There are few cities in Canada where wrestling is more popular than it is in Abbotsford, and the University of the Fraser Valley athletic department is set to capitalize on that.
On Monday, the Canada West conference approved the Cascades’ bid to add men’s and women’s wrestling to their list of varsity offerings.
UFV will begin competing in 2014, and becomes the first B.C. school in Canada West with a wrestling program since Simon Fraser University left to join the NCAA following the 2009-10 season. The other five Canada West wrestling schools are Winnipeg, Alberta, Calgary, Saskatchewan and Regina.
“The popularity of wrestling in the Fraser Valley made it a natural fit for us,” Cascades athletic director Rocky Olfert said. “The sport of wrestling opens many doors and opportunities for us in our community.”
UFV has had a non-varsity wrestling club on campus for several years, comprising about 20 athletes. Olfert said the athletic department and the club have been working together in order to gain Canada West approval.
Arjan Bhullar and Raj Virdi have been hired as UFV’s first varsity wrestling coaches. Both were CIS champions during their careers at SFU, and Richmond native Bhullar wrestled at the 2012 London Olympics.
“With their background and connection to different wrestling clubs, that leadership is absolutely key for us,” said Olfert, who believes that with a top-notch coaching staff in place and plenty of talent in the region, the Cascades could be a powerhouse in short order.
UFV’s addition of another varsity sport is something of an eyebrow-raiser, considering that as recently as the 2011-12 season, the volleyball, golf and rowing programs were on the chopping block due to funding issues. Those programs have since been stabilized financially.
Olfert, who was hired as athletic director in June 2012, said the wrestling program will not be funded with money that would have gone to the existing teams.
“We’ve had really good community support – different wrestling clubs have been able to help us on the equipment side of things and get some start-up dollars going,” he said. “And our advancement department at the university has been really helpful with identifying a plan we can put in place to fundraise dollars to make this happen.”