Lloydminster Judo Club members, with back row from left, Carter Johnston, Jessen Brust, Ryley McGarry, Brianna Ruff, Avery McGarry; front row, Alexis Dugas, Marissa Howdle, Brooklyn Bloch-Hansen and Devrie Johnson, captured a combined 14 medals at the North Battleford Saskatchewan Winter Games last month. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
The North Battleford 2018 Saskatchewan Winter Games proved both exhausting and exhilarating for nine local martial arts athletes.
These Lloydminster Judo Club members captured a combined four gold, seven silver and three bronze medals for Team Rivers West during the first half of the Feb. 19-24 Games.
This haul includes five medals in individual competition on Feb. 19, six during the team event the next day, and a sole silver in the skills tournament the following morning and afternoon.
“They all performed really well,” said Team Rivers West judo coach Dean McGarry. “Some of them had some really tough weight classes and they still probably fought as good as or better than I thought they would. So, it’s really impressive.”
Devrie Johnson, a 13-year-old Grade 8 student at Holy Rosary High School, captured a gold medal in the -40 kilogram female individual competition as well as silver medals in the skills tournament and the team event with fellow Lloydminster Judo Club members Brianna Ruff, Alexis Dugan and Brooklyn Bloch-Hanson.
Johnson outlasted three opponents and quickly threw her fourth to win the individual gold on the first day.
She then helped Team Rivers West tear through double-digit matches on the second day to notch the team silver before performing four masterful throws to score second place in the skills competition on the third day.
“We’ve been practising our four throws for about a month,” said Johnson, who was assisted by Lloydminster Judo Club athlete Marissa Howdle during the skills event.
“We had already figured out what we were going to do to make it look the best possible and so me and my partner helped each other. She helped me stay on balance and make it look good and I had to throw her pretty good.”
Johnson noted having nine members of the Lloydminster Judo Club comprising all but two of the Team Rivers West roster spots helped them reach the podium. She said they were able to hang out during the busy three-day competition, give each other pep talks and provide any needed pointers about their opponents.
“I thought it was really fun,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
Jessen Brust also opened the tournament with a gold medal performance in the individual competition.
The Grade 9 student at College Park School managed to beat three strong opponents during a span of three hours to reach the -60 kg male individual competition championship match.
“The final round went on for five minutes,” said Brust, 14. “It took a while because there were no points until the very end. Then it went to golden score, so we fought for a minute and a half. I finally caught him with a little sweep, he landed on his back and I got a waza-ari, which is a half a point.”
Brust said the first day’s four matches proved tiring, but what his Rivers West group encountered on way to a team gold medal on the second day took the cake. He said they fought six matches to the top of the team event podium with each of the contests providing a test of skill and determination.
“The team competition was definitely harder (than the individual event),” he said. “It doesn’t just rely on you. It relies on how good your other team members do.”
Both Johnson and Brust noted competing at the Saskatchewan Winter Games was an incredible experience.
Brust said they treat the athletes there like young Olympians, while Johnson added the fact that the best of Saskatchewan was in North Battleford made winning a much more difficult task than at regular tournaments.
“It was a big goal for a lot of them to actually make the team and take a medal there,” said McGarry. “It was a good accomplishment for most of them and especially the younger ones. We’ve got a first year and a second year in this division. I think this was a big stepping stone for them. This is probably their best achievement so far.”