At first glance, Bryn Sandhu might not strike you as a wrestler.
Standing at five-foot-three and just over 100 pounds, the Earl Marriott Secondary Grade 12 student doesn’t exactly cut an imposing figure. But watch her compete on the wrestling mat – or in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition – and it’s clear that she has the skills to achieve big things.
And she recently checked one of those things off her to-do list – securing a post-secondary future – after accepting a full-ride athletic scholarship to Northern Michigan University, a NCAA Div. 2 school that Sandhu said has one of the United States’ top wrestling programs.
In fact, joining such a heralded program – and wrestling under head coach Tony DeAnda, a longtime university coach who also has international experience – is one of the reasons Sandhu decided to commit to the school; she said she had a number of other opportunities in Canada, as well.
Northern Michigan has long had a successful men’s wrestling program, and will be looking to start a brand-new women’s program this fall, Sandhu told Peace Arch News.
“It took a few months,” she said of the process of narrowing down her decision. “But first and foremost it was the coach. He’s a national and international coach, and he’s been everywhere – all over the world.
“I just like his coaching style… and it’s going to be a brand-new (women’s) team, and that’s exciting.”
Sandhu, who has be involved in jiu jitsu since she was eight and began wrestling when she came to EMS in Grade 8, admitted that catching the eye of university coaches was a challenge at times, considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out all competitions – including the 2020 nationals – for the last year.
With no live competitions at which to be scouted, Sandhu – like many other high-school athletes – had to resort to sending video to interested coaches. And though Sandhu did have plenty of wrestling action recorded, many of them were a few years old, which was not ideal, she noted.
Sandhu’s last live competition was last year’s B.C. High School Wrestling Championships – which were held at the Langley Events centre in February 2020, just prior to the start of the pandemic. As a Grade 11, she placed fourth in the senior 47-kg division.
Her competitions outside of school, with Khalsa Wresting Club – as well as any jiu jitsu competitions through Gracie Barra White Rock – were also cancelled throughout most of last year.
“It was a struggle to dig up some of my old wrestling videos. As a wrestler, I’ve changed and really improved, so looking at those older ones, it was just a lot different than how I would wrestle now,” she said.
Though adjusting to NCAA competition will no doubt be the next big challenge Sandhu will meet, she’s faced similar obstacles before – like learning how to wrestle in the first place.
While wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu share some similarities in that they are both grappling sports, there is one stark difference between the two, Sandhu pointed out.
“In jiu jitsu, you’re fighting off your back but in wrestling, you can’t go on your back – it’s kind of the opposite. So I had to adjust to that – it was a little difficult at first, but I got the hang of it.”
At EMS, she learned the sport from the school’s longtime coach Tom Willman, who Sandhu heaps praise upon for always having belief in her talent – something that she said became evident as she was narrowing down her post-secondary choices.
After originally thinking his young protegé was headed to a Canadian school, he later found out Sandhu had pivoted and accepted the scholarship from Northern Michigan.
“I think he was a little shocked when he found out, but he told me, ‘I always knew you could do it.’
“He said there was something always in the back of his mind, telling him that I could go far.”