Last week, Nolan Mitchell was just another Grade 9 student walking the halls of Claremont secondary.
But since winning all three matches in the 41 kilogram weight class, at the high school provincial championships in Penticton from Feb. 23 to 25, Mitchell is starting to get some recognition.
“Who knew we had a wrestling team?” said one teacher. “I know Nolan. Didn’t know he was a wrestler.”
“Mitchell is the wrestling team,” cracked a parent.
As of Wednesday, Mitchell didn’t even know his name was flashing on the school sign out front, greeting visitors as they approach with “Way to go Nolan.”
“I hadn’t seen that,” said the 14-year-old.
Soft-spoken, Mitchell might continue to go unnoticed as an elite athlete at Claremont. But not in the wrestling world.
“It’s safe to say Nolan’s a very special athlete, he’s going places,” said Mitchell’s coach Nick Zuback of the Cowichan Wrestling Club.
Thanks to a pair of dedicated parents, who make the one hour drive to Duncan twice a week, Mitchell manages three weekly sessions, totalling five hours under the watchful eyes of Zuback.
It is a long drive, and Mitchell admits he usually falls asleep. But his effort once he gets there has woken up those who understand the sport.
“Mitchell’s commitment level to better himself is very high,” Zuback said. “He sets his goals and he’s like a sponge.”
Only two schools in the entire region, Esquimalt High and Reynolds, have actual wrestling teams. For everyone else, there is the Victoria Bulldogs wrestling club, run by wrestling legend Ed Ashmore.
Mitchell trained with the Bulldogs last year, and attended as many tournaments as he could. That’s where he came to know Zuback.
In Penticton, Mitchell came out of a weight class 12 athletes deep. He only needed two rounds in each match, and didn’t surrender a single point in the gold medal match against the No. 2 seed, Justin Cacatian of Vancouver.
“I was so full of adrenaline after I won. I’m still feeling good about it,” Mitchell said.
Going into the provincials Mitchell’s camp, including his dad, Lance, and Zuback, figured Cacatian’s No. 2 seed was deceiving. They all saw Cacatian beat Mitchell in the first tournament of the season.
“I said ‘Nolan, you’re not the same wrestler as you were two months ago. The way you transition and move is totally different.’ And sure enough, (Cacatian) had no chance,” Zuback said.
Adding drama to the weekend was Zuback’s absence due to an emergency appendectomy. Because the matches were streamed online, Zuback was able to shout commands while recovering on his couch at home, as though he was ringside.
“It was really hard not being able to go. I was watching and luckily it was only about a three second delay,” Zuback said. “Through the phone I had a parent relaying my comments, and I could hear her shouting my suggestions through the webcast.”
Dockers and Bulldogs
Eight Esquimalt wrestlers qualified for provincials: Kasha Solley, Jordan Merrick, Mohammed Abubakar, Daniel Norwood, Andrew Heels, Mitchell Keeping, Chris Dube and Warren Clark.
Clark placed sixth in the 70-kg class, while Lochlan Ellis from Reynolds was sixth in the 66-kg class.
Brett Matthews from Stelly’s represented the Victoria Bulldogs. Matthews recently won gold at the Island championships, and finished fourth in the 84-kg category at provincials. Matthews is planning to make the trip to Fredericton for nationals in April.