By Gabriel Rodrigues
As the CIS wrestling season approaches, Laurentian’s coach is looking to push his athletes to “that next level.”
“Basically, one-on-one is the focus,” said Andy Lalonde. “It’s a big year for wrestling, so I like to have my wrestlers intense in practice because in any match, you can get caught by one mental mistake.”
In the last seven months, the wrestling community has been campaigning for their sport to return to the Olympics after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board surprisingly cut it from the list of core sports in February.
However, in September, the IOC announced that wrestling will be included in the 2020 and 2024 Games, as the ancient sport received 49 votes to win the secret balloting by the IOC, beating out Baseball-softball and squash by more than 20 votes.
Lalonde, in his third-year as Laurentian coach, is relieved to have wrestling back in the Olympic Games because it gives his wrestlers a “goal to achieve.”
“It was like a big weight lifted off all our shoulders,” he said. “It’s everything we’ve lived for because we don’t have pro-wrestling or anything like that, so the Olympics are huge for our community. Some people win nationals, and no one knows who that is, but if they win the Olympics than you’re a star.”
As the wrestling season begins, Lalonde believes his experience can help his athletes “calm their nerves” throughout a busy varsity year, as he has won three national championships in the mid 1990’s wrestling out of the Hamilton Amateur Wrestling Club.
“I know all the emotions that go on,” he said. “I’m able to calm my athletes down and make them think it’s just another match. Throughout my career, I got the chance to participate in 11 different national championships, so I try my best to relate to them. I get pretty pushy in practice because tempo is everything when you’re wrestling, and I think I control that well in training sessions.”
Laurentian has six athletes competing for the University, as the team is wrestling out of the Sudbury Regional Wrestling Club.
For Lalonde, the importance of having a team in the north is crucial.
“When I was competing and still to this day, southern Ontario has always been draining all our talented athletes,” he said. “Now, at least, we get to keep our wrestlers, so we can compete.”
Some talent derived from the north is Sudbury wrestler and Laurentian assistant coach Celeste Contant-Rodrigues, who has won a national title wrestling for Brock University, and according to Lalonde, her leadership proves to be beneficial, especially relating to the female athletes.
“It’s great to have someone fresh out of a University program,” said Lalonde. “She’s upbeat, everyone surrounds themselves around her and it really helps having somebody at the same level who can explain things a little more different than I can.”
Lalonde said he sees a bright future for Laurentian wrestling, as he hopes the program draws talent outside of the north like in Barrie and Orillia.
“It’s a vehicle for us to become a regional national training centre that develops athletes at an international level, be it at the Pan Am, Commonwealth or Olympic Games,” he said. “Nothing is impossible, we just need the right pieces, and I think we are getting closer and closer to that goal.”
Ryan Karn, second-year wrestler for Laurentian, believes Lalonde is a great intensity coach.
“I learn a lot more when doing full speed scenarios,” said Karn. “Andy really engages in that kind of practice and I like that better than practices that are less intense and a lot more talking.”
Karn, a native from Fergus, Ont., is looking to improve on his season last year.
“It was really disappointing, so that is a bit of a chip on the shoulder,” he said. “I’m fed-up with losing, so this year, I want to come back and simply win.”
If you are interested in watching some Voyageurs wrestling than Saturday, Nov. 23 is a date to consider, as Laurentian is hosting the senior provincial championships at the Ben F. Avery Gymnasium from 9 a.m. to 3p.m.