In the summer of 2005, the Activities and Recreation Center offered UC Davis students the chance to practice the sport of judo in a recreational class.
Four years later, the class has developed into a club sport – one that has already emerged as a national powerhouse.
The UC Davis judo club most recently took 16 competitors to the National Collegiate Judo Association Championships in San Jose, Calif., finishing with the No. 2 national ranking.
“This validates their training in a way my words never could,” coach Harry Kendall said. “I always tell them how good they are and they win many of the local tournaments they attend. But winning at nationals is special.”
Of those 16 competitors, seven finished in the top three of their respective weight class.
In the black belt division, Derya Ozes took first in the senior women’s 57 kg class.
Alexey Khozan got the top spot in the senior men’s 100-plus kg group while Dale Hata finished third in the men’s 66 kg.
In the novice division, Junmian Lin and Rolando Velasco each took first in the men’s 66 kg and 81 kg group, respectively.
Charles Rusher came in at second in the men’s 90 kg while Meredith Bruch rounded out the top qualifiers with a second-place finish in the women’s 57 kg class.
The combination of top finishes gave UC Davis an aggregate score of 27 to finish in second place overall behind host and 28-time defending champion San Jose State.
Iowa State, Texas A&M and UC Santa Barbara rounded out the top five.
UC Davis made it look easy, but these top honors did not come without intense preparation that the athletes put in throughout the season.
“Judo is a very difficult sport because it requires great strength and agility as well as knowledge of the techniques,” said Kendall. “To be competitive takes much more than the allotted time sports club allows us to train, so it is up to the individual to work out on his or her own. Things like running, lifting and going to events around the Bay Area put them into direct competition with judo people.”
A typical judo match pits two competitors of similar size against each other. The winner has to throw his or her opponent on their back and then pin them.
“I started judo two years ago,” said Ozes. “To have taken second in the nation as a team, and first place myself in the black belt division, is an accomplishment that no university has accomplished in the judo world.”
This hard work has paid off for the athletes, resulting in a top ranking with the possibility of participating in a future Olympics.
“Our ultimate goal is to produce an Olympic athlete,” said Kendall. “From these competitions, athletes get points for their wins. During the summer before the Olympics, the trials are held with the top eight in each category being invited to compete. I think we may be looking at potential Olympians in the future.”
With the 2009 competitive season in the books, UC Davis looks ahead to 2010 with high expectations.
“Our goal is to take first place as a team next year and produce many more individual first place competitors,” said Ozes.
“We are already planning our trip to nationals,” said Kendall. “We lost only two of our first-place students to graduation. San Jose State lost all of theirs. We’ve got the No. 1 spot in our sights.”
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.