By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The Academy’s judo club team members continue to shine as the team took third place at the 2010 San Antonio Open and won two gold and two silver medals during the National Collegiate Judo Championships in March.
The team competed against 24 other teams at the San Antonio Open, which is sanctioned by the National Collegiate Judo Association, and cadets went up against 130 competitors from 22 schools during the NCJC.
The wins came atop a previous victory over West Point during the military academies’ matches for the National Armed Forces Judo Championships in November.
The team is still in a building mode, both in terms of numbers and skill levels.
“They performed way above their experience level and far better than I expected,” said Coach Ron Lopez. “To take a team that had to rebuild, start from scratch and win the Armed Forces National Championship, that’s incredible.”
During the San Antonio Open, Andrew Oury, Ross Gourlay and Maria Phillips drew gold, Christopher Eby and Jill Daniels won silver, Nolan Brock and Michael Willcox took bronze, and Richard Munday came in fourth place.
At Nationals, the Academy women’s team took second place in the novice division and third in the senior. The Academy’s men’s team took fifth place in novice and seventh in senior. Maria Phillips won gold in the individual novice and silver in the senior division. Ross Gourley took the gold in the men’s novice and placed in the top five in the senior division.
All Academy team members placed in the top five in both senior and novice divisions.
“I think the team did amazingly. Considering all of our skill levels and that each one of us fought in two divisions, I think we all performed our best and did awesome regardless of who won medals,” Phillips said.
Officially an Academy competitive club, the 20 or so members of the judo team practice three days a week in the Cadet Gym and two hours a week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Coach Lopez, a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department, said the wins were especially sweet not just for their performances but for participation in judo amidst the high expectations and responsibilities of being military cadets.
“They need to be praised for what they have done. It was not an easy accomplishment,” he said and stressed school comes before all else, and, as cadets, they may miss practice because of it.
He pointed out judo as a collegiate sport continues to grow and in the future could become a Division I sport. At the Academy, he also foresees the growth of judo.
“I have a great core group right now. We will recruit players for next year, and if we have to, we will pay our own way to competitions. If there is a will, there is a way,” he said.
Over the summer, he is encouraging team members to train at a judo club near where they are, or in the case of the Academy, at the OTC.
Joshua Johnson, a sophomore, said he plans to continue with judo next year.
“We have a great team and strong sense of camaraderie between members. We have a great staff and several Olympic level coaches as well,” he said. “I believe that the team will only get better as the years go on, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Phillips, a sophomore, said she plans to return to the team next year and that she would encourage other female cadets to consider entering judo.
“I really would like the judo program to expand by getting more girls,” she said.
Willcox, a junior, said he would prefer if the club stayed small.
“However,” he added, “I would like to see the people who are on the team get better so we can take more people to higher level tournaments.”
He plans to continue next year as well.
Johnson enjoys judo for its self-discipline and the struggle to be the best.
“It is a sport where you compete as an individual. When you are in a fight, there is no one else to depend on but yourself,” he said.
Gourlay, a sophomore, said he had many losses before he started winning but feels the sport is a good one to learn for Air Force officers.
“Judo, like boxing or wrestling, is the perfect sport for cadets to participate in to learn the toughness, strength and ability to perform under pressure required of a military officer because, as the saying goes, “no plan survives first contact,” he said.