The team of 25 will visit Fort Lauderdale next week to try and capture championship gold at the highest level.
It’s hard to call Chris Welbon Karate Clubs’ 2019 tournament season a “rebuilding year,” even though that’s basically what it was.
That term often gets its run describing sports teams that have experienced high turnover and have to learn to play together from the ground up, to take a few steps back before (hopefully) going forward into championship contention. For the CWKC team, many of those things did happen — roughly one third to one half of the team was made up of athletes new to the competitive scene.
It’s just that the last part, regression, didn’t happen and there are now 25 kids getting ready to rumble in next week’s 2019 AAU Karate National Championships in Fort Lauderdale. It sounds more like a tune-up than a full-on rebuild.
“I only have five returners from last year, but it’s going well,” Brian Warren, who coaches beginner and novice competitors, said. “You’ve just got to focus on the basics.”
With so many fresh faces on board, matching or exceeding the medal counts for the school record-breaking 2018 season (299 regular-season medals, 33 at AAU nationals) didn’t seem like a guarantee. Though the CWKC team didn’t meet the previous year’s mark, it still racked up 205 medals in the 2019 Florida competitive season — not bad at all, especially considering the comparative lack of experience. That marked the third consecutive year in which the CWKC program topped 200 medals in the regular season. It also fielded seven state champions.
“I expect the same out of the kids,” Warren said. “The training’s been the same, if not harder. We expect them to go out there and give it their all. We have a little saying: ‘Do your best, forget the rest.’”
The kids have been working hard in the Mobley Street dojo leading up to their July 3 departure for Fort Lauderdale. Thanks to a strong bond between the students, Welbon and Warren, the confidence level in the CWKC program is noticeably high.
Newcomers, like Terrence Bright, are excited for the opportunity to compete at the biggest stage on the highest level they can fight or show their kata and kobudo skills. Maybe a little nervous in some cases, but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in themselves.
“I’m excited for team kata,” Bright said. “I’m happy because I mostly get gold every tournament. Last tournament, I only got silver. I want to win gold again.”
The veterans are feeling cool, calm and collected before the tournament. Among those returning to the national stage is Nicholas Karlson, who’s especially eager for competition to start. Karlson had to miss last year’s national championship tournament due to injury and has been hungry for this moment ever since then, hoping to get back and make an impact in kumite, kata and kobudo events. He’d love to leave Fort Lauderdale as a national champion like four of his teammates did in 2018.
“I’m looking forward to the new competition and seeing who I can beat and what I need to work on,” Karlson said. “Definitely being in the advanced division this year, it’s a bit more pressure because it’s a higher division. People expect more out of you. But I’m less nervous because I’ve been through the process before. There’s nothing too crazy to expect, just the higher level of competition.”
Time will tell what happens but, given the consistency of the CWKC team over the years, it’s likely the school will have plenty more to celebrate when the team gets back to Plant City in July.