It certainly didn't take long for Peacock grad Kailey Large to have an impact on the University of Regina Cougars wrestling scene.
In her first season with the team, the 19-year-old Cougars freshman finished third at the recent Canada West female wrestling championships, earning one of the conference's three national berths in the under-57-kg division. As a result, Large is currently competing with the U of R at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships in St. Catherines, Ont. this weekend.
Large joined the team with an extensive background in the sport of judo, having earned her black belt this past summer and competed at national championships five times as a junior and senior.
But that doesn't make her rapid rise to prominence any less impressive.
"I think Kailey has had a fantastic year, she came in as an athlete with limited experience but has done a great job to get where she is today," lauded Cougars wrestling coach Leo McGee.
"Where she came from to where she ended up has been truly remarkable over the course of the year, and the best thing is that she's only going to get better as she goes on."
Large took up the sport mainly to become involved in a school athletic activity, and with the similarity between wrestling and judo, it seemed like a natural fit -- but once she started training, it didn't take long for discrepancies between the two to show.
"(McGee) told me when I first started that it was a lot similar, but when I actually got into it I really picked out the differences," Large explained.
"The points are way different, there were some things that I would do and think I wasn't giving up points when I really was. So it was kind hard that way but it's getting better now, it's a lot easier for me to understand that I can't go to my back, I can't put my shoulders down, I can't do a lot of things you can do in judo."
Seeing Large go through those early struggles wasn't a surprise to McGee, as the veteran coach had worked with several judo competitors in the past. In fact, the positive comparisons between the two sports well outweighed the negatives.
"They go hand and glove if you will," McGee said. "There are a couple things that come into play, they do have the ability to throw, a very good hip toss or shoulder throw, that's one element that's an asset.
"But the biggest thing judo gives them is the fact they're accustomed to competing . . . if they've been in the sport they've been through all that before. That's not new to them, and given those to things it was a natural for her."
Still, Large had plenty to learn -- and stepping onto a team with plenty of depth at the 57-kilogram division, including former provincial high school champion Theresa Lynn and CIS veteran Laura Chabot, certainly wasn't guaranteed a spot on the competitive team.
But injuries combined with Large's own rapid improvement saw to it things would work out differently, and when it came time to choose the team for the CanWest tournament, the up-and-coming rookie suddenly found herself at the top of the depth chart.
"She just kept improving, some of the girls around her own weight kept coming up to me and saying 'Kailey just keeps getting better and better'," McGee said. "Then I look over the other night, and I see Belinda Chou, who's a national university champion, on her back and Kailey on top of her. So she just kept getting better and it eventually it made sense that she'd be our pick for CanWest."
Large took the opportunity and ran with it, earning the first victory of her career in her first match at the tournament by defeating Shelby Wells from the University of Saskatchewan by pinfall.
"I really had the heart for it, I really wanted to show (McGee) that I could do it," Large said. "Then to win my first match, that was definitely pretty nice."
Large would go winless the rest of the way, but did so in competitive fashion, picking up points in every bout. That would be a crucial factor after she closed out the tournament with a 6-4 loss to Manitoba's Heather Laube.
"I thought I was done, I thought my year was over after that match," Large said. "Then one of the other coaches and his daughter were kind of looking at the results and she came over and said 'Kailey, you made it to CIs!' I just about couldn't believe it, because I knew the other girl (Laube) had two wins.
"But the way the point system works I managed to sneak in there because I had points in all my matches, enough to at least give me third place."
Even with her vast experience at the national level in judo, Large admitted taking to the mats for her first CIS championship will be a challenging experience.
"I think it's going to be a little more nerves and stuff than other years because with judo I was getting used to going to nationals and stuff like that," she said. "Now it's different, the sport is different and I'm still pretty new, I don't react properly to some things and I'm still trying to get the basics down.
"These girls I'll be wrestling will be pretty good, too, so I'm hoping to just stay in the matches and not get blown away."
That she managed to do through the first day of competition, taking her first two matches to the limit -- losing 8-0 to Canada West champion Andrea Ross and 4-0 to McGill's Laura Dunn. She faced Lakehead's Melody McCague in her final round robin match, with no score as of press time.
One thing is for certain -- it'll all be valuable experience for the Moose Jaw competitor, experience that will lead to bigger and better things down the road.
"It'll be great for her to get a taste of it in her first year, just to have a chance to face that level of competition should really help her and hopefully she'll be able to do well," McGee said.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald March 6, 2004