The Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club were going to be represented by an unprecedented quarter of the provincial junior judo team to nationals this weekend.
Now, after two injuries to other provincial team members reduced the team to 26, that percentage has grown as seven Koseikan judoka will be part of the squad. With only one of those attendees in their last year of eligibility -- and plenty of talent waiting for their chance -- the Koseikan should be well represented at nationals for years to come.
"We definitely have lots of capable fighters waiting in the wings to take over," said Koseikan sensei Cliff Wiens. "I expect we have at least three ready to come up next year."
This year's group features four judoka with nationals experience -- Mark Kerr, Kailey Large, Stephanie Legault and Brian Smith -- along with three 16-year-olds -- Tom Glasrud, Garth Rivers and Jeremy Williams -- who are making their nationals debut in Edmonton starting Saturday.
"They all have a chance at a medal depending on the draw," said Wiens.
Smith, who now goes to school and trains in Edmonton, is in his last year as a junior in the under-90 kilogram weight class. Smith is likely the best bet for a medal.
"Brian has been training exceptionally hard in Edmonton," said Wiens. "It's his last year and he wants a medal."
Large (junior female under-57 kg), Legault (junior female under-63 kg) and Kerr (junior male under-90 kg) all have the experience and the talent needed to compete with the best in the country. Smith and Legault each fought in the bronze medal bout last year at junior nationals.
For the younger competitors as the countdown to nationals begins they are thinking survival before glory.
"If I can last more than 30 seconds (in a bout) I'll be happy," said Glasrud, a juvenile male under-81 kg competitor who attends Central Collegiate and has four years of eligibility left. "I need to concentrate and not get too excited."
The trio of newcomers haven't seen much of what they will be up against and are trying to adjust their expectations accordingly.
"I just want to do my best," said Rivers who attends Peacock Collegiate.
"There's a kid from Alberta -- I've beaten him and he's beaten me, so we're pretty even."
Rivers and Williams are each in the Junior under-55kg category, but won't be going head-to-head unless they reach the finals against each other. Williams noted that while he has been working hard in the dojo to prepare, what he can learn on the mats in Edmonton could be more valuable down the line.
"As I can see there are better athletes out there, so it takes experience to win," said Williams, who is 16 and attends Central and is hoping to gather some experience. "There is such a high calibre athlete to go up against I won't know how strong they will be until it is over."
The junior nationals are two months later than usual this year, which left the Koseikan dojo open an extra month later than it typically would be. The sextet that are still training in Moose Jaw came down and worked out with their instructors. Wiens is hoping the extra time will be a benefit.
"It's good for them, but harder on the instructors," said Wiens with a smile. "It's a smaller class, usually they have 18 to 20 here, but we had a provincial training camp two weeks ago and they were in the best shape there.
"Everybody pulls for each other, it's not as individual sport as you see at other clubs, they don't have that club aspect. You see how they tease each other and are joking around. They celebrate with each other."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald July 6, 2002