When the Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club sent its contingent of four fighters to the junior/juvenile national championships in Kamloops last weekend, the hope was for a top 10 showing here or there, maybe even a couple wins along the way.
What they got was more than they could ever have asked for.
Brian Smith and Stephanie Legault both lost bronze medal bouts in their respective age and weight divisions, while Mark Kerr came within one match of fighting for a bronze medal himself.
The only competitor not to win a match at the event, Kailey Large, fought through an injury that would see her taken to the hospital after her final match and she still managed to hold her own.
All in all, one of the most impressive performances in club history, by instructor Cliff Wiens' assessment.
"A lot of people don't realize what it takes to win at nationals, even to have a chance at getting close to the medals, but they were right there," he said. "Brian, Stephanie and Mark were only a throw or two away from winning a medal and that's an amazing accomplishment, especially when they'll all have another shot at it again next year."
For Smith, 17, the tournament was his second nationals in the men's junior (19-and-under) under-90-kilogram division, and the year's experience paid dividends. He picked up the first true victory of his nationals career in his second match at the event, winning with a full-point throw over a fighter from B.C.
"He just nailed him with an uchi-mata (inner-thigh throw), it was probably one of the prettiest throws of the tournament," Wiens said. "His first match was against the guy who won the gold, so that was a tough draw, but he recovered well and did a great job the rest of the way."
Kerr, 16, took to the mats in the juvenile men's 74-plus kilogram division and tore through his first two opponents before losing his third match after coming out too aggressively.
"He was just too excited after winning his first two fights and wasn't cautious enough, and the guy just caught him coming in too quickly," Wiens explained. "It was a tough one for Mark to lose, too, because it was a fight he knew he could have won, and if he had he would be able to keep going and maybe even had a shot at gold. But for his first nationals, to win his first two fights is something else and it shows how good he's going to be."
For Legault, 15, her most impressive match in the under-67 kilogram women's division came in her third fight, where she caught her opponent with two half-point throws to bring a quick end to the bout.
She also had a strong showing in her fight for bronze, lasting to the three minute mark before getting caught with a throw.
"Steph was going so well, too, she was in just about every match and just needed a break or two here and there to pick up a medal," Wiens said.
Of all the local competitors, Large, 16, found herself in the toughest draw -- as the youngest fighter in the junior women's division, she herself battling competitors as old as 19.
In her second bout of the tournament, Large landed awkwardly on an attempted throw and suffered what was initially believed to be a separated shoulder. She refused to bow out, though, eventually losing on a holddown later in the match. Large was taken to the hospital for treatment immediately after leaving the mat.
"A lot of people would have quit if they were hurt like that, but Kailey wouldn't give up," Wiens said. "She showed a lot of spirit, and that's the kind of thing that's going to keep her going to help her win matches like that in the future."
Extra throws . . . the season has yet to come to a conclusion for Smith and Koseikan club mate Dan Orescanin. The duo will attnd the senior nationals in St. Hyacinthe, Que, May 19-20 . . . the club will hold their annual awards banquet May 11 at the Wildlife Building.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald April 27, 2001