Seconds after having her arm raised in victory by the referee, jubilant St. Jean de Brebeuf wrestler Cassidy Noonan dashed across the mat to her coach and, with a big bear hug, lifted him several feet off the ground.
“I was very excited,” Noonan later said of her gold-medal-winning performance at the 2014 Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations wrestling championships in Brampton on Thursday (March 6).
Noonan’s 10-0 victory in the girls’ 83-kilogram division final was against Adrianna Harvey of Thunder Bay St. Patrick. About 900 male and female competitors in 29 weight classes took part in the two-day provincial high school championships at the Powerade Centre.
Noonan and Bishop Ryan’s Giordan Caruso (89 kg) were the lone first-place finishers from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association. However, two silver medals also went to HWCAA athletes – Hussein DaSilva (44 kg) of Cathedral and Anthony Italiano (72 kg) of Bishop Ryan. In addition, there was a bronze-medal winner from Bishop Tonnos. That piece of hardware was earned by Amy Bellavia (51kg).
Five other HWCAA entrants stood on the podium for their performances, too. Marissa Welsh (41kg) of Cathedral placed fourth, while her teammates Tiana Ewan (115 kg) and Ryleigh Hagan (77 kg) came fifth and sixth, respectively. Brebeuf’s Devon Delharpe (47.5 kg) and Joe Martin (57.5 kg) each battled to a sixth-place finish.
The Bishop Ryan Celtics finished third in the boys’ team category. Peel Region’s Turner Fenton took top honours for both the girls’ team and the overall team while South Windsor’s Vincent Massey led the way in boys’ team points.
Noonan, who placed fourth at OFSAA in Guelph last year, praised Brebeuf coach Mike Varrasso for all of his efforts.
“I definitely stepped up my wrestling game this year,” said Noonan, a Grade 11 student who wakes up at 5:30 each morning for gym workouts and then practises after school. “I’ve been training way harder. I train down at Mac now.
“I owe everything to Mr. Varrasso … for getting me started and making me love the sport. I get so anxious before a match. The only thing I could hear, though, during the match was Mr. Varrasso. He can calm me down in a split second. No one else could do that.”
Varrasso said Noonan suffered an injury on Wednesday but “fought her way through it.”
“She’s a great kid,” the Brebeuf coach said. “Cassidy is incredibly determined. She doesn’t let anyone get away with just regular wrestling moves that would work on someone else. She reacts really well. She’s excellent on the ground and good at taking people to their back.”
In the 89 kg boy’s category, Caruso captured gold with a 7-3 win over Nolan Tipping of Windsor L’Essor in the final. Tipping won a bronze medal in the same weight class in 2013 and was the second seed this year. Caruso, a Grade 11 student, was unseeded.
“Giordan surprised a lot of people,” said Bishop Ryan coach Sheldon Francis. “He came in as a dark horse. He wasn’t expected to do anything.
“It was a big way to be introduced to Ontario wrestling.”
According to Francis, Caruso is naturally strong, an all-around athlete and has a terrific sense of balance. “I thought for sure Giordan was in trouble once but, because of his great sense of balance and body awareness, he was able to get out of it. It’s extremely difficult to throw him. He counters a lot.”
Caruso often works on his balance at practice.
“I like to bounce around on one leg,” he said. “Balance is one of my better assets.
“This is unbelievable. I usually come into tournaments as the underdog. My training sessions have built my stamina up so I could fight the second day.”
Bellavia’s performance also stood out. A first-year wrestler, her only loss during the tournament was to four-time OFSAA champion and Canada Summer Games champion Emily Schaefer of Sarnia Northern. Bellavia, whose father Paul starred in wrestling for Bishop Ryan and McMaster, defeated Hannah Little of Central Dufferin in the bronze- medal match.
Said Francis: “It shows that Amy has a bright future in the sport.”
Italiano dropped a 7-1 decision in his gold-medal showdown against Brayden Ambro of Tillsonburg Glendale. In attendance was Italiano’s father, Frank, whom the Hamilton community has been rallying behind to raise money for his expensive cancer-fighting drugs that aren’t covered by the government. Frank delayed one of his medical treatments for a day so he could watch his son’s final high school match.
“Anthony wanted to go out on top with his father watching,” Francis said. “I still think a silver at OFSAA is a positive result. It’s a great accomplishment, especially in a tight weight class. Anthony is a fighter. He fought as hard as he could.”