The cycle begins again for the elite members of the Jason Morris Judo Center this weekend when they compete at the Senior Nationals.
Less than one year after getting Travis Stevens to the Olympic Games, another four-year push begins this weekend, with Morris sending a dozen of his athletes to the competition in San Diego, which also serves as the trials for August’s World Championships.
“It’s not an Olympic year, but it is a World [Championships] year. For me, that’s just as important,” said 28-year-old Natalie Lafon, who brings a No. 1 ranking when she attempts to repeat as the 48kg champ on Saturday in her hometown. “Obviously, the Olympics is a long-term, four-year goal. The worlds is a short-team goal, and I have a real good chance at making it. It’s something I’d like to accomplish.”
Kyle Vashkulat, who will compete in both the 100kg and Open men’s divisions, also goes in as a top seed. Hannah Martin (57kg), Nick Kossor (60kg) and Brad Bolen (66kg) are seeded second in their weight classes.
“She’s learned a lot, and is a fantastic dojo player, but she’s still a little nervous in tournaments,” said Morris of Lafon. “But she’s only been doing this at this level for three years.”
Vashkulat, 18, is the baby of the group. He’s turned in some solid tournament results recently.
“He’s got such a high ceiling,” Morris said of the 2008 champion and Junior World team member. “He’s so young, and has improved so much.”
“When everyone is getting better, you get better. You almost have to,” said Vashkulat. “You’ve got to keep up.
“This is actually one of the quieter years, but this is still a tough tournament.”
Kossor, a six-year JMJC student, cites a more relaxed approach as a key to his improvement.
“In the past six months to a year, I’ve been having a lot more fun. Jason and Teri [Morris’ wife and JMJC co-head coach, Teri Takemori], have gotten me to relax.
“When I go to a competition, I’m thinking more along the lines of ‘Let me try the things I’ve learned. Let’s try some new stuff,’ as opposed to just going out there and getting the job done.”
Martin is also looking long- term.
“This is more a matter of who shows up and who is still competing,” said Martin, who competes Saturday. “We’ve been training as hard as we did for the Olympic Trials.
“My main goal is the 2012 Olympics. My next four years are going to be based around making the Olympic team. Right now, every tournament is practice. Everything is a learning experience.”