was a national junior dual team member in 2016.
“We went down to the state championships to recruit, and we met him there,” Virdi explained. “I think he’s probably one of the hardest-working kids I’ve seen coming up. He’s such a go-getter, and that’s what I really love about him. Throughout the match, there’s no time where he’s taking a break. His offence is really good, and he’s going to be competitive right away.”
McBride will pursue a kinesiology degree at UFV.
“I chose UFV because I wanted to study abroad, and I like the small class sizes,” he said.
61 kg men’s division
Turner Fenton Secondary (Brampton, Ont.)
Matmen Wrestling Club
Virdi first took note of Ontario standout Torres at the national championships a couple years ago, watching a match that he lost to future teammate Toor.
“But it was a match where I could tell Jacob was really tough,” Virdi recounted. “We watched him again at nationals this year, and he won gold and beat some tough guys I didn’t think he’d beat. He’s grown a lot as an athlete – he’s got great technique, and he’s very proactive where he doesn’t put himself in dangerous situations. That’s why he’s having so much success.”
Torres’s national crown this year came in the juvenile 58 kg class. The future business student at UFV also owns two national Greco-Roman titles. He’s a four-time wrestling MVP at Turner Fenton Secondary, and was the school’s senior athlete of the year and a recipient of the Trojan Shield award.
“I chose UFV because of the opportunity they were giving me, and I knew they’re a young, up-and-coming team to beat at the U SPORTS level,” Torres said. “I wanted to be a part of it.
“My goals for my time at UFV are to become a world champion and be known as one of the best in the world, as well as make lots of new friends along the way.”
100 kg men’s division
Abbotsford Traditional (Abbotsford, B.C.)
Guru Gobind Singh Wrestling Club
Local product Kahlon has put together outstanding results both provincially and nationally. He’s climbed the podium at the B.C. high school championships each of the last three years (gold in 2017, silver in 2016, bronze in 2015), and helped his Abby Traditional Titans take the boys team title in 2015. He’s also a former Canadian national champion (2014, cadet 63 kg).
Kahlon attended the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg last week, and despite moving up to the heavyweight (120 kg) division, battled his way to a bronze medal.
“He’s been wrestling for quite some time – I’ve been watching him since he was five or six years old,” Virdi said. “He’s grown quite a lot. Provincially, he’s known for his strength – he’s very strong for his size. And for being such a big guy, he’s very agile on his feet.”
“I chose UFV because it was close by and it has a great wrestling team,” said Kahlon, who will pursue a business degree. “My future goals with the Cascades are to win junior nationals in the upcoming years.”
76 kg men’s division
Washington High (Tacoma, Wash.)
Team Toss’em Wrestling Club
Williams is another gem uncovered by Virdi and Bhullar at the Washington state championships. He put together a 107-32 record during his high school career, highlighted by a bronze medal at last season’s state championships, one district crown, two regional titles, and two all-state designations.
“He stuck out because he was doing moves that not many high school kids can do,” Virdi said. “He’s very strong, very flexible, and difficult to score on. He’s offensive-minded, and that’s something Arjan and I want all our athletes to be.”
“I decided to go attend UFV because I wanted to be different than others at my high school,” said Williams, who will pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree. “When I went to visit the school I really loved the atmosphere, and the staff seemed to be really involved with the students’ life as well. My dreams and goals while attending UFV are to work towards my dream in becoming a part of law enforcement, and also to continue getting better with my wrestling career. I want to graduate from UFV and make a difference in the community.”
120 kg men’s division
Robert Bateman Secondary (Abbotsford, B.C.)
Coast Wrestling Club
Randhawa is a promising Abbotsford athlete who Virdi is very familiar with.
“He’s a good kid,” Virdi said. “I’ve seen him wrestle since he was probably about 10 – he started off at a club I coached at way back. He’ll be a heavyweight, and Brad (Hildenbrandt) will be his mentor. He’s a tough kid who loves wrestling. He’s still got a lot of learning to do, and that’s a task we’ve decided to take on because once Brad graduates, he’s probably going to be our No. 1 guy.”
Randhawa said that UFV’s accessibility and affordability were among the factors that led him to sign.
“My goals for this year are to win senior Canadian nationals, and be injury free for once,” he said.
72 kg men’s division
Tamanawis Secondary (Surrey, B.C.)
Rustom Wrestling Club
Dhillon is the 2017 B.C. high school champ at 70 kg, and he won a national silver medal in the juvenile age class in 2016.
“He wasn’t really on our radar before provincials, but Arjan and I liked the way he wrestled throughout the tournament,” Virdi said. “He’s a go-getter – when he needs a point, he goes and gets it, and he finds a way to win no matter what situation he’s in.”
Dhillon will study kinesiology at UFV.
“I chose UFV because I feel that they have a very strong wrestling team that has demonstrated excellent results in such a short time,” Dhillon said. “I believe that the UFV wrestling team will continue to excel and it will be an honour to wrestle with the Cascades. My goal is to become a junior national wrestling champion in the upcoming years.”
68 kg men’s division
Queen Elizabeth Secondary (Surrey, B.C.)
Olympia Wrestling Club
Raghuzar climbed the provincial podium for the first time in 2017, taking bronze at the B.C. high school championships. He also owns a pair of top-10 finishes at the national age-class championships, and won the Western Canada and Surrey tournament titles last season.
“I’m good friends with his coach, and he told me Omar is very passionate about wrestling,” Virdi said. “We like to bring in kids who have a great desire to wrestle. Some kids do it because it’s embedded in their family, but Omar is someone who loves to wrestle himself. These are the kinds of kids who go on to have more success in the sport.”
“I aspire to complete my post-secondary with the utmost work habits and achievements,” said Raghuzar, who will study business at UFV. “My plan is to become an accountant while continuing my wrestling career and pushing myself to new boundaries and success. For me to do this, I felt UFV was the best place. From word of mouth to the very first interactions with the school staff and coaches, I knew this place would help me reach my goals. I am more than excited to uphold the position of being a student athlete for UFV and the Cascades.”
65 kg men’s division
Yale Secondary (Abbotsford, B.C.)
Bajwa climbed the podium at B.C. high school provincials each of the past two years, following a silver medal in 2016 with gold in 2017. He also owns national championship hardware, highlighted by a silver medalist (cadet, 58 kg) in 2015.
“It kind of feels like he puts people to sleep, and he’s very strong for his size,” Virdi said. “He’s able to attack and finish very easily once he gets in. And he’s very resilient – his composure never changes throughout the whole match.”
63 kg women’s division
Earl Marriott Secondary (Surrey, B.C.)
Coast Wrestling Club
Godinez becomes the second member of her family on the Cascades’ roster – older sister Karla won a Canada West bronze medal in 2016-17, and earned UFV and Canada West female rookie of the year honours.
Ana won a B.C. high school gold medal in March and followed with a Canadian juvenile championship in April. She was named the most outstanding wrestler at Earl Marriott Secondary, and picked up the most improved wrestling award at Coast Wrestling Club.
Last week, Godinez won gold at the Canada Summer Games in dominant fashion – she didn’t surrender a single point en route to the 69 kg title.
“Ana was probably the most highly recruited female wrestler this year,” VIrdi enthused. “My vision for her is to become an Olympic medalist. She has the skillset to do it. She’s so strong, quick and powerful, and she’s beating high-profile women on the junior and senior national teams as a high schooler. She’s going to be really effective for us next year, and we’re lucky to have her.”
Godinez will begin her academic career at UFV in general studies.
“I chose UFV because I believe it is the most suitable school for me and my development in wrestling and academics,” she said. “I have trained with UFV several times and have gotten to know the coaches very well. They have made me feel welcome and I know they will take me up to my potential and help me reach my goals . . . Every single small goal that I have is to work towards being an Olympic champion.”
72 kg women’s division
Prince George Secondary (Prince George, B.C.)
Prince George Wrestling Club
Howse comes to UFV with a long list of accolades at the national level. She won a Canadian juvenile championship earlier this year, after winning a pair of medals (bronze in freestyle, silver in Greco-Roman) in the juvenile division in 2016 and a silver medal in the cadet age class in 2015.
Howse was a Prince George Hall of Fame youth excellence honouree in 2016, and most recently, claimed a silver medal at the North American Indigenous Games.
“She’s very hungry for the sport – she’s always trying to learn and to understand more,” Virdi said. “She’s very strong – she’s lacking a bit for technique, but that will come with experience. She’s a great addition for us.”
“I choose UFV because of its diversity, and excellent coaches and staff,” said Howse, who will study criminology. “My dreams and goals are to become a better wrestler, and win a national championship.”
67 kg women’s division
Queen Elizabeth Secondary (Surrey, B.C.)
Coast Wrestling Club
Chiu, a bronze medalist at the 2017 B.C. high school provincial championships, is her school’s senior female athlete of the year and a three-time women’s wrestling MVP (2015-2017). She’s also an outstanding rugby player, winning her team’s most valuable forward award the last three years.
“She’s relatively new to the sport – she’s only been wrestling for about three years, but she’s tough as nails,” Virdi said. “She seems really hungry to learn the sport, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Chiu plans to enrol in the Bachelor of Arts program at UFV.
“I chose UFV because I believe that it is one of the best schools for wrestling,” she said. “Not only do I get to do what I love, I also get to go to school full-time. My goals for the next few years are to represent the Cascades in many tournaments while also excelling at school.”
82 kg women’s division
Decatur High (Federal Way, Wash.)
Sparling had a much-decorated wrestling career at Decatur High – she’s a four-time qualifier for the Washington state championships, and a two-time placer. She won the Othello Championship and the Kelso Championship twice each, and was Decatur’s MVP and team captain last season.
In addition to her wrestling exploits, Sparling is also a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.
“She’s tough and very, very powerful,” Virdi noted. “She’s got a mental edge over others, because of how she talks about wrestling and understands it. She really loves the sport and all it teaches you.”
Sparling, who harbours Olympic dreams, will pursue a kinesiology degree with an additional credential (either a double-major or a minor) in psychology at UFV, so that she can continue to be involved in wrestling after her own athletic career is done.
“When I can no longer compete, I want to help those who can in mind and body,” she explained.
“I chose UFV because I loved meeting the coaches, felt comfortable with them, and know that both Coach Raj and Coach Arjan are just as eager and motivated to do their best as I am. They both, like me, love the sport. I don’t think I could have gone to a school that didn’t have the passion for wrestling as I do.”
67 kg women’s division
Yelm High (Ft. Lewis, Wash.)
Zemke helped her Yelm High squad to the Washington state team title last season, and added an individual silver medal.
“I watched her in the quarters and semifinals at the state championships, and she’s really, really tough,” Virdi enthused. “She was down by about six points in one of her matches, and she pinned the girl. She keeps going forward – she never takes a step back, and she continues to pressure people until they make a mistake.”
“I chose UFV because I like the coaches and the environment around campus,” said Zemke, who plans to enrol in general studies at UFV. “It wasn’t too far from my boyfriend and family – it seemed almost perfect. My goals are too excel as much as I can in wrestling as well as in my classes. I hope to make good friends and experience new things in my time at UFV.”