The Mat Pack finish on top

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SFU women defeat OCU to capture first ever WCWA team championship

By Clay J. Gray
Photos by Mark Burnham

With only two matches left in the WCWA National Championships, SFU’s women’s wrestling team-trailed the Oklahoma City University Stars by one point. Both head-to-head showdowns were between SFU and OCU, rematches from January’s national dual championship.

This time was different, though: each wrestler had fought their way through their individual bracket in search of personal glory and the elusive overall team title.

The WCWA National tournament had begun the day before with over 300 wrestlers from 17 schools spread out over 10 weight classes, and after two days of competition, SFU had six athletes in the finals. While each competitor was in pursuit of an individual honour, there was also a team title at stake. Athletes gained team points based on their final standings, the top eight scored between 16 points for first place and one point for eighth.

The tournament had become a two-horse race before the finals started; OCU was the point leader but only had five athletes in the finals, and three of those matches were against an SFU wrestler. As the finals began, the tension in the gym was palpable, since OCU had been the only school to win this tournament in its history.

With SFU in a position to topple the four-time reigning champions, the entire gym jumped on the Clan bandwagon. “One of the wrestlers from another school had gone through and got the whole gym to chant ‘Go Jenna Go!’ ” said SFU’s Jenna McLatchy, recalling her finals match. “It was
one of the most exciting finals I’ve ever seen. I’ve never had a national championship where it came down to the last match,” said head coach Mike Jones.

Although SFU had six wrestlers in the finals, the other four members of the team had also grappled their way through the tournament in search of team points. 101-pounder Darby Huckle and 116-pounder Nikkie Brar had both placed third. Laura Gordon placed seventh at 136 pounds while Laura Wilson fell short of All-American status. When asked about the athletes not in the finals, Jones said, “Even though Brar didn’t win the tournament, she had one of the most outstanding performances on the team. She lost her first match and then came back to win six bouts in a row, four of which went to the third period and could have gone either way.” The first weight class in the finals produced an OCU champion in Emily Webster and pushed SFU’s championships dreams a little further away. However, the Clan’s Victoria Anthony responded by taking a title of her own.

Another OCU wrestler, Joey Miller, won the next weight class, putting SFU in a must win position for their remaining five matches. 130-pounder Helen Maroulis was on deck to compete. Maroulis took the match in two rounds and began close the gap between the Clan and the Stars.

The Clan’s third finalist Sidney Morrison was the first of the three head-to-head match ups between SFU and OCU. Morrison dropped the first round 0–1 but bounced back to take the second round 3–1 and dominated the third round 6–0 for the win. SFU’s Danielle Lappage was next to step on the mat, facing an opponent from King’s College Tennessee. Lappage pocketed her own individual title in two rounds, narrowing the point spread to one.

As the Clan’s Justina DiStasio marched onto the mat, the team score was OCU 109 to SFU’s 108. DiStasio’s match was the second SFU-OCU showdown, and was as tight as possible. The first round went to a sudden death clinch with DiStasio winning the draw and getting to start with the leg, round 1–0 Justina.

The second round saw the same result, another 1–0 clinch in favour of DiStasio. The victory gave SFU their first lead of the tournament but with only a three-point difference OCU could still thwart the Clan’s dream with a win at heavyweight. With the team title on the line, McLatchy strode into the spotlight to battle OCU’s Heather O’Conner for the fourth time that year. O’Conner scored the first takedown of the match but McLatchy responded quickly with a takedown of her own, and took the advantage in the first round.

With 10 seconds left, O’Conner hit a three-point takedown to win the round 4–1. The second round saw McLatchy hit the mat with new determination as she denied O’Conner from scoring a single point, tying the match at one round apiece. In the third and final round, McLatchy scored a takedown in the first 30 seconds, taking a 1–0 lead. After the referee brought the wrestlers back to their feet, McLatchy hit a three-point takedown with 30 second left in the match, and a 4–0 lead the Clan’s National Championship seemed within reach.

A last ditch effort by O’Conner garnered her one point in the round but not the victory. As McLatchy rose from the mat to get her hand raised as an individual champion, the SFU team bench exploded from their seats in an outpour of joy and celebration at capturing their first ever WCWA team championship.