ST. CHARLES – It was a battle of the titans that has taken place in countless training sessions over the past several months.
Only this time, there was a national championship on the line.
Because of their proximity in age and skill level, Katie Gordon, 17, and Delaney Lebedun, 16, have become regular sparring partners at Focus Martial Arts and Fitness in Lake in the Hills.
“We know each other so well, so it’s weird to fight each other,” Lebedun said. “In the dojo, we always go against each other. But when it’s an actual tournament and there’s pressure, it’s different.”
The skilled Focus athletes, who have gone back-and-forth in practice, found themselves going toe-to-toe in the finals of the 16- to 18-year-old advanced (black belt) ippon division Friday at the AAU Karate National Championships. In their latest bout, Gordon managed to edge out her friend and teammate to win a gold medal at Pheasant Run Resort.
“It’s really hard because we both know how the other fights,” Gordon said. “So it’s more difficult to get points off each other. It’s fun, but it’s stressful because I know what she’s coming with.”
The victory was part of a banner day for Gordon, who added national championship wins in the kata and short weapons divisions. The Lake in the Hills resident finished second in long weapons, third in the WKF kumite lightweight division and advanced to tonight’s finals in the sanbon kumite division.
“I’m pretty happy with how I did and how everything played out,” said Gordon.
Focus, the tournament host, continued its strong showing in the championships and has eight athletes going to finals tonight.
Lebedun also had a busy, successful day, with a national title in kata, a second-place finish in ippon and a third-place effort in WKF kumite division.
The Jacobs High School student, who started karate when she was 5 years old, also earned a trip to tonight’s finals in the sanbon kumite division.
“You’ve trained so hard all year,” Lebedun said. “All you have to do is keep your mind in the game.”
As it turns out, the sibling scuffles in the Willis house are a little different than most. That’s what happens when both sisters are highly trained in karate.
“It’s more fun when you actually know some stuff,” Kendall Willis joked.
The 16-year-old Kendall and her 13-year-old sister, Lindsey, took what they’ve learned to the national tourney. Together, the sisters from Algonquin racked up five medals Friday and will compete for more in tonight’s finals.
Lindsey Willis contributed a gold-medal performance in her kata division, a silver medal in short weapons and a bronze in long weapons form. She also advanced to the sanbon kumite finals.
The elder Willis won a national crown in the ippon division, took second in the 16- to 18-year-old WKF kumite bracket and reached tonight’s finals in the sanbon kumite division.
“I’m excited for tomorrow because I’m fighting the same girl (as in WKF kumite finals),” Willis said. “I got tired, but that’s no excuse. Hopefully, I’ll be better tomorrow when I’m fresh.”