The biggest, but not the best.
The Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club set a national record as soon as they arrived at the Judo Canada senior national championships in Prince Albert this weekend and things went pretty much downhill from there.
The Koseikan's nine-person team set a record for the largest delegation from one club to ever attend nationals. Though they managed only one win during the tournament, the head of the club is hopeful that they gained some vital experience as seven judoka made their senior national debuts.
"We didn't get the breaks we needed to progress," said Koseikan sensei Cliff Wiens. "Next year will be different. We'll have an experienced team. We weren't totally out-classed, we were just one year away."
Brian Smith fared the best of the local competitors in the field. The under-100 kg competitor won his first fight and then dropped his second. He got a third fight, another loss, in the repechage.
The tournament was single-elimination, but if the judoka that eliminated a competitor advanced to the medal round, the vanquished judoka got a chance to fight their way back into the competition through the repechage.
"He was one match away from fighting for bronze," said Wiens.
The single-elimination format was also very unforgiving. Garth Rivers dropped a close first fight and never got a second chance. Wiens felt that given the competition that succeeded in the under-55 kg., Rivers could have gone a lot farther with a kinder draw.
The other Koseikan competitor in the under-55 kg field, Jeremy Williams, was just happy to be able to compete. After having a cyst removed from his neck, Williams was given late medical clearance to compete, despite still having an open wound on his neck that only bandaged.
"Jeremy fought with lots of heart," said Wiens. "He was the youngest and the lightest in his group."
Williams lost both of his matches after getting a first round bye.
Stephanie Legault (under-57 kg) and Kailey Large (under-63 kg) each bowed out in their first fights. Rivers, Williams, Legault and Large are all still juniors and have the junior nationals in July to work towards. Large, Legault and Williams will be joined by local Mark Kerr on the Western Canada Games team this summer as well.
Dan Orescanin was the first Koseikan competitor to take to the mat and he promptly lost to the eventual champion. Wiens said it set a tone for the day. Orescanin, an under-81 kg competitor, couldn't rebound in his second fight. Derek Porter also fought hard in the under-73 kg field and bowed out after one close, tough fight.
Jim and Josh Wiens were both in the over-100 kg field and each lost their opening bout. The two brothers fought really well, but Josh Wiens' loss was especially tough.
"Josh clearly out-classed his opponent, but he didn't score the points he should have," said Wiens.
The Wiens brothers each received a national ranking for their efforts. Each received a five, a ranking based on their performance more so than just their results.
Despite the disappointing results, sensei Wiens was upbeat after the tournament.
"They fought as a team and they have the experience to take back with them next year," he said. "They all fought with true spirit and true heart. Myself and Moose Jaw can be nothing but proud of them."
It was a strong weekend for Saskatchewan on the whole, however. The province was third overall behind traditional powers Quebec and Ontario. It was their highest-ever finish. The province also set a new record when they had four competitors on the medal podium all at the same time.
The Koseikan fighters will all be in Prince Albert until Wednesday as they take part in three days of training camps with the national coaching staff.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald May 27, 2003