St. Catharines, ON- It’s a mystery, to some, how the Brock University Badgers wrestling team manages to win championships year after year after year in the cyclical world of university sports. To those who’ve seen the Badgers up close though, it’s obvious. Culture, teamwork and hard work.
The Badgers wrestling program has a list of accomplishments so long that it might get boring to read. Indeed, it’s easier to list the years when they didn’t win national championships than it is to list the ones when they did. The men’s team has won seven straight national titles, the women have won nine straight. In total, the program boasts 30 U Sports banners, 20 from men’s competition, and 10 from women’s competition. In 2020, they won both the men’s and women’s titles for the seventh straight year.
Rarely can a university team sustain such a high level of dominance. Their dynasty is even more impressive when it’s considered that they come from one of the smaller schools in the OUA. Brock is not a school that regularly sees its teams competing for national titles, the exception, of course, is the wrestling team.
Hannah Taylor is a 22 year old wrestler from Prince Edward Island. She was named Brock’s female athlete of the year in 2020 after winning U Sports gold in the women’s 63 kg final.
“Being a part of this dynasty has made me so thankful that I choose to come to Brock. We are a team that works hard every single day and continue to try to be better, and strive for more.”
Taylor has been with the team since the 2016-17 season.
“Although winning championships constantly is something we are known for there is a lot that goes into that process, and a lot of nerves heading into the championships.”
Wrestling is an individual sport, but the Badgers truly are a cohesive team. Taylor speaks of support she has for her teammates and coaches as well as the support they give her in return as one of the things that makes her better as an athlete.
“It’s an experience that is difficult to explain, but one that means a lot to me. I think that the reason I am able to set aside the nerves and contribute to the overall team titles is because my coaches have me feeling prepared year after year.”
The wrestling team trains hard. There’s really not another way to put it. Hard work leads to preparedness and preparedness leads to championships.
Taylor describes the average training process as, “individual technique sessions in the morning with the coaches, weights, cardio, gymnastics, or yoga following, and then a two hour practice where we scrimmage from all positions in the evening.”
In addition to the straightforward, the team has access to sports psychology and nutritional counseling. They also work closely with the Brock Sports Performance Centre and their lead coaches to achieve their best results through strength and conditioning training.
“The plan the coaches have in place is one that works and because of the coaches we always feel ready at domestic and international tournaments, and it shows in our international results as a team,” said Taylor.
The Badgers have dominated the mat for the better part of three decades. A common denominator on all of those teams has been head coach, Marty Calder.
Calder started his wrestling career with the Badgers, he won provincial and national titles at Brock in 1991-92. He’s a two time Olympian, competing in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.
Calder returned to the Badgers as a coach in 1994. The men won back to back U Sports titles in 1994/95 and 1995/96 and claimed the OUA title every single season until the 2009/2010 season. The OUA didn’t award women’s titles until 1997/98. The women won their first OUA banner 1998/99 and their first U Sports title in 2001/02.
Joining Calder in 2013, was Dave Collie, a former Badgers teammate who coached three-time Olympic Medalist Tonya Verbeek at the OFSAA level. Collie dominated at the high school level and was instrumental in Brock’s success by sending his top athletes to Brock, including Verbeek.
Calder is a perennial U Sports coach of the year, though he’d share the distinction with his entire staff if he had his way.
Some have explained the Badgers dynasty by pointing to the fact that they’re able to attract wrestlers with their championships. It’s easier to recruit athletes to a winning program, after all. Maybe the sports performance facilities and the gym at Brock are enticing, though those seem to be under construction every couple of months.
Or maybe, the Badgers are a team in the truest sense of the word. A group of people working together to achieve a common goal. For them though, that goal isn’t a championship, it’s to be the best they can be.
“The coaches help each of us be the best wrestler/athletes we can be. This often equates to each wrestler on the team achieving what they didn’t think they could,” said Taylor.
The Badgers support one another on the mat and off. Coaches care about their athletes, athletes care about their coaches, and athletes care about each other. Nothing made this more apparent than when Brock wrestler Clayton Pye was badly injured in a stabbing in 2017 and it was his coaches and teammates who helped him through not just his physical recovery, but also his mental recovery. Pye was able to wrestle again, winning gold in the 100 kg category at the U Sports championships this year.
The Badgers are persistent, determined and hard working. They have access to renowned workout facilities, elite strength and conditioning coaches. Brock’s sport psychology department is open to them. But when Hannah Taylor is asked for the best piece of advice her coaches have ever given her, the answer is simple.
“Have fun and just wrestle, don’t worry about the result.”
The nerves of elite competition can remove some of the fun from the sport, but Taylor remembers that the reason she and so many others started and stayed in wrestling was the fun and the joy it gave them. When national championships are on the line, when Olympic rosters are being formed, it’s easy to lose sight of that.
“It sometimes gets to the point where some feel they don’t like wrestling anymore, they are too anxious, or are burnt out,” said Taylor.
She believes, however, that a lot of athletes wrestle better when they’re enjoying themselves.
“Not worrying about the results, just wrestling, and the outcome will follow. This simple piece of advice has helped me grow as an athlete, and has reminded me to enjoy my craft rather than get so wrapped up in the nerves and the outcome that I don’t perform,” said Taylor.
Not every Badger is an Olympian and not every Badger is going to medal in their individual events, but that doesn’t make them any less a part of the team. The Badgers train for defining moments and whether that’s a personal best or an Olympic medal, the coaching staff are there to make it happen
“There are so many different levels of talent. We have world champions, Olympians, national team members, varsity wrestlers, and individuals in their first year of the sport. For the coaches to have a plan in place that is individualized to meet the need of each athlete regardless of talent level is one of the most impressive things about our program,” said Taylor.
When examined closely, the Badgers three decades of dominance aren’t so mysterious after all. They work hard, they work as a team, and they hit the mats prepared every time without fail.
Cover Photo: Brock Athletics/ Stephen Leithwood