Olympians Stevens, Reser and Williams-Murray to Fight it Out at 81kg on Friday at the Senior Nationals

April 16, 2009, 5:40 p.m. (ET)

(San Diego, Calif.) - Competition begins at the USA Judo Senior Nationals on Friday with the men's and women's heavyweight divisions. 

The tournament is being held at the Town & Country Resort and Conference Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108.

Preliminary rounds begin at 9 a.m. with finals beginning at 5 p.m. each day.  Following the gold medal matches, if the #1 seed wins his or her division, he or she will be named to the team that will compete at the World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands from Aug. 26-29.  If the #1 seed loses, he or she will the have a best-of-three fight-off with the Senior National Champion.

The following weight divisions will be contested on Friday:

Men's 81kg, 90kg, 100kg and +100kg

Women's 63kg, 70kg, 78kg and +78kg

A breakdown of players to watch in each division is as follows:

Men's 81kg

Always an exciting division to watch, 81kg became a lot more interesting during the past two days with the addition of two new players, bringing the total to three 2008 Olympians fighting for one World Team slot. 

Olympian Travis Stevens (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) is the top seed in the division.  A ninth-place finisher at the Olympic Games, Stevens recently won his second Pan Am title in Buenos Aires and is looking for his second Senior National title as well.

After deciding against retirement following his Olympic debut in Beijing, three-time Pan Am Champion Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) won the U.S. Open in September in the 73kg division, but decided to fight up to 81kg earlier this week where he will enter the division unseeded.

While many had speculated about a possible division change on Reser's part, the biggest surprise of the division is the entry of Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Spartak Sports Club), a two-time Olympian in the 60kg division.  Although Williams-Murray was always one of the largest 60kg players, he has never competed at a major event in a division heavier than 66kg.  Williams-Murray has travelled and trained with both Stevens and Reser, though, and will undoubtedly come into the event well-studied on the strengths and weaknesses of each.

With both Reser and Williams-Murray coming in unseeded, the biggest question of the event will be where they land in the draw as the two could fight each other or Stevens as early as the first round.  The pressure will be on for both Williams-Murray and Reser, though.  As former #1 players in their respective divisions, each is usually used to having the protection of a fight-off after a loss during the Senior Nationals.  As unseeded players, both know that a loss means being out of contention for a World Team berth - a first for either player since 2003.

Although the buzz at the tournament will likely center on the three Olympians, #2 seed Harry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett) advanced to his first Senior National final at last year's event and could pose a threat to any player in the division. 

Men's 90kg

The movement of the 81kg division has shaken down (or is it up?) to the 90kg division as well with two-time World Team member Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo) fighting up from 81kg to 90kg as an unseeded player.

The top seed in the division, however, goes two-time Pan Am medalist Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett) who was upset last year by 2006 Junior World Team member Jacob Larsen (Colorado Springs, Colo. / Team FORCE / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Judo. 

Men's 100kg

After a six month break from competition, two-time World Team member Djamaldin Aliev (Denver, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) emerged back onto the judo scene last weekend to win the Northglenn Championships and reclaim his #1 seed in the division from 2009 Pan Am Team member Kyle Vashkulat (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)

Fourth-ranked Myles Porter (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center), a 2008 Paralympian, will attempt to become the first visually impaired athlete to win a medal at the Senior National Championships. 

Mark Fletcher (Atlanta, Ga. / Georgia Judo), a 2004 Olympic Team alternate, returned to competition  earlier this year, winning the Midwestern Championships where he defeated Porter.  This year Fletcher will enter the tournament unseeded, but he has the potential to upset any of the top players in the division.

Men's +100kg

Olympian Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) is the top-ranked player in a division where he is favored to win his first heavyweight title at the Senior Nationals.

Women's 63kg

Christal Ransom (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Judo, but was unable to compete in Beijing as the United States had not qualified to send a representative in the division. 

Since then, Ransom has won a bronze medal at the U.S. Open and competed at the Pan American Championships in March.

The #2 seed, Janine Nakao (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE), won the 2008 Senior Nationals where she defeated both Ransom and #3 seed Paola Genao-Butler (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center).  Nakao and Ransom fought again at the U.S. Open in October when Ransom won their bronze medal match.

Women's 70kg

Top-ranked Katie Sell (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center) will have the opportunity to win her first Senior National title after wining four back-to-back medals.  Junior World Team member Helen Delpopolo (Westfield, N.J.) is slated to be the second seed where she could have the opportunity to win her first Senior National medal.  Delpopolo could find herself facing former 78kg player Laquinta Allen (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. / Onikusu Judo), a Junior Pan Am medalist who upset Delpopolo twice at the Youth and Scholastic Nationals in Pennsylvania three weeks ago.

Women's 78kg

The reigning Junior World Champion, Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) won both the Senior Nationals and the Olympic Trials last year, but, like Ransom, didn't compete in Beijing as the division wasn't qualified.

Eighteen-year-old Harrison, who was recently cleared to compete after a bout with mononucleosis, is looking to qualify for her first Senior Worlds. 

Pan Am Team member Suzie Rizek (Naperville, Ill. / Fox Valley Judo & Jujitsu) earned her first major senior medal at the U.S. Open where her third place finish moved her into the #2 seed in San Diego.

Women's +78kg

Mindy Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) was the surprise of the 2006 Senior Nationals when she won the tournament in her first try.  Since then, she has qualified for two Pan American Teams and will be the top seed in the division. 

Toni Geiger (Dumont, N.J. / Tech Judo) won bronze medals at both the 2008 Nationals and U.S. Open, but has never defeated Swanson.

Former Junior World Team member Brittni Bradford (Land O'Lakes, Fla. / St. Pete Judo) has medalled at previous Senior Nationals, but will be competing unseeded on Friday as she did not place at the Senior Nationals.

The wild card of the division, however, will be Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo).  The only A-Level player on the senior roster, Cutro-Kelly is the #1-ranked player in the 78kg division, but will be fighting up to heavyweight for the first time at a major U.S. tournament since she qualified for the Junior World Team in 2002.