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Burnaby girls grapple their way to gold

Three local wrestlers rose to the top step of the podium at last week's B.C. Secondary Schools wrestling championships in Langley

It was a Family Day to remember for three Burnaby girls.

On the strength of some sharp technical moves and determined skills, Burnaby’s Gina Bolognese, Clara Scaglione and Logan Stimson each finished the three-day B.C. Secondary Schools Wrestling championships as the best of the best.

In the span of a handful of minutes, each wrestler saw their season come to a close with an up-raised arm and the thrill of achieving a hard-fought and coveted reward: a provincial gold.

“It was a dream of mine, and I wanted to see myself up there and I said ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ It’s my Grade 10 year so I wanted to see if I could get up there,” noted Bolognese, the lone entry from Burnaby North. “The seeding really kind of boosted my self-esteem a little, made me a little bit of an airhead but I was really excited just to come out and wrestle.”

The teen entered the tourney as the No. 1 seed in the 47-kilogram division after dominating the Fraser North zone, and bested a handful of rivals en route to the final to face Sir Charles Tupper’s Brooklyn Prasad. In the final’s first period, Bolognese held a 2-0 lead thanks to a well-executed throw-down. While Prasad recorded a point in the second period, and the Tupper coach contested a point late in the match, the final score stood up.

“I just went on the mat with the jitters but I really think that pushed me forward, helped me have better reflexes,” said Bolognese. “I wrestled her in the past but this was my first time this year – I lost (to her) last year at age class (meet). I like to see the improvement in my wrestling and I’m pretty happy about it.“

A year ago as a Grade 9, Bolognese secured silver in the 43kg division. Building on that, the Vikings grappler, who trains with the Burnaby Central Wildcats team, rolled through the 2019-20 season undefeated.

“I just love the fact that I can go out there, just me and my opponent, and battle it out. Everyone has their special move and their strong technique. No one here is unworthy of winning the provincials. To be able to wrestle here is such an honour,” she said.

As a Grade 12 grappler, Scaglione was motivated to wrap up her high school career on a winning note and improve on last year’s silver. The St. Thomas More Collegiate athlete made quick work in the final, pinning Kelly Road’s Kaily Pattison at 1:19 of the first period to claim the top prize.

“I don’t even remember what happened. I remember the end,” remarked Scaglione moments after receiving her medal in the 60kg division. “I prefer to wrestle people that I don’t know, that way I can just focus on my own set of takedown turns.”

She began the season in the 57kg category but jumped up a class, without skipping a beat.

“(Scaglione) is probably the most technical wrestler we have. She’s methodical, she goes out there and does what she needs to do. She doesn’t over-exert herself, she doesn’t go crazy,” STM coach Max Arcand said. “She went out there, very smart, and kind of felt her out a bit. (Scaglione) took the shot she needed to take, it didn’t work, backed up and went to neutral then came back in.”

Her key in the few moments before the start of a match is reflection, she said.

“I usually just pray before my matches, get in the right head space. My coach always tells me to go through my takedown turns … I just get in there and focus,” said Scaglione.

There were fewer finals -- boys or girls -- as dramatic as Stimson’s victory in the female 75kg division.

Up against Robert Bateman’s Rupinder Johal, STM’s Stimson approached it like a chess match, with each grappler searching for an opening.

Down 4-1 early in the second-and-last period, the Grade 11 athlete moved into the lead on a fireman's throw with less than 20 seconds remaining before a challenge from the opposing coach paused the match. The judges stripped two points off her total to put Johal back in front 4-3, making the final 15 seconds a frantic flash.

“Before they took the points off and my coach said it was OK, you’re one point ahead,” recalled Stimson. “It’s 13 seconds, you can stall for 10 seconds. Then when they took the points off, I was like, ‘She can also stall for 10 seconds, what am I suppose to do?’ It was just balls to the wall.”

With a mix of urgency and efficiency, Stimson closed out the match with her favourite move, another fireman’s throw, to post a dramatic 5-4 comeback to claim the gold.

“I looked up when we were on the ground, saw there were four seconds left and I was just saying, ‘Don’t move, don’t move.’”

A year ago, Stimson finished fifth overall in the 64kg division, and put in a lot of work over the year to prepare for a chance at redemption. That it worked out right down to the final moment was pure magic.

“It was stressful, the first time I’ve been in the finals for anything,” she recalled. “I have just wanted this for a long time and I love wrestling. People when they ask me about myself I say I’m a wrestler, it’s what I love doing more than anything else.”

Arcand said Stimson’s presence and competitive fire have made everyone on the STM team better.

“Logan is the hardest worker in the room, by far. She’s the leader on the team and she puts everything into it. It was just so, so – I don’t even know what to say. It was everything to see her keep gutting it out the way we know she can and earning that win,” said Arcand.

And there was no better way to finish it than with her favourite move.

“The fireman’s throw, that’s my favourite. … I use it a lot, I know how to get it. Just knowing that you’re going to get it. If there’s any doubts you’re not all the way through it, it’s tough. Just knowing you’ll get it is the key,” she said.

Burnaby Mountain’s Marley Jackson, meanwhile, picked up a silver medal in her 54kg division final against national champion Marquesis Haintz of Maple Ridge.

Her match ended in the first period with a takedown.

Although it didn’t result in a win, the Grade 11 athlete was full marks for her effort all weekend, coach Joe Smith said.

“It was a very successful weekend (for Jackson). She ran into a couple of wrestlers and did very well. … Marley was seeded second,” Smith said.

“The experience of the final – basically she had a tough opponent and it was a situation where she had to be perfect. She had the enthusiasm and attitude that you need.”

Winning bronze medals were Burnaby Central's Arash Rasti, in the boys 70kg division, and New Westminster's Willow Beyea, in the girls 90kg category.

Just missing out on a medal were STM's Ayesha Mian (girls 43kg) and Crouxificio Peloso (boys 110+kg), with fourth-place results.

Placing fifth overall in their respective divisions were Tanisha Johal of Burnaby Central (girls 43kg) and Moscrop's Ahmed Abouelin (in boys 84kg).

Complete results from the tournament had not been posted as of the NOW deadline.