By Larry Moko, special to the News
Chalk up a gold-medal victory in OFSAA girls wrestling for Laura Chechalk.
The five-year veteran from St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic Secondary School pinned her opponent — Julia Lei of Massey — in the 54-kilogram final of the Ontario high school tournament at Guelph’s Sleeman Centre March 7.
It was the lone first-place finish for a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association representative.
A field of only 498 wrestlers participated in the tournament this year, down significantly because of the public school teachers’ contract dispute.
Chechalk held a 4-0 lead before pinning Lei in the second round. Earlier at the two-day event, top-seeded Chechalk fought her way to three straight wins.
“I went in hard,” a smiling Chechalk said of her overall performance, which ended with the butchering of her surname by the announcer at the awards ceremony. “I got a little poke in the eye in the final. I’ll probably have a black eye tomorrow.
“She (Lei) was definitely tough … tougher than I thought.”
Chechalk, who has been training at McMaster with the Hamilton Wrestling Club, didn’t have Braves coach Mike Varrasso in her corner for the gold-medal match. That’s because Varrasso was assisting a less experienced Brebeuf athlete — Bineabi Oturo — in his fifth-place 54 kg match which was taking place at the same time on one of the other five mats.
Sheldon Francis, the first-year head coach at Bishop Ryan and a former assistant wrestling coach at McMaster, was one of the individuals who filled in during Varrasso’s absence.
“I trusted those coaches,” Varrasso said. “And I had confidence in Laura’s abilities. Her hard work and dedication to the sport came through.”
It was Chechalk’s first medal in three tries at OFSAA. She placed ninth in both 2011 and 2012 after failing to advance past the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference qualifiers in her Grade 9 and 10 years.
“I can’t think of a more deserving athlete,” Varrasso said. “She’s the heart and soul of our team. She’s a great student, too. I’m looking forward to her wrestling at the university level for McMaster next year.”
Francis, who won a pair of Canadian Interuniversity Sport gold medals as a member of the McMaster Marauders, said Lei kept trying to throw Chechalk. He pointed that strategy out between rounds and the Hamilton-Wentworth champion countered perfectly when the move was attempted in the second round.
“Laura is very strong and flexible,” Francis said. “Hopefully, this is just the start of great things for her. We’ll be able to continue working with her at Mac (she hopes to get into the Medical Radiation Sciences program).”
Chechalk credits her improvement to training at McMaster and focusing more on wrestling.
She’s been active in dance, plus other sports such as track and field, hockey, rugby, soccer and cross-country. Now she’s trying reduce that physical workload.
“I kept cross-country for my cardio and rugby is my other sport,” Chechalk said. “I’m not huge and muscular, but I’m definitely a fit person. I have the mental ability to stay focused. In a match, you’ve got to know what you’re going to do and how to get it done.”
By training at McMaster, Chechalk is following in the footsteps of another OFSAA wrestling champion from Brebeuf — Jason Buckle. He was the CIS Rookie of the Year in 2012 and this season finished third nationally in the 61 kg class.
Chechalk took part in the junior provincials about a month ago (placing third) and hopes to compete at the upcoming junior nationals in Fredericton, N.B.
In other action, Mark Mayer of Brebeuf picked up a bronze medal in the 38 kg division. Other Braves faring well included Cassidy Noonan (fourth 83kg girls), Alize Spalding Lawrence (fifth 61kg girls) and Bineabi Otoru (54 kg boys).