The calendar says it's a day for romance, but there will be no love shown on the mats this Valentine's Day as Surrey high school wrestlers compete for city bragging rights.
Sponsored by the Surrey Firefighters, Surrey Slamfest 10 goes Thursday afternoon at Guildford Park Secondary and this time the outcome is in doubt before the first shoulder is pinned to the mats.
The Guildford Park Sabres have won every one of the previous editions of the competition, thanks to coaches Mark McCrae and Bryan Stretch, two former Sabres who have revived the school's dominance in the sport.
"It's a pride thing for us," said McCrae, who competed in Guildford Park green in the 1980s. "When Bryan and I were at Guildford Park way back when we were wrestling we had won it (Surrey championship) 15 years in a row. Essentially it's the same tournament only now it's sponsored by the firefighters.
It was a pride thing back then and the tournament was usually very competitive. It's kind of gotten that way again and we do take pride in it because the Surrey wrestling community is pretty strong and the quality is really high. Some of the teams don't have the depth that we have and that's usually what wins out in events like this."
McRae said while the Sabres have some outstanding talent in the lower grades, he is casting a wary eye toward Cloverdale where Lord Tweedsmuir's Panthers are poised to pounce.
The Panthers are led by Grade 12 Jaskarn Ranu, the defending provincial champion at 76-kilograms and one of the top grapplers in the province in any weight class. Lord Tweedsmuir's Arshvir Atwal (69-kgs) and Tyler Dilman (66-kgs) are also expected to do well at the B.C. tourney.
"I think this year will be the first year in a long time where Slamfest is going to be really close," McRae said. "Lord Tweedsmuir is very good and I would say they're probably the favourites going into it. They're probably stronger than us and their high-end guys are very high end."
That's not to say the cupboard is bare at Guildford Park. Will Thamavong (57-kgs) has made remarkable progress in just two years of training and is a threat to medal at the provincials. Grade 9 wrestler Gagan Hundal (51-kgs) and Grade 10 Diego Esparza (48-kgs) are also improving rapidly, as are female wrestlers Adriana Miteva (54-kgs) and Zion Lee (57-kgs).
The Surrey Firefighters have sponsored the revival of the local high school wrestling scene and the impact of their contributions is beginning to show not only on the mats, but in Surrey fire halls as well. Two former Guildford Park wrestlers - Arminder Virk and Josh Beattie - were recently hired as firefighters by the City of Surrey and both volunteer as coaches with their old school in their spare time.