Connor MacDonald and Michael Herbert have faced plenty of pressure in their young judo careers in the past -- fighting for a tournament championship every other weekend is bound to create that atmosphere -- but what they'll experience in two weeks time will likely make everything else pale by comparison.
One tournament, one shot at a spot on the 2003 Canada Winter Games Team Saskatchewan judo team.
And they'll each need a victory or two over a gathering of tough opponents to earn the spot.
"They're both really close to making it, but they're going to have to win the last tournament to get enough points and hopefully they'll be able to do it," said Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club head instructor Cliff Wiens. "They've both done well against the guys they need to beat in the past, so it's definitely a possibility."
The duo were among a host of local competitors who took to the mats for the first tournament of the season in Melfort recently. MacDonald took silver in the Canada Games under-45 kg qualifier division with two wins and two losses, while Herbert put together a 3-2 record in the under-55 kg class.
Both competitors lost to the same opponent both matches, and as has been the case much the qualifying process, it was by the slimmest of margins.
"They've been close every time they fight, most of the time they've been able to go the distance and it's been a waza-ari (half-point) or yuko (quarter point) that's been the difference," Wiens said. "They're not that far off so they know what they're going to have to do, it's just a matter of fine-tuning over the next two weeks and seeing if they can gain that little bit extra edge."
Teammate Leigh White also finds himself in a strong position going into the last-chance tournament after posting a 2-0 record in Canada Games qualifying this past weekend.
That final qualifying competition will be held Dec. 7-8 in Watrous, with the Canada Games team announced after it's completion.
While younger members of the Koseikan club were going through their paces in Melfort, four of the club's older competitors were taking to the mats on a much larger stage -- the Ontario Open, one of the most competitive tournaments in Canada outside of the national championships
Jeremy Williams and Garth Rivers -- both 16 and the defending juvenile national silver and bronze medalists respectively -- recorded top-finishes in both the junior and senior divisions.
Williams finished seventh in senior and fifth in junior, while Rivers finished ninth overall in the junior division before rallying for a fourth-place showing in senior.
"You look at how young those two guys are and the level of competition they were up against, and it's impressive to see them doing as well as they are," Wiens said. "They're both two years away from even being actual juniors, so they have a lot of time to develop."
Stephanie Legault (junior women) and Derek Porter (senior men) also competed at the Open but were unable to win a match, each going 0-2.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald Nov 27, 2002