VANCOUVER — At a school were football, basketball and rowing are king, and where soccer came out of nowhere this past November to claim its first-ever top-tiered B.C. title, you’d think the student body was already pretty much picked over for athletes.
Yet as the B.C. Secondary Schools Wrestling Association’s provincial championship meet begins a two-day run Monday at the Langley Events Centre, who else but the Fighting Irish are arriving with an all-boys team whose 27 qualifiers have been tabbed as the largest in provincial meet history.
“When I came in as the coach, I immediately cast the net wide,” said Irish head coach Mike Roselli, now four years into his posting after being recommended for the job by Wade Anderson, his VC predecessor of some 40 years.
“I mobilized the entire school,” continued Roselli, who also doubles as the BCSSWA president. “There had been 15 kids on the team, but we got 36 that first year, about 60 the second year, last year over 72 and this year, we had 112 kids try out for the team.”
Having never won a boys title, the Irish head into the provincials facing the most tradition-laden programs in the province.
Among them the Alberni District Armada, who as last season’s provincial meet hosts completed a dream season by winning the boys and girls individual team titles and the overall aggregate title.
Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Knights, and the New Westminster Hyacks have also won multiple championship titles over the past few seasons.
Still, the results from its first-place finish earlier this month at its zone championship meet suggests the Irish are getting closer to achieving a breakthrough.
“We scored 200 points in our zone championship and the second place team had 73,” said Roselli of a scoring system that awards points for top-six finishes. “I checked the standings and most of the other zone winners were around 55 points.”
And now, four years into the process, it’s becoming as much about the top-end quality as it is the team’s numbers.
“I know we’re trending in the right direction because we’re putting fewer kids into the bigger tournaments but we’re still winning,” said Roselli of the Irish garnering more top three-type finishes than in past seasons.
One of its wrestlers, a ninth grade stand-out named Damien Clark, is, according to Roselli, an up-and-comer to watch.
“I was teaching phys-ed a few years ago, I saw him in the hallways and he was only in Grade 7 but even then he looked like a man amongst boys,” says Roselli of Clark, who this season at 70 kilos placed first at the Western Canada age class, Port Alberni Invitational and at the zone championship meet. “I couldn’t believe that no sport had claimed him. When I talked to him, he was completely poised as a 12-year-old, and now that he’s 14, there’s not a person in the school who messes with him.”
Clark’s love of the sport seemingly knows no bounds.
Over the summer, he showed just how smitten he has become with the ancient discipline, packing his bags for the Valentin Kalika wrestling camp being held on the other side of the world in the Republic of Georgia.
“It’s one of the powerhouse countries in the world,” explained Clark. “I only started wrestling three years ago so it was pretty tough, but they were really able to elaborate on all of the techniques. For me, it was pretty much an in-depth guide in how to wrestle.”
Grade 11 Heath Yee-Fung at 63 kilos, and the Grade 10 pair of Matt Keller at 57 kilos and Rafael Schincariol at 74 kilos represent some of the Irish’s other top grapplers to watch.
“I’ve just tried to make connections with the kids,” says Roselli, when asked how he has swelled interest and numbers at the school. “I try to be honest with them and I treat the like my own.”
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