Mustang Caleb Rutner (right) grapples with an opponent.

Courtesy of Ray Takahashi

The Mustangs wrestling team came out of their Western Open with 10 medals in their final competition before the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships. The weekend was an exciting one full of monumental comebacks and buzzer-beating finishes.

The women’s team captain, Julie Steffler, came back after losing her first match of the day to win one of Western's gold medals. For her, the medal not only represented a great comeback, but was also a huge step in her recovery since being injured last season around this time.

“I got my injury around this time last year at [Canadian Interuniversity Sport], so I’m a little nervous but I just need to trust my body,” said Steffler about the stress of rehabilitating from injury.

Steffler has focused on staying healthy through a long and gruelling season as she recovers. After putting in many hours of physiotherapy and rehab over the last year, it all seems to be paying off just in time for ‘crunch’ time. 

As for the men’s team captain Caleb Rutner, a silver medalist at the Western Open, his big moment came in the semi-final. In wrestling, the match ends if one competitor goes ahead by 10 points. After a slow start, Rutner went down by eight in his elimination bout. With the help of the lively crowd and supportive team, though, he came back to win the match by pushing his longtime rival, defending OUA champion and ex-teammate, Matt Jagas, out of bounds.

Last time the two wrestlers met was in the OUA final last year, where Matt came out on top to win gold.

Rutner said his comeback against Jagas required a lot of focus. 

“Don’t let him get ten points, just as long as he doesn’t get ten points,” said Rutner. “But then I started scoring and had to focus on getting those points back.”

The last point was so close to the time limit that the referee had to go and review it, conferring with officials to confirm he'd won.

In addition to both captains' success, the Mustangs had eight other medallists at the Western Open. Christine Grafe and Eric Jacobson won gold, Lauchlin MacDonald and Brayden Ambo finished with silver, and Rachel Gibson, Ian Janes, Kyle Bonk-Dann and Junayd Ramzanali all came away with bronze medals.

The Western Open was a learning opportunity for the team just in time for championship season. In one tournament, multiple wrestlers had to overcome overwhelming odds to win medals. Such a confidence boost would help any team in this crucial part of the season.

Going forward, the team is now in the final week of preparation for the OUA championship taking place in Hamilton on the weekend of Feb. 10. The team hopes to win some medals and have as many wrestlers as possible qualify for the U Sports championships in late February.

“Most of our homework is done,” said head coach Ray Takahashi. “We’re going to focus on quality going forward.”

In the next few practices, Takahashi plans on focusing on quality and reducing the volume of training. The team is working to avoid injuries and stay sharp for the most important weeks of the season.

“All the mat time, all the training, this is what it comes down to,” added Steffler. “Wrestling is more of a marathon than a sprint."

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