Judo success at Winter Games

Local Content
Written by Dale Woodard for the Sun Times   
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 16:05

One completed gold-medal hat trick, one improvement from fourth to first, and one proud daughter/mother moment.
   Chalk up a memorable appearance at the 2012 Alberta Winter Games in Spruce Grove and Parkland County Feb. 9-12 for judo competitors Matt Stephenson, Dawson Mandel and Taeya Koliaska.
Stephenson, 14 and competing in the 55-60 kg event, snagged his third Alberta Winter Games gold medal in as many appearances, while 13-year-old Mandel went from a fourth-place finish in his last Alberta Winter Games to first place in the 50-55kg category.
Meanwhile, Koliaska, 12 years old and competing in her first Alberta Winter Games, proceeded to win bronze in the 44-48 kg division, a feat her mother Jeannie Kuno accomplished more than 25 years ago.
“She’s done well,” said Kuno. “One thing with the Alberta Winter Games that makes me really proud is 26 years ago I went to the Alberta Winter Games and I placed and our team competition also won first. In my eyes, she came in and did a repeat of what I did. So that’s something that’s special for me.”
The three athletes weren’t the only ones to medal among the 16 athletes the Lethbridge Kyodokan and Raymond Judo Club sent to this year’s games.
Also taking home a gold medal — her second in a row at the Alberta Winter Games — was Hana Varsanyi (female 48-52 kg) and Keira Trotter (female 52-57 kg).
Winning silver were Conner Evans (male 35-40 kg) and Tyson Moch (male over 73 kg), while Jordan Easter (male 40-45 kg) and Derrick Thompson (male 55-60 kg) won bronze medals.
As well, the team of Sarah Perks, Trotter, Evans, Mandel and Stephenson combined to win the team judo competition for Zone 1, beating out five other teams for the honour.
The Alberta Winter Games veteran of the three with two prior appearances, Stephenson made short work of his opponent, Brandon Martin of Airdrie, in the gold-medal tilt.
“I went there and decided I wanted to win it really quickly,” said Stephenson. “So I did, within about 20 seconds.”
The two opponents were familiar with one another.
“We’re friends. We’ve been fighting each other for a long time now. We’ve traded shots before,” Stephenson said with a chuckle.
The 14-year-old athlete continued to put on the miles as he and Mandel headed to Vancouver Feb. 18-19 for an event.
But thanks to a strong performance at the 35th Quebec Open back in October — where he earned another gold medal — Stephenson is taking his game internationally for the first time when he heads to Germany in March.
“Since I won the Quebec tournament in October, the winners in each of the categories in the U17 category and the U20 category get to go to Germany,” said Stephenson, who will also compete at Nationals in Toronto in July. It will mark the third time he’s made the trek to the all-Canadian stage. “I’ve never been to Europe. I just want to experience what they’re all like over there. I’ve never fought someone from Europe before.”
While Stephenson’s gold-medal bout was over in 20 seconds, Mandel went the distance against his opponent, Gregory Cooper, also from Airdrie, before earning the gold medal.
“It was long, I went through the whole match,” said Mandel, who was also familiar with his opponent. “I usually fight him every tournament.”
While he won’t be heading to Germany alongside Stephenson, Mandel will be heading north to Fort Saskatchewan for provincials on March 10 followed by the Edmonton International after that.
Mandel then gets ready to head east to Toronto in July.
“I’m looking forward to nationals.”
With provincials next on the slate, Koliaska was happy to bring home a medal from her first Alberta Winter Games.
“It was really fun,” she said. “(The competition) was about the same as other tournaments.”
Now, Koliaska prepares for her next tournaments with provincials followed by the Edmonton International Tournament.
“That’s the big tournament they have at West Edmonton Mall. It’s in that big atrium area,” said Kuno. “That’s an international tournament. So we get quite a few different provinces attending that. With provincials it’ll just be kids from Alberta, but the Edmonton International will have quite a few from Ontario and B.C. as well as Manitoba and Saskatchewan and then we get some Americans coming up as well. It’s a two-day tournament (and) most tournaments aren’t. So they’ll have younger kids and older kids and then they’ll have adults in Masters. So there are quite a few categories, a wide range.”
While Stephenson gets ready to head to Germany, Mandel gears up for Nationals and Koliaska prepares for provincials and the Edmonton International, the recently-won medals at the Alberta Winter Games were deserved ones for everyone, said Kuno.
“They come to practise. They try hard and they do a good job in practice and that’s what they do to get there. They eat well, they sleep well, they come to practice and that’s how they do it.”