OTTAWA (ISN) – The University of Alberta women and Concordia University men will be looking to defend their national titles this weekend when the top varsity wrestlers in Canada meet in Thunder Bay, Ont., for the 2012 CIS championships.

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The two-day national meet returns to Lakehead University for the second straight year. The preliminary rounds are set for Friday, starting at 10 a.m., with the classification matches (11 a.m.), bronze-medal bouts (12:30 p.m.) and championship finals (2:30 p.m.) following on Saturday at the LU Fieldhouse.

All the action from Saturday will be webcast live by SSN Canada.

The Alberta Pandas made history a year ago when they captured their first team title since women’s wrestling was added to the CIS program in 1999. On the men’s side, the Concordia Stingers claimed the seventh banner in school history, but their first since 1990.

The Pandas and Stingers both return strong squads to this week’s CIS meet.

The Alberta women won their first-ever Canada West championship earlier this month in Regina and are ranked second going into Nationals behind the OUA champion Brock Badgers. Saskatchewan, Guelph and Lakehead round out the top five.

The Concordia men are favoured to repeat as CIS champs following their first-place finish at the Atlantic-Quebec qualifying tournament held in Fredericton. Alberta is ranked second, followed by Regina (Canada West champion) and McMaster, which are tied for No. 3, and Western (OUA champion).

Brock’s status as pre-championship favourite in women’s competition comes as no surprise. The Badgers, who have now racked up five straight OUA titles and captured their lone CIS banner in 2002, currently have four athletes topping the Wrestling Canada rankings – out of eight weight classes – including Diana Ford (55 kg), Natasha Chang (59 kg), as well as former CIS rookies of the year Jade Parsons (48 kg) and Michelle Fazzari (63 kg).

Ford is one of two returning CIS gold medalists from 2011 on the Brock roster, along with Jasmine Mian, who is ranked No. 2 this week. However, both have moved up one weight class this year, Ford to 55 kilograms and Mian to 51 kg.

Fazzari, a national team member from Caledonia, Ont., returned to university wrestling this season after a two-year hiatus, and earlier this month became the first female in school history to win five OUA individual titles over her career. In four previous trips to the national meet, she amassed four medals, including gold in 2007 and 2008, silver in 2006 and bronze in 2009.

Other No. 1 seeds heading into the weekend include Guelph teammates Madison Parks (51 kg) and Allison Leslie (67 kg), as well as Calgary’s Erica Wiebe (72 kg) and Lakehead’s Emma Brightwell (82 kg). Leslie and Wiebe won CIS gold in 2011.

Defending champion Alberta has two women seeded No. 2, including Lyndsey Almeida (48 kg) and Molly Bouchard (72 kg). Interestingly enough, the Pandas didn’t win a single individual gold medal a year ago en route to the CIS team title.

“For the first time in Pandas’ history we are sending a full squad (of eight wrestlers) to the CIS championship, and this will be a huge factor as we try to defend our title,” said Alberta head coach Owen Dawkins. “We will be in a tough fight with OUA champion Brock, as well as host Lakehead and Western.”

On the men’s side, two Stingers, David Tremblay (61 kg) and James Mancini (65 kg), top the individual charts.

Tremblay, a native of Stony Point, Ont., is a former CIS male wrestler of the year (2009) and is gunning for his fourth CIS gold medal in as many seasons. He is also the current Canadian senior champion in his weight category.

“We’re a young team, but we do have some experienced wrestlers,” says Concordia assistant coach David Zilberman, a 2008 Olympian and three-time CIS individual champion, who was a member of the Stingers’ championship team last winter. “All our wrestlers have a personal goal they are working towards. I think anything can happen. Anyone can win and anyone can lose.”

McMaster leads all men’s teams with a trio of No. 1 seeds, including Jason Buckle (57 kg), Kevin MacLellan (82 kg) and Sean House (90 kg). They are joined as pre-championship favourites by Western teammates Steven Takahashi (54 kg) and Ilya Abelev (68 kg), Saskatchewan’s Ryan Myrfield (72 kg), Guelph’s Jake Jagas (76 kg) and UNB’s CJ Thoms (130 kg).

Like Tremblay, Takahashi, Abelev and Myrfield are looking to defend their CIS titles from a year ago.