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Medals on the mat

Courtesy Brandon Stalk

Kahnawake wrestlers were represented across three different clubs at the 2024 Quebec Provincial Wrestling Championships, and came home with medals galore. 

From the looks of it, wrestling seems to be making a comeback in the province. Participation numbers had significantly spiked with 18 clubs and over 250 athletes competing this year, making it the biggest provincial wrestling tournament in over a decade. 

“I’m happy with the progress that our team is having. And the improvement we’re seeing in the wrestlers in their matches, and the way they wrestle, their techniques, the way they prepare for the match, and the way they carry themselves after a match, too,” said Brandon Stalk, wrestling coach at Kahnawake Survival School (KSS.) 

He brought a squad of seven athletes, all of whom returned with a medal. Lia Bear, Tehatenies Stace, and Matthew Leblanc took gold, Tiohahison Splicer took silver, while Korry Goodleaf, Bronx Nelson, and Atiewatón:ni Homer took bronze. “We did better than expected actually,” said Stalk, noting the medal count was an improvement from the provincials last year. 

“It’s nice to see and we’re excited about the future,” said Stalk. KSS ranked 10th overall.

A small group of Kahnawa’kehró:non came out to support the wrestlers on the mat. “It was nice to see all of them wrestling and improving since the beginning of the season. It’s nice to see them all improve and move up. And getting those medals is good confidence for them,” said Misty Martin, Nelson’s mother.

Although he lost both his matches, Nelson was able to secure the bronze. And Martin has already noticed him improving since the season’s start – his first in the sport, and it has broadened his circle at school as well. “He’s more outgoing, more sociable with everyone,” she said.

Stalk credited the dedicated coaching staff who’s on the mat with the team multiple times a week – all contributing to improvements in the athletes’ conditioning, cardio, muscle endurance, strength, speed. 

To Stalk, the highlight of the tournament was eighth grader Lia Bear’s match, which he characterized as the “best match of her life.”

“She wrestled really well, she put up a lot of points. She’s improving so much and she was so happy to have that win,” he said. “She’s improving, and she’s gaining confidence in herself. You could see the way she carries herself. You can see it on her face. And that’s one of the best benefits to coaching the kids.”

Peter Montour, wrestling coach at the Kanienkehaka Tehontatie:nas Mohawk Wrestling Club, was also glad with his athletes’ performances. 

With 18 wrestlers, including some from Howard S. Billings High School, the team earned three golds, including one from Ava Hamelin, six silvers, including one from Lennox Deere, and three bronze, including one from Michael Deere and another from Storm Lahache, while finishing sixth overall as a team. 

“We did really well,” he said, considering the cutback of practice time across the Billings and KYC facilities. In his earlier coaching days, practices were held four times a week, two hours a day, which pales in comparison to this year’s two days at Billings and a Saturday morning at the Kahnawake Youth Center.

Although he has not yet decided which athletes to send to the nationals, he’s looking forward to the opportunity for the wrestlers. “In the end, we really want all the kids to get a chance to wrestle,” he said. 

For Kahnawa’kehró:non Claire and Grayden Diome, the tournament was a walk in the park. “They went out there, they did what they needed to do,” said their coach Nick Tritton, who owns Tritton Performance. The siblings were two of four athletes from Kahnawake out of the 35 from the club who competed in the tournament. 

Claire took gold in the U15 and in the U17 girls 46 KG division, while Grayden took gold in the U17 boys 39 KG division and silver in the U15 boys 36 KG division. Both of them are now focusing on the nationals coming up on April 5-7 in Mississauga. 

As for Nick Cross, he earned a bronze in the senior men’s division. He was also a referee at the tournament. “That was a great step in the right direction for him and in staying involved with the sport,” Tritton said, adding that most of his time is dedicated to his studies. 

Of the bunch, Tritton felt Kanerahtens Bush’s performance was outstanding as he won two gold medals in the senior men’s division – one in 57 KG and another in 61 KG.

“We’re hoping that he could pull through,” Tritton said of Bush. “A top five finish at the senior nationals would be absolutely outstanding,” he said, which are slated for March in Ottawa. 

All four Kahnawake athletes are set to compete in the nationals in the upcoming months.

Tritton Performance also earned the team title for the third year in a row, and brought back a total of 22 gold medals, seven silvers, and five bronze. 

nanor.fr@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on March 1 in issue 33.09 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.