A trio of Lakehead wrestlers will fight for gold on Saturday.
Emma Brightwell, Preston Mikulasik and Dustin Helwig went undefeated Friday during the opening day of the CIS national wrestling championships at the Thunderdome to advance to the title match in their respective weight categories.
Helwig, who'll face Western's Steven Takahashi, the male rookie of the year at last year's nationals, said it feels awesome to be in the hunt in the 54-kilogram category.
"All the pressure is off now for tomorrow. I just have to focus on tomorrow and go out with a bang," said Helwig, who took bronze a year ago and is the lone LU medalist back at nationals in 2012.
"My first two matches were pretty easy. I just caught some guys and put them on their back. And that last match I expected a grinder. He gave me a grinder and I threw him for five, which was awesome, and pulled out the win at the end."
Mikulasik, a bear of a wrestler in the 130-kilogram division, finished his final match of the day, a bout against Concordia's Greg Rossy that left blood dripping from his nose, with barely enough energy to speak to local media.
"It feels really good," he said, gasping. "I'm at a loss for words right now, but for sure it'll be better. The gold medal match is what I've been fighting for all year, and now I just have to get out there and do it," he said.
A disappointing finish out of the medals in 2011 was all the motivation Mikulasik needed to find his form in 2012.
"Last year was a bad year for me and I knew that coming in I had to train hard and I just went for it and got it all," he said.
He'll face Guelph's John Fitzgerald, a bronze medalist last year, in Saturday's final.
For Brightwell, who sat out for two years before taking the 82-kilogram category by storm through the OUAs and two matches on Friday, it was an emotional day.
"It feels amazing. I was super excited. I almost cried when I was on the mat when I won," she said, taken to a clinch in her final match against Alberta's Madison Beblow.
"It wasn't an easy day, that's for sure. The body's a little sore, but I'm ready to go. It was a tough match. I had to focus on that first round. I did a couple of shots and I think in the second round I couldn't get the set-ups and we ended up going to clinch.
"I broke free of her grasp from the clinch and just picked her up and put her down for that one."
Her coach, Brock Curtis, said he's happy to have three wrestlers in the finals, and one, Karleah Bonk, in a bronze-medal match.
But, it's bittersweet at the same time, he said.
"I would have loved to have had more in the bronze medal. For a couple of our wrestlers, if they had won their third and final round, they would have been in the final."
Only two Thunderwolves made the gold-medal round a year ago, Nicole Plummer and Gaston Tardif. Both settled for silver.
Brock, with at least four gold medal contenders at press time, looks like the favourite on the women's side, while several teams, including the defending champion Concordia Stingers and the Regina Rams, look strong on the men's side.
Leo McGee, coach of the Rams, isn't counting on anything until he sees the final results on Saturday.
"Right now the cream of the crop is the defending national champion Concordia Stingers. They would be the frontrunners right now. Then there is a group of us (bundled together)," McGee said.
"In this league, this year, there is a lot of parity. There are a lot of programs that are very, very strong and I think any one of five teams can probably win."
Lakehead's Sarah Cattani and Jackson Taylor lost all three of their matches and will fight for seventh on Saturday. Scott Christian and Jake Devlin were 1-2 and will fight for No. 5 in their categories, as will Breanna Beh (0-2) and Jenny Pranger (1-2) in the women's field.
The gold medal matches are scheduled to begin Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
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