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Veteran wrestler gaining confidence - Feb. 10, 2014

Vern Faulkner
Fredericton
She’s back, and she’s better.
Veteran wrestler, St. Stephen product Allyssa Cleaves hasn’t just returned to competition, she’s doing what she has always, it seems, done: win.
Cleaves claimed top spot at the Western Open in the 51kg division last weekend, the latest in a series of strong performances against university and senior-level opponents in the last month.
Cleaves, who now resides in Fredericton where she attends UNB, said the Western Open, held at the University of Western Ontario, “was in preparation for the big tournaments coming up, like CIS championships and nationals.”
The Western Open featured a number of athletes from western universities, and a diverse field of seven opponents.
Claiming the Western Open added to Cleaves’ recent exploits, which included a third-place finish at the Brock Open Jan. 11 at Brock University at St. Catherines, Ont., wrestling down a weight class at the 48kg mark, and first place in the Queens open in Kingston, Ont., Jan. 26.
In the Brock event, Cleaves’ only loss was to Katharina Baumgartner, a German national with international experience. It was the only blemish on an otherwise spectacular January. In the Western Open, Cleaves did not surrender a point, en route to victory in a seven-athlete field.
Cleaves said she’s feeling “strong,” although she admitted she’s still compensating for a nagging shoulder injury that has been persistently bothersome since 2011. That injury led to Cleaves spending last season away from the mat.
It’s also led her to adapt her style, as well as shifting her training to include more specialized strength training and stretching.
“It seems to be working well,” she said, adding, “It still isn’t 100 per cent.”
Her injury means, on one hand, she is less able to rely on brute force offensive attacks, but at the same time, it has forced her to play to her strength as a defensive and counter-attacking wrestler.
“I prefer to defend, moreso than attack, especially since I’ve had the shoulder injury,” she said. In her recent wins, she parlayed opposition attacks to sharp counters leading to a controlling ground style.
That’s also a style that, under new rules introduced for wrestling this year, has led to even greater dominance of opponents.
The old two-round format with an optional third round for split results format has vanished, replaced by two, three-minute, total-point rounds. Under the old system, an opponent could lose by five points in the first round, win in the second by one, and force a tie-breaker. Now, that’s been replaced by a timing that Cleaves - although she found it a challenge at first - said fits her style.
“I found that, for me, I’ve been scoring more with the new rules,” she said. “It gives the dominant wrestler more of an advantage.”
Coming back from a long layoff had its downsides – mainly a sense of not being technically sharp. However, Cleaves maintained her conditioning through the summer. In a way, the recent UNB strike also aided her, as the wrestling team conducted two-per-day practices.
“Right now, I feel like I am very strong. I think I have gained some strength on my upper body, just from focusing on my shoulder injury, which has helped me in my matches. Not only is my shoulder not bothering me as much, but I feel much stronger.”
She has rekindled lofty goals of international competition.