The University of the Fraser Valley wrestling team opens the Canada West season on Saturday, heading to Calgary for the Dinos Invitational.
This year’s edition of the Cascades boasts increased depth, with 14 athletes on the men’s roster and seven on the women’s. It’s a youthful group, though – 13 UFV grapplers are in their first year of eligibility.
“We’re a really young team,” Cascades head coach Raj Virdi acknowledged, “but we still expect big things from everyone.”
The biggest expectations will be placed on the shoulders of third-year heavyweight Brad Hildenbrandt, but he’s proven he can handle them. The Surrey, B.C. product is coming off a historic sophomore campaign which saw him win the first U SPORTS gold medal in Cascades history. He also won the Canada West conference title, and was named UFV’s male athlete of the year for 2016-17.
“For Brad, this is just a warm-up tournament – he’ll be wrestling at the Commonwealth Games trials the following week,” Virdi said. “We expect him to perform very well this season.”
Also returning for the Cascades men’s team are Amtoj Dhaliwal (82 kg), Haseeb Javed (68 kg) and Kamil Golowko (100 kg). Dhaliwal had an outstanding rookie season, earning a Canada West bronze medal and finishing seventh at nationals. Among the rookies, Virdi is looking for big things this weekend from Parker McBride (54 kg), Jacob Torres (61 kg) and Karan Dhillon (72 kg).
On the women’s side, reigning Canada West rookie of the year Karla Godinez Gonzalez returns to lead the Cascades. She won a Canada West bronze medal and finished fifth at the national championships.
“Karla is moving up a weight class this year (to 55 kg), and we expect her to perform very well once again,” Virdi said. “It’ll be a bit of a challenge at the beginning because she’s got to get used to the weight class, but we expect her to do very well at every Canada West and U SPORTS tournament.”
Ashley Coupal (51 kg), a Canada West bronze medalist last year, also returns, and rookie Glaysia Sparling (82 kg) has shown great potential in preseason training. Ana Godinez Gonzalez, Karla’s younger sister, was the team’s highest-profile high school signee, but she’ll miss the Calgary tournament due to injury.
One of the highlights of the season for the UFV wrestling program is its home tournament, the Cascades Classic, which runs Jan. 28 at the Envision Athletic Centre.