Lightweight, Middleweight and Open Division Senior Nationals Preview

April 18, 2009, 11:13 a.m. (ET)

(San Diego, Calif.) - Competition begins at the USA Judo Senior Nationals on Saturday with the men's and women's little, middle and open 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.  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:

 Women's 44kg*, 48kg, 52kg, 57kg and Open

Men's 55kg*, 60kg, 66kg, 73kg and Open

 *Non-World Championship weights

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

Women's 44kg
Former Senior Pan Am Team member Veronica Prado (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) is the veteran of a division that also includes juniors Nicole Padron (Davie, Fla. / Panther Judo), Victoria Burke (Livermore, Calif. / Northern California Elite Team), Kendyl Post (Livermore, Calif. / Northern California Elite Team) and Vanessa Calimquim (Long Beach, Calif. / South Bay Judo).

Women's 48kg
In another division filled with juniors, reigning National Champion Natalie Lafon (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) may be the oldest player in the division, but the top seed is one of three returning medalists from the 2008 Senior Nationals. 

Former bronze medalists Angela Creutzberger (Ballston Lakes, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) and Katelyn Bouyssou (Hope, R.I. / NYAC / Mayo Quanchi Judo Club) have battled back and forth in both the junior and senior divisions.  Bouyssou has won the majority of their matches, but Creutzberger took key wins at both the Junior World Team Trials and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Women's 52kg
A former National Champion in the 48kg division, Jeanette Rodriguez (Davie, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) moved up to 52kg in November and is now the fourth-ranked player in the division after top-five finishes in Finland and Sweden.

On the opposite side of the draw, 16-year-old Kayla Chappell (Oklahoma City, USA Stars) is the #1 seed.  Chappell has never won a Senior National medal, but she surprised many when she placed fifth last month at the Senior Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires.

Women's 57kg
With reigning Senior National Champion Marti Malloy (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) entering the tournament as a fourth seed, it's junior Angelica Delgado (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) who is the #1 player in the division.

Malloy and Delgado could fight in the semifinals on Saturday while #2 and #3 seeds Hannah Martin (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) and Hana Carmichael (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE) are on the opposite side of the draw.

Like many young senior players, Martin and Carmichael's frequent fights as former juniors have carried over to senior tournaments with Martin defeating Carmichael in their last major match in the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open.

Women's Open
Draws will not be completed until mid-morning on Saturday; however, 78kg National Champion Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) is expected to be the #1 seed.

Men's 55kg
In a division usually populated by juniors, it's a rarity that the favorites are two veterans who could meet in the semifinals.  Both 38-year-old Hiram Cruz (Jacksonville, Fla. / Ryu Judo Jacksonville) and 51-year-old Mickey Matsumoto (Torrance, Calif. / Gardena Judo) hold multiple National titles and have little problem holding their own with players half or a third of their ages.

 Also in the division is former World Blind Championship Team member Ron Hawthorne (Kansas City, Kans.)  Hawthorne has never medalled at this level of sighted competition, but previous gold medal wins at E-Level tournaments show that he could be a dark horse.

 Men's 60kg
Top seed Aaron Kunihiro (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) and #2 player Nick Kossor (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) are on either side of the draw, but either player could take the gold medal.  The two East Coast players fight often with matches frequently going to Golden Score (overtime).  Kunihiro had an impressive bronze medal win at the Pan Am Championships last month, but Kossor has had key performances as well, most notably last year when he upset Olympian Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Spartak Sports Club) in the final seconds of the finals.

Men's 66kg
Jeff Fong (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University) produced one of the biggest surprises of the U.S. Open last fall when he won the silver medal that would later move him up to #1 in the senior rankings.

Fong has never placed at a Senior Nationals, but is hoping that this will be his first.

On the opposite side of the draw are 2008 Rendez-Vous Canada bronze medalist Brad Bolen (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) and Josh O'Neil (Racine, Wis. / Cohen's Judo), a 2008 U.S. Olympic Team alternate in the 60kg division who is returning to his former weight.

Men's 73kg
Formerly one of the deepest divisions in any Senior Nationals, this year's 73kg field guarantees only one thing - a first-time National Champion.  Watch for 2009 Pan Am medalist Michael Eldred (Fruitland, Idaho / Western Idaho Judo Institute) to be a finals favorite on the bottom of the draw.

Second seed Nick Delpopolo (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) earned key wins on the World Tour earlier this year as well as a silver medal at the New York Open, a major international tournament in March.  One of Delpopolo's major hurdles will likely be a first-round match with Joseph Hashimoto (San Jose, Calif. / Northglenn Judo), a former 66kg player who recently moved up to 73kg.

Men's Open
Draws will not be completed until mid-morning on Saturday; however, Kyle Vashkulat (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center), a silver medalist in the 100kg division on Friday, is expected to be the top seed.

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