Battling back

Wrestler becomes first OFSAA medallist from Neil McNeil in decades

Vincent Sandir’s path to OFSAA bronze came with great satisfaction as it came with the chance to seek revenge for a prior loss.

This spring’s OFSAA wrestling tournament in Guelph marked the third time that Sandir competed in one of the more hotly contested wrestling tournaments in Canada.

In spite of being first seed in the 57.5 kilo weight class, Sandir lost his first match of the tournament against Taylor Karn — something Sandir blames some rust and a cold arena.

“For those hockey arenas, it’s really cold in there all the time, they had the ice and they put platforms and then the mats,” said Neil McNeil student Sandir. “In those environments, it’s really hard to stay warm and be your best. But, that’s what comes with the sport.”

Sandir had faced Karn before, beating him at a provincial amateur meet in February, claiming the bronze in that helped him qualify for OFSAA. After his loss, Sandir battled back into contention.

“Bronze is always the hardest to win, because once you get knocked onto the bronze side, you can’t lose a match, and you got to fight everyone who loses on the championship side,” said Sandir, who also trains at the Team Impact Wrestling gym at Broadview and Danforth.

“A couple matches later, [Karn] got knocked off to the bronze side and came to my side,” said Sandir. “So then, it was kind of like revenge, here we are again.”

This time Sandir wrestled with new tactics against the bigger Karn. Sandir avoided hand fighting, staying on the outside of the mat. It worked.

After that, Sandir won every match, including a tough bronze medal match, a physical affair that saw his opponent get his back and almost pin him in the first round.

“I felt so tired [by the end of the match], I couldn’t even raise my arm, the ref had to actually raise my arm,” said Sandir, who lost that first round, but rallied back. “Losing the first round of any match gets in your head. Once I saw him get behind, I had to sigh in shame.”

The bronze medal was the first wrestling medal for the Neil McNeil Maroons in decades, an accolade that Sandir is proud of. Yet, Sandir feels like he left something out there, on the mat.

“Bronze is proud for [Neil McNeil], but it’s not for me,” said Sandir, the McNeil wrestling captain. “It was gold or nothing for me.”

The OFSAA meet brought in some of the best wrestling talent this year, despite the loss of many squads from the public schools. As a result, Toronto only had five representatives appear at the OFSAA meet.

However, all five of them attend school in the area, three from McNeil — Sandir, Shane D’Agrella in the 61 kilo class, and Will Felcamp in the 77 kilo class — and two from St. Patrick’s Secondary — Amani Waldron and Dante Beleno.

“It felt good representing my school at one of the largest meets in Canada,” wrote D’Agrella, who placed in the Top 8 for his weight class, in an email. “In two matches, I injured my knee but continued to wrestle — won one of them. The other time, it most likely cost me the match, and I wonder had I not got injured at that moment how much higher would I have placed.”

The wrestling program at Neil McNeil, spearheaded by wrestling coach Jay Jordan, is starting to bear fruit in its four years of work. Jordan, who is the president of the Team Impact gym, began coaching at the request of Neil McNeil’s principal, Mike Wallace.

“It was an immediate yes [to coach here] because a couple of the guys here, Vincent being one, Shane D’Agrella an other, were wrestling at the club and I thought ‘Jeez, it would be great to re-invigorate the program here at Neil, and get some young athletes involved,’ ” says Jordan, who has been competing and coaching for 30 years.

In addition to implementing after school training, at times with their counterparts at St. Patrick’s, Jordan would also bring in Dave Mair, a high-performance coach from the University of Guelph, to help refine the wrestlers’ techniques.

“Everyday after practice, you’re not the same wrestler,” Sandir said. “You go in, you’re always improving on something. You never go into practice and come out worse than you did comming in.”

For Sandir, he will seek one more chance at OFSAA gold, returning to the squad next year as he prepares for post-secondary education. In the meantime, he is embracing the McNeil environment that has elevated his wrestling profile.

“The school environment is actually great because as an all-boys’ school, you stay more focused,” Sandir said. “You don’t have the pressure of trying to impress girls at all.

About this article:

By: Perry King
Posted: Mar 14 2013 1:59 pm
Filed in: Sports
Edition: Toronto