The Cochrane Cowboys Wrestling Club got a taste of competition locally and nationally in two separate tournaments this past weekend.
The club's mini and junior division athletes, many of whom are new to the club, and wrestling, went toe-to-toe against other clubs in Calgary at a tournament hosted by Roc Wrestling at Rundle College Friday and Saturday, Dec. 17 and 18.
Meanwhile in Ontario, the club's senior athletes stepped onto the mat to face off against competitors from across the country for the first time in two years at the Matmen Classic — the biggest amateur wrestling competition in Eastern Canada.
"Some of these senior athletes will be facing off against each other at nationals this year," said Cowboys Wrestling Club manager April Hooper. "This was kind of our first taste of where we are in the pecking order."
The club hasn't been travelling much across provinces over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They only just got back on the road in the past couple of weeks.
The club's coaches feel it's important to reacquaint themselves with the competition as much as possible after the long hiatus, Hooper added.
Measuring up against the other clubs that took part in the Matmen Classic, Hooper said she felt the team performed exceptionally well, though for the club, their mentality focuses more on the learning experience than the results.
"Our whole philosophy is it doesn't really matter — the wins and losses — we don't really count those or even pay attention to results," Hooper said, especially given the lack of opportunities to wrestle over the last while.
"We just want to get as many matches in as possible and wrestle, that's really all we care about," she said. "Then we tweak as we go."
The weekend before the Ontario tournament, the senior athletes were competing in another tournament in B.C.
While athletes and coaches are ecstatic to be competing again, Hooper said they are clinging to a cautious sense of optimism with news of the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreading and potentially affecting their season.
"There's nothing really closer than wrestling," she said. "You are grappling with another person and you're face-to-face, sweating all over each other on a mat."
Due to the close-contact nature of the sport, the club has, understandably, lost a few members during the pandemic.
They were not able to wrestle at all last year due to restrictions. Instead, Hooper said, the club hosted their season online through Zoom fitness training sessions.
This year they're back to in-person training at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, which is following the Restrictions Exemption Program and following protocols that align closely with the guidelines of the club's governing body, the Alberta Amateur Wresting Association (AAWA).
"We're just trying to make sure we have a season and giving no one any excuses to shut us down," said Hooper. "Hopefully, we can all just stay the course, stay safe and do our part because I really believe that sport is so important — not just for the athletes' physical health but their mental health.
"It has been a world of difference, having this in their lives again, because it was definitely missed when they couldn't do it. You can really see the difference in this case — they're so much happier."
The seniors are building up steam with a number of tournaments coming up beginning the first weekend of January, leading up to nationals in March.
The Cowboys Wrestling Club will also be hosting the AAWA 2022 Junior Olympics at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre Feb. 19-20 from 9-1 p.m.