Park City karate athlete earns place on junior national team | ParkRecord.com

Park City karate athlete earns place on junior national team

Tianna Clevenger, a rising senior at Park City High School, recently took second at the USA Karate National Championships and Team Trials in Reno, Nevada in elite kumite, earning a spot on the U.S. junior national karate team in the 59 kilogram (130 pound) division. This was Clevenger's first time making the junior team.

In years past she has come close, though last year she didn't medal in any of her events, which her coach, Doug Jepperson of Park City Karate, was likely due to an influx of competitors vying for spots on the national team in preparation for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The 2020 games in Japan, fittingly, will see karate's debut as an Olympic sport in the nation that helped spread the martial art around the globe.

"Each year, since the Olympic announcement, our nationals have grown significantly," he said.

So for 2018, he and Clevenger talked about improving her training, and expanded it to address psychology, sleep and nutrition. She also took part in additional special training sessions with other dojos and focused more on training in "kumite," the practice of fighting, rather than "kata," the demonstration of the sport's styles.

"My dojo is the 'wado' style, and traditionally the wado style is more geared toward kumite," she said. "So I thought I would have more access to people that have more knowledge of kumite. If I did want to do kata I would have to find people outside my dojo to help train me."

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Clevenger competed in both kumite and kata during her previous two attempts at the elite level national competition, and while her specialization helped, her competition at nationals was still challenging.

"We get that all done," Jepperson said of the additional training elements, "and we go to nationals this year, and everybody else did the same thing."

Clevenger still rose through the ranks, defeating competitors across the country, some of whom had been on the junior national team last year, before facing Kylie Mahoney from Lakewood, Illinois, in the finals.

"It was very close," Jepperson said. "It was 2-1, and honestly, you could flip a coin right at the end and decide which girl was going to win, which is why they take first and second (place on the national team)."

Clevenger scored first, which meant, in the event of a tie, she would win. According to Jepperson, both opponents jockeyed for position until, with 22 seconds left in the match, both initiated a strong right cross attack. Clevenger's opponent scored, then scored again in the final seconds in a similar situation, coming away with the win.

Clevenger, happy with her outcome, said she didn't have words to describe how it felt to make it on the team.

From Jepperson's perspective, it was like having a family member achieve success.

"It's great to have a student that you have literally watched grow up," said Jepperson, who has coached Clevenger since she was young. "You're watching them in grade school and junior high. You hear about them going to cotillion, you hear about their boyfriends. In a small part you are invited into their lives and watch them progress."

Clevenger said she had a lot of people to thank for earning a spot on the junior national team, not least her coaches.

"Since I was nine years old he has been so supportive of me," Clevenger said. "Always giving me positive reinforcement. I don't think I could have been able to keep going in this sport without all the people telling me I could and that I was good enough."

Next on the Parkite's agenda: Brazil.

Clevenger will travel with the junior national team to compete in the Junior Pan American Games on August 20 in Rio de Janeiro.

Her younger brother, Nash, took gold in the 12-year old advanced division kumite, though didn't compete in the team trials. Eric Nelson took bronze in the 18-34 advanced kata competition, Ethan Neu took bronze in the 11 year old intermediate kumite competition, and Isabella Morello took bronze in the 13-year old advanced kumite competition.

In the beginner divisions, Diego Ize took bronze in Kata and silver in Kumite among 11-year-olds and Paulina Ize took silver in the 9-year olds' kumite competition.