Port Hardy Secondary School student Sheldon Frank was determined to earn his redemption.
After losing all four of his matches at the Campbell River Invitational wrestling tournament back in January, Frank knew exactly what he’d have to do to succeed in the sport of freestyle wrestling. He got back in the gym, doubled down on his diet, managing to drop his weight from 66 kg to 63 kg, while at the same time putting in some very tough hours on the old PHSS wrestling mats to make sure he’d be ready for the Port Alberni Invitational, which was being held on the Feb. 2-3 weekend.
The PHSS wrestling team, consisting of Frank, Anthony Blacha and Patience Gullacher, travelled down island bright and early Friday morning to compete at the 39th annual wrestling tournament, along with roughly 300 athletes from around Vancouver Island and the mainland.
After everyone had weighed in, the PHSS wrestling team got off to a bit of a rough start. Frank received a bye in the first round, and then was matched up against Arad Ahangi from Carson Graham in the second round. Ahangi scored an early takedown on Frank and then rolled him over numerous times, winning by technical fall 10-0 (Ahangi would go on to win gold in the 63 kg division, dominating everyone he faced).
Frank didn’t let the loss get him down, he cleared his mind and set his sights on qualifying for the bronze medal match. First up was a rematch against Alper Mete from Nanaimo, who had defeated Frank 11-1 at the Campbell River tournament. This time around the match went quite a bit different. Frank managed to score six points on Mete before eventually pinning him late in the first period.
After that, Frank was matched up against Sam German from Argyle, which he ended in 30 seconds thanks to a quick takedown right into a half nelson, securing the pinfall victory.
As the day turned into evening, Frank knew he needed to win his next match against Eli Ergas from Collingwood to continue competing on Sunday morning.
Ultimately Frank came up short, losing a back and forth match to Ergas by technical fall 14-4 early in the second period.
All told, Frank said competing in Port Alberni was “a practice tournament for me, I enjoyed watching my opponents and seeing the level of skill I will have to face coming up.”
He noted it felt great to win the rematch against Mete, and his favourite moment of the day was “my 30 second finish in my third match. I got really hyped that I finished a guy in 30 seconds in front of 300 wrestlers.”
When asked how he managed to turn his season around so quickly, Frank said that if you show up to every wrestling practice and “try your hardest, listen and work your butt off, you will win matches and improve.”
He thanked head coach Paul Cagna for driving the team to Port Alberni, coaching, and being a big part of practice, assistant coach Tyson Whitney for pushing him and making sure he was putting in the work, and his girlfriend Cadence “for always supporting me.”
As for the other two PHSS wrestlers who competed, Blacha lost his first match against Seamus Loughran from Windsor 10-0 by technical fall, then defeated Ario Amiri from Windsor with a textbook head and arm throw right into a pinfall, before losing his third match of the day against Bradley Ludvigson from Queen Margaret’s School by technical fall 10-0.
Blacha said the tournament was “really fun” and that his favourite match of the day was his second one where he earned his second pinfall victory of the season. He thanked Whitney for “training me to be a beast.”
Gullacher was the only junior wrestler from PHSS who competed at the tournament, and Cagna noted she finished 0-2 on the day, taking both of her opponents, Tenley Blackler from Queen Margaret’s School and Lyla Boylan from Frances Kelsey, past the two minute mark.
“While she lost by pinfall, she was able to defend well and had opportunities for the takedown off of her single leg,” he pointed out.
Gullacher finished third in the bracket and received a bronze medal.
Cagna stated he was really pleased with how the team performed overall.
“All of our wrestlers gave a tremendous effort,” he said, noting PHSS’s senior wrestlers finished the tournament with a solid 3-4 record. “While [Frank and Blacha] did not medal, it was made clear early on that every PHSS wrestler would not be an easy out. It was a great effort and we look forward to watching them compete at the island championships later on this weekend.”