Last weekend saw the return of the BUCS Nationals in Sheffield. The University of Leeds entered the fray boasting two regional champions among their ranks, with both the team’s Coach and President holding the Dan-grade and Kyu-grade titles, respectively, for the -73kg division. Yet, realistically, the squad’s medal chances were, at best, slim. The team had already lost a fighter through injury, so a single victory for the group would have been worth the trip; anyone advancing from pools would have been miraculous.
Yet, despite this being the case, Zoë Boulderstone and Anna Hulme – fighting in the ultra-competitive -70kg category – both made it through their group stages, but the two fell just shy of progressing through the subsequent medalling repêchage rounds.
Gareth York, who moved up a weight category to help complete the squad’s roster, faced both a 2nd Dan, and an English Open medallist, in his opening round. Unfortunately, their experience proved too great an obstacle to overcome and – despite having a winning score overturned in one of his fights – was unable to proceed to the knock-out stage.
Spencer Brittain, returning to Sheffield after dominating the field during their Kyu-grade tournament, broke through the ranks in order to secure his place in the knockout stages, but fell short of the podium. Similarly, Martin Woodhams, the team’s lightest fighter, managed to earn himself a top-six finish – despite lining-up against GB squad hopefuls; only just missing out on a medal fight opportunity.
The club’s coach, Sam Smith, shared his category with GB squad players and an Olympian. Despite these daunting statistics, Smith made it to the knock-out stages; narrowly missing out on a chance to take on the Olympian, he was defeated by a minor score as the time elapsed against a European Championship hopeful.
Matthew Lenney, carrying the momentum from his Gold at Goole last December, stormed though the repêchage and emerged with a Bronze medal – closing out a competitor who had become somewhat of a pantomime villain throughout the day.
Gianluca Guerriero, the club’s President, broke his shoulder in his second fight but battled on – against advice – believing he had only torn a muscle. After having to endure a double group-stage before the knock-outs, he ultimately suffered defeat in the final, taking home the Silver medal.
After losing his first fight of the day, Cian Grace rallied to dispatch opponent after opponent. The quarter final resulted in Leeds’ fighter strangling consciousness from his opponent, and, with his final bout lasting barely thirty seconds, Grace secured Gold for Leeds – despite a rocky start to the competition.
The weekend not only cemented the University’s place as one of the region’s strongest Judo Clubs, it also showed that they are a force to be reckoned with on the national stage, too.
Featured Image: Leeds Uni Judo