Three of Moose Jaw's best judo athletes will be testing their mettle at the Youth National Championships this weekend, and for two of them it will be a brand new experience.
Chad Griffin will be returning to the national level for the second time, while Haley Walz and Rebecca Hanson will be attending their first such event.
Still, as part of the Team Sask contingent, they know what's expected of them.
"I think, for Chad anyway, he's going to do very well," said Moose Jaw club coach Jim Wiens. "For (the girls), we're expecting a little bit more of a learning experience. But I don't think they're going to disappoint anybody, we still expect a strong showing."
The event takes place in Calgary beginning today and running through Sunday. The Saskatchewan team consists of 23 athletes from Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Lloydminster, Prince Albert and Watrous.
With the championship in western Canada, a larger group of kids are able to attend. But that's not the only benefit the location gives Team Sask.
"The big names in judo mainly train in Ontario and Quebec," said Wiens, explaining that travel costs prohibit large contingents from making the trip. "We're not going to have as high a volume of the (central Canada) competitors as we usually do."
As well, the families of the three athletes will be making the trip to Alberta to cheer them on.
"That should ease a lot of the pre-competition butterflies that the kids have at this big of a tournament," said Wiens.
While the athletes have competed at large-scale tournaments before, this is a very different level.
"There's a formal weigh-in, a formal waiting area, there's a big (screen) where you can watch your match move up as it gets closer and closer," said Wiens. "So a lot of these guys get psyched out by that."
But the three are not stressed or nervous. In fact, they're excited to get out on the mat and show the country what they've got.
"They seem to be quite eager to get there and see what this is all about and see how they compare to other people on a national stage," said Wiens. "They've fought in so many competitions in the province and in western Canada that they want to see how they stack up nationally."
But the simple fact that they qualified to attend nationals is an honour, considering the strength of the athletes they beat out.
"To know that they got picked and that there's other athletes in the province that they're leaving behind, it shows that they really are the best in the province and they're expected to do (well) at the competition," said Wiens.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald July 3, 2009