On her way to sweeping the competition at the Vancouver wrestling zone championship two weeks ago, Jilliane Vina took on a challenge from her coach.
She might have won the girls 54 kilogram round-robin in less time and allowed fewer points, but instead Vina committed each match to working a specific technique.
“She has some moves that she needs to make stronger,” wrestling coach Frank Mensah said Feb. 15 at Gladstone secondary. That was before the 17-year-old Britannia wrestler hauled an opponent into the air over her shoulder and flipped her down on the mat.
“She’s practicing her lifts,” said Mensah, a former junior national team wrestler and coach with Burnaby’s Howard Gairy International Wrestling Academy. In an earlier match, she worked on cross-ankle turns.
Vina won the regional title and this weekend at the B.C. Wrestling Championships in the Cowichan Valley is favoured to win gold.
Vina is already well known to fans of high school girls basketball. As a Grade 10 student, she played on the Britannia Bruins senior team and was named MVP of the 2011 Vancouver city championships. For three consecutive season, including this year, Britannia won the city crown and in 2012 won B.C. AA champions. Vina was named a tournament all-star.
Now it’s her potential on the mat that is turning heads.
John Oliver wrestling coach Chris Fuoco described her as “ferocious.”
Olympian Lyndsay Belisle, now the women’s high performance coach with Wrestling B.C., said Vina is new on the scene but so far she’s made a splash.
“A lot of people were like, who’s the new girl? She’s very strong and picks up the moves really quickly. I think she’s going to be tough competition if she sticks with it,” said Belisle.
Before the buzz built around her as a Vina as a wrestler, she briefly turned her back on the combat sport.
“I quit wrestling for a month,” she said from home Monday afternoon. “I kept on losing against more experienced wrestlers and I didn’t really like to lose.”
She returned to the mat at the urging of her father and the encouragement of her coach Mensah. She also trains with Paul Hughes at Tupper, the high school that sponsors her entry.
The decision to stick with wrestling is paying off and Vina hopes it will service her long-term goal of studying medicine. She wants to be a pediatrician.
At least two universities are interested in recruiting her, and she’s received a formal offer from one.
At Gladstone for the zone tournament, before she dropped her human cargo that she lifted mid-match, Vina almost looked the part of a television entertainer, teasing the audience with the promise of a body slam.
True to her focused, patient determination, her strategy that day was methodical practice. But true to the figure she cut that day, Vina is open to a career as an MMA fighter. It could help pay for university tuition, she said.
She supports the inclusion of women into the bloody, combat world of UFC, which aired its inaugural women’s bout Feb. 23.
“I like how it’s usually a rough, powerful fight for guys and now, it shows how things are changing,” said Vina, whose first matches were against boys at meets in Washington and Oregon. “I’m excited for it. It’s a good experience for martial artists who are women from other countries.”
Mensah first spotted her at a kick boxing tournament, and Vina’s experience in jiu jitsu and muay thai, helped her ease into wrestling.
“The transition was a lot easier because I have some experience with that competitive and aggressive environment,” she said.
Her sights on a Provincial title and medical school, Vina has built a winning record in a brief time on the mat. Over the long term, she understands commitment. Meeting her goals, she said, “Is a lot of pressure and it’s hard work.”