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NOTL athletes wrestle to success at OFSAA

Four athletes from Niagara-on-the-Lake travelled to Ottawa last week for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) wrestling championships.

Four athletes from Niagara-on-the-Lake travelled to Ottawa last week for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) wrestling championships. Two returned home with medals, one with a fifth place ribbon, and another with a driving desire to take the podium next year.

Grade 12 Eden High School student Zubin Gatta capped off his high school wrestling career with his second OFSAA gold. Wrestling in the 57.5 kilogram class, Gatta went undefeated in his three qualifying bouts, and took down Robbie Dunbar of Simcoe County’s St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School for the title. 

It was really nice,” he says of winning the gold. “The pressure had been building up the whole year, since winning the Canada Games qualifier and being on Team Ontario last summer. I finally relieved that pressure by winning the gold.”

In Gatta’s first match Tuesday, he faced an unfamiliar opponent in Leo Kitambala of London. 

“He was a lot stronger than I thought,” Zubin told The Local. “He grabbed hold of me and he started rag-dolling me. So I had to change my strategy a little bit. I ended up pinning him.”

His second opponent that same day, Josh John of Newtonbrook Secondary School in North York, was another unfamiliar, surprisingly strong opponent. Gatta drew upon his experience from his first bout, but a nagging soreness in his knee forced him to tweak his moves a bit. He ended up winning that match 10-0 on technical superiority.

The two wins qualified Gatta for the semi-final Wednesday against Carson Patel of Barrie. 

“Again, he was very strong,” Gatta says. “I was wrestling up a weight class (he usually competes at 51 kg). He pushed me out twice and I was down 2-0. But I took him down, and I turned him eight times. I won 12-2.”

In the final, he finally faced a very familiar opponent in Dunbar.

“I know his style, so I just wrestled smart,” Gatta explains. “I didn't try any funky moves. I shut down his moves and capitalized whenever he made little mistakes.”

Gatta won the match 11-0. His gold medal at 57.5 kilograms will find a place next to the one he won at 38 kilograms four years ago while in Grade 9. There was no OFSAA event in 2021 or 2022.

Gatta’s teammate Charlotte Bowslaugh was very impressive in her first OFSAA competition. The Grade 10 Eden student rolled into the final match in the 64 kilogram category by pinning all three of her opponents to that point. 

“I was really nervous in my first match,” Bowslaugh says. “I had never been in a tournament that big. Waiting in the corral was really scary, but once I got down there, the sound of the audience faded away and I didn’t really hear anything. I pinned her pretty quickly after she got a shot on me.”

Bowlaugh says her second opponent, Morgan Payne of Orleans, Ontario, was much stronger than most other wrestlers she had faced this year, but she was able to pin her, as well as her third opponent, Allison Accetta of Sandwich Secondary School. 

She felt confident going into the final against Mayfield Secondary School’s Tarleen Saroya. But as a first-year wrestler, she had already accomplished more than she even expected in the tournament. 

“I didn’t really expect to win,” Bowlaugh says, “because I had wrestled her in November and she beat me. She’s been wrestling for about 10 years. In the first part, she threw me, and I got out of the first pin. Then we stood back up, and she threw me again and I hit my head. I was a bit dazed, and then I got pinned.”

“It was crazy,” says Bowslaugh about standing on the podium to accept her silver medal. “My goal for the tournament was to not go two and out, and I got silver. It felt really good.”

Bowslaugh’s best friend and fellow Eden student Jorja Lepp also qualified for OFSAA. She went 1-2 , pinning Rebecca Hartman of Oshawa’s Maxwell Heights Secondary School for her sole win in her second match. She finished out of the medals. But it was an experience she won’t forget. 

“It was a really fun experience,” Lepp says. “I think I wrestled well, even though I didn’t win. Seeing how good some of the other girls were made me more determined to train even harder for next year.”

Ezekiel Ivri, a grade 10 student at A.N. Myer Secondary School, took a longer route than Gatta or Bowslaugh to the podium, finishing in fifth place in the 51 kilogram division. 

Ivri pinned both of his opponents Tuesday, but lost to Yasser Saleh of Brampton’s Turner Fenton Secondary School 12-2 Wednesday. 

“After my first takedown, I should have kept shooting,” Ivri wrote in an email to The Local. “I didn’t maintain the same focus I had on day one. This one match cost me my shot at gold and it also affected my next match, which cost me the bronze.”

He went on to defeat Roshaun Daley of Mississauga 10-0 later that day, and then pinned Jacob Abbott of Lindsay to take fifth place. 

“I regained my composure and came in with a can’t lose mentality,” Ivri said of his final match. “If I had stayed focused like this, my match against Yasser would have been very different.”

The four wrestlers all train as part of the Brock Junior Badgers Wrestling Team at Thorold Secondary School. 

“I’ve been wrestling with Zeke since I was six, I think,” Gatta says. “This was his first OFSAA, too. It was the first OFSAA for all the kids under Grade 12. It was kind of nice to mentor them. I was cheering them on, we all supported each other.”

Ivri and Bowslaugh will now prepare for the Nationals in Vancouver at the end of March as representatives of the Brock Junior Badgers Wrestling Team.  

Gatta, also a Junior Badger, was slated to compete there as well, but an injury suffered just two days after winning the OFSAA gold will keep him off the mat. 

He was wrestling Friday at the Canadian Cadet team trials for a chance to compete at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile this October. 

“Thirty seconds into his first match,” explains Zubin’s father, Kekoo, “he defended a gut wrench move and popped his elbow out. He was competing against wrestlers as old as second-year university students. His season, unfortunately, is over.”

Most likely, though, Zubin will fly out with Bowlsaugh and Ivri and other members of his team to provide moral support. And he’ll be wrestling for Brock University as a member of their varsity team come September, having recently accepted an offer to study business there.



Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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