Kelly grapples for gold
Lorne Akins Crush product wrestles for Alberta Pandas at Canada West championship
By: By Nicole Starker
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 06:00 am
Sabrina Kelly didn’t intend on wrestling for the University of Alberta this year, but the 20-year-old from St. Albert is now vying for gold with the defending champion Pandas at the Canada West championship this weekend in Edmonton.
The dual-sport athlete has had a busy year. Kelly’s first season with the Pandas rugby team ended in a bronze medal win at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship in November.
“I was actually not planning on wrestling. I was going to do rugby and see how it went and just try a new sport at the university level,” Kelly said. “But one of the girls actually dislocated her elbow so they kind of asked if I wouldn’t mind coming back and wrestling for Canada West and CIS.”
The education major was part of the team that captured the university’s first-ever CIS gold medal in wrestling in 2011 and the program’s first Canada West gold in 2012.
“Her flexibility and her scrambling abilities are incredible,” said Owen Dawkins, head coach of the Golden Bears and Pandas wrestling teams. “She doesn’t give up points very easily and she scrambles everything until the last minute.”
Dawkins said the grappler’s great work ethic makes her a role model for younger team members.
“Off the mat she’s a great teammate. She’s always willing to help out her team,” said Dawkins. “She’s just one of those people that’s just an all-around very fair, honest, outgoing individual.”
As a late addition to the team, Kelly had only three weeks to train for Canada West, but is now feeling good about her fitness level heading into the matches. And she’s also optimistic about the team’s chances at the championship, too.
“This is actually a year where we as a team, for the men and the ladies, are ranked really, really high,” Kelly said. “So we both have high hopes that we’ll hopefully win Canada West and my fingers are crossed for CIS again, but we’ll see.”
Dawkins is confident the wrestlers are ready to perform.
“Both our men’s and women’s teams I think are the forerunners to win the team championships,” he said.
The Canada West championship isn’t the only reason wrestling has been topping sports headlines this week as the International Olympic Committee announced that wrestling could be dropped from the 2020 Games.
“There’s a lot of uproar going on about that right now, so the timing couldn’t be any worse,” Dawkins said.
In addition to her wins with the Pandas, Kelly captured silver at the 2010 junior nationals and Junior Pan-Am Championships and gold at the 2011 junior nationals.
The highlight of Kelly’s wrestling career so far was representing Canada at the 2011 Junior World Championships in Romania even though she didn’t medal at the event.
Dawkins said that contact seems to be the common denominator when it comes to rugby and wrestling, and it’s not uncommon for some athletes like Kelly to participate in both sports.
“We’ve got a bunch of rugby players that do that actually, and a lot of male rugby players. Myself, I did that as well. So I mean wrestling and rugby have always gone hand-in-hand,” said Dawkins, who has been leading the university program for four seasons.
Kelly’s three older brothers influenced her decision to give rugby a try in Grade 6.
“I’ve always loved being outside and just kind of running around and I was a tomboy on my block full of boys,” she said. “So it’s always been nice to be able to keep up with the boys and do a sport that’s been considered a boy’s sport forever.”
Kelly began playing competitively at age 14 and in addition to her time at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club, her career on the pitch includes stints with the Paul Kane Blues in high school and U17 Alberta at the provincial level.
With field construction ongoing at the St. Albert club, the noted tackler is not sure where she will go with rugby this summer and might even take up a new sport.
“I tried out Aussie Rules Football about two summers ago and I had a lot of fun so I might try that this summer instead, actually,” Kelly said.
She was introduced to the Edmonton Emus Australian Rules Football Club through a friend, and after being invited out to a few practices found she really liked the sport.
“My brother actually lives in Australia, so he kind of told me about it and I got to watch some on TV,” she said. “I thought it was really interesting. It was kind of a new sport and it was exciting so I gave it a shot and I really enjoyed it.”