Ilya Abelev has found success in his first season with the University of New Brunswick’s wrestling team.
In mid-January, eight UNB wrestlers competed with the Black Bears Wrestling Club at the 2015 Guelph Open. The event boasted a highly competitive field with top competitors from across Canada, the United States and Jamaica taking part.
Several UNB wrestlers had string performances, but Abelev earned the lone medal, winning gold in the 74 kg men’s division.
Despite his recent success, Abelev’s foray into the world of wrestling began relatively late in life.
“When I was younger, I wanted to become involved with sports. Unfortunately, I wasn’t coordinated enough for soccer, wasn’t tall enough for basketball and my parents didn’t want me to play football,” said Abelev.
This led Abelev to the sport of judo, which he began practicing at the age of 10.
“My judo program was more recreational when I was younger, but when I was 15 I wanted to compete at a higher level so I began cross training with wrestling,” he explained. “I immediately fell in love with wrestling and transferred over because it was a better fit for my skill level.”
Following his high school graduation, Abelev competed for three years at the University of Western Ontario. It was his former high school coach, who now coaches at UNB, who convinced him to make the move to the East Coast.
“I’ve only had two tournaments so far with UNB, as I was hurt earlier in the season,” said Abelev. “My first tournament back ended up being a very big one, which was kind of intimidating.”
“Somehow everything fell into place for me at that competition. I dominated and won the tournament, which was a huge boost to my confidence.”
“Then we had the UNB Open where the goal was primarily to just not get hurt, but I was able to succeed and get some solid competition experience under my belt.”
Abelev currently has his eye on winning at the CIS level, with the national tournament taking place in Edmonton from Feb. 27-28.
“In addition to that, my loftier goal would be to qualify for the Pan-Am Games and compete for Canada at that level,” said Abelev.
In addition to Abelev’s success, many other members of UNB’s wrestling club have earned bragging rights this season.
On Jan. 24, UNB Wrestling hosted their invitational, in which athletes from all three Maritime provinces as well as Concordia University and the University of Maine were present.
Many of UNB’s athletes medalled at the event, with Allyssa Cleaves, Brittany Dillman, Darrion Sterling, Mario Tran, Andy Sanford, Abelev, Grayson St-Lauren and Alex Brown-Theriault earning gold in their respective weight categories. Brad MacPherson, Amada Eng, Rachel Clark and Alex Thoms were awarded silver medals while Logan Fraser and Tom MacRae came in third in their events.