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Apr 18 Upsets Abound on First Day of Senior Nationals

April 18, 2009, 2:20 a.m. (ET)

(San Diego, Calif.) - There are several fundamental principals of judo that came into play during the finals of the Senior Nationals on Friday night at the Town & Country Resort and Conference Center.

#1: Weight doesn't always matter.  #2: Anything can happen when the clock runs down.  #3: Watch your penalties.

In the case of Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo), all three of these rules were evident when he upset two-time Pan Am medalist Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett) in the 90kg division to win a berth on the World Team that will compete in Rotterdam, Netherlands from Aug. 26-29.

Cohen, a two-time World Team member and 2008 Olympic Team alternate in the 81kg division, made the decision to fight up to 90kg shortly after Trials last year. 

"I just wanted to have fun and go back to just enjoying judo for awhile.  I'll probably go back to 81s in the next year and a half or so, but I figured why worry about the weight when qualification doesn't start til next year anyway," Cohen said of his decision and the recent announcement by the International Judo Federation that Olympic qualification for the 2012 Games would begin in May 2010.

Cohen advanced to the finals against St. Leger where the two seemed to be headed to Golden Score (overtime) with a penalty each when the referees gave St. Leger a second penalty with one second on the clock. 

The match was called for Cohen and a fight-off for the World Team slot would be held later in the evening as St. Leger was the #1 seed and all top seeds were given a best-of-three fight-off should they lose a match during the Nationals.

"I was happy in my mind that I won the match, but I didn't totally agree with Garry getting the penalty," Cohen said of the call. 

Later, the referees reconvened and brought the players back to the mat.  It appeared that a technical problem at the table meant the clock had stopped and the regulation period should have ended before the penalty was awarded. 

So they brought St. Leger and Cohen back out for a three-minute Golden Score (overtime) period.  Although St. Leger was given a warning penalty, neither player scored and Cohen was awarded the win by a split referee's decision. 

"I talked to my Dad before I went out and he just said 'Forget about everything and just go, go, go," Cohen said.  "I've been in similar situations before and you just have to get it out of your head. 

"Refereeing's a tough job, though, and there's probably a lot more calls that go my way then don't, but you don't ever remember those!" he laughed.

Their first fight-off match for the World Team slot nearly went to overtime as well, but Cohen threw St. Leger with a yuko (quarter-point) score with eight seconds left. 

In their second fight-off match, penalties were handed out right and left for stalling and failing to take a grip.  As the clock wound down, the score was two penalties by St. Leger to three by Cohen when St. Leger threw Cohen for a yuko and guaranteed the win.

"We were both getting a lot of penalties and I was down, so I tried to pick it up and attack 'cause you've got nothing to lose, but then he just got me," Cohen said.

Cohen would go on to win the third match and a World Team slot when he threw St. Leger with a kata garuma (fireman's carry) for ippon (instant win).

"Garry's one of my best friends and it's hard fighting him, but it's all business on the mat," Cohen said.  "I knew me and Garry would be just like when I fought Harry [St. Leger's twin brother who Cohen fought often as an 81kg player].  They're both very athletic, strong players who are tough to throw and you have to grind it out." 

Cohen's former division of 81kg became the marquee lineup on Friday when three 2008 Olympians chose to compete at the same weight.

In what many hoped would have been a final match-up, Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center), fought up from 73kg and met Travis Stevens (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) in the second round.

Both players were tied with a penalty each when Stevens took the lead, throwing Reser for a yuko score.  The match would be tied again, though, when Stevens was given a second penalty, sending the match to overtime where Stevens threw Reser to win a match that was watched by nearly every person in the venue.

While Stevens would advance to the final, Reser fought through to the bronze medal match, but was thrown for ippon by Harry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett)

Earlier in the day, St. Leger had advanced to the semifinals, but was armbarred by Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Spartak Sports Club).  A 60kg player at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, Williams-Murray fought up three weight divisions on Friday.

"Well, really I'm just getting back into it again and the best guys were fighting 81s and you always want to compete against the best players, so why not?" Williams-Murray said.

Williams-Murray led late in his final match against Stevens, but was thrown by Stevens with 19 seconds left in the match. 

The win will send Stevens, a two-time Pan Am Champion and ninth-place finisher in Beijing, to his second World Championships.

Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo) may have been the only player to give up more weight to her opponents than Williams-Murray when the top-ranked 78kg player decided to move up to +78kg where being outweighed by 20 or 30 kilos isn't unusual.

"I worked a lot this year," said Cutro-Kelly who teaches university classes in Rennes, France.  "It was hard to keep on weight and compete at a high level at the same time.  I cut a lot to fight at the French University Nationals and I missed weight, so I decided to fight up there earlier this year."

Cutro-Kelly had little difficulty winning her first Senior National title in an Olympic weight division when she beat each of her opponents by ippon to advance to a World Team fight-off with two-time Pan Am Team member Mindy Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri)

"I'm 25 and I've never made a World Team, so I thought I'd move up and try it," Cutro-Kelly said.  "I fight big girls all the time in France where they're known for having great heavyweights who are small and they told me that there's no reason why, at 185, I couldn't do it."

In the fight-offs Cutro-Kelly gave up a match to Swanson, but won the other two to qualify for her first World Team.

"I'm going to work in London this summer and train with the British Team, so I won't be far away from the Netherlands at all," she said.  "So I'll have no real jet lag to deal with, no weight cutting and I feel good at heavyweight so I'm looking forward to it."

Reigning 63kg National Champion Janine Nakao (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE) and top seed Christal Ransom (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center) split their matches in 2008 with Nakao taking the win at Nationals and Ransom winning their U.S. Open match.

This time, Janine led their gold medal final by a yuko before pinning Ransom in the final 30 seconds.

In the fight-off, Ransom threw Nakao with 12 seconds left in the first match, but Nakao forced a another match where she threw Ransom in round two.

In the third round, with Coach Jimmy Pedro (Methuen, Mass.) nearly hoarse from screaming "Tai o!!!" for the past three matches, Nakao threw Ransom with a tai o toshi (body drop throw) to win the match by ippon.

Djamaldin Aliev (Denver, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center) earned his third World Team slot when he threw 2009 Pan Am Team member Kyle Vashkulat (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason morris Judo Center) for ippon in the 100kg final.

Olympian Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) fought a close match against Steven Sciandra (Forest Hills, N.Y. / NYAC) in the +100kg final, but won both his first Senior National title in the +100kg division and his first trip to the Senior Worlds.

Katie Sell (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center) also won her first Senior National title and World Team berth when she defeated 2008 Junior World Team member Helen Delpopolo (Westfield, N.J.) in the first minute of the 70kg gold medal final.

At only 18-years-old, Junior World Champion Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE) added a third Senior National title to her collection of honors and will compete in Rotterdam in the 78kg division.

Competition continues on Saturday with the men's and women's light, middle and Open weight divisions at the Town & Country Resort and Conference Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108.

Preliminary competition begins at 9 a.m. with finals and fight-offs at 5 p.m. 

A complete list of the top five finishers in each division is as follows.  * Indicates World Team members.  In divisions where fight-offs were needed to determine the World Team member, results of the best-of-three fight-offs are noted as well.

Men's 81kg
1. Travis Stevens (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)*
2. Taraje Williams-Murray (Bronx, N.Y. / NYAC / Spartak Sports Club)
3. Colton Brown (Piscatoway, N.J. / Cranford Judo)
3. Harry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett)
5. Phillip Farabaugh (Pittsburgh, Pa. / South Hill Judo)
5. Ryan Reser (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)

Men's 90kg
1. Aaron Cohen (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / NYAC / Cohen's Judo)*
2. Garry St. Leger (Brooklyn, N.Y. / NYAC / Legrosports Starrett)
3. Tony Comfort (Los Angeles, Calif. / LA City College Judo)
3. Jacob Larsen (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Team FORCE)
5. Harry Chandler (Pittsfield, Mass. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)
5. Remi Fatoke (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State )

Fight-off Results
Cohen def. St. Leger, 2-1

Men's 100kg
1. Djamaldin Aliev (Denver, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)*
2. Kyle Vashkulat (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center)
3. Shintaro Higashi (Scarsdale, N.Y. / NYAC)
3. Armen Babayan (Alendale, Calif. / Valley Judo Institute)
5. Damian Ohara (Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J. / Craford Judo)
5. Mark Fletcher (Atlanta, Ga. / Georgia Judo)

Men's +100kg
1. Daniel McCormick (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)*
2. Steven Sciandra (Forest Hills, N.Y. / NYAC)
3. Matthew Walker (Tacoma, Wash. / Ippon Judo)
3. Mark Staniszewski (Garden City, N.Y.)
5. Darryl Sexton (Long Beach, Calif. / Torrance Judo Club)
5. Eric Anderson (Moore, Okla. / USA Stars)

Women's 63kg
1. Janine Nakao (Wakefield, Mass. / USA Judo National Team FORCE)*
2. Christal Ransom (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)
3. Sarah Black (Chico, Calif. / Stanford Judo)
3. Paola Genao-Butler (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)
5. Jillian Roman (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)
5. Alix Desmole (San Francisco, Calif.)

Fight-off Results
Nakao defeated Ransom, 2-1

Women's 70kg
1. Katie Sell (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)*
2. Helen Delpopolo (Westfield, N.J.)
3. Laquinta Allen (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. / Onikusu)
3. Samantha Bleier (Colorado Springs, Colo. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center / Boulder Judo Training Center)
5. Jennifer Tutass (El Cerrito, Calif. / El Cerrito, Calif. / Stanford Judo)
5. Meagan Higgins (Livermore, Calif. / Northern California Elite Team)

Women's 78kg
1. Kayla Harrison (Wakefield, Mass. / NYAC / USA Judo National Team FORCE)*
2. Allison Clifford (San Jose, Calif. / USA Judo National Training Site at San Jose State University)
3. Katinna Rodriguez (Anchorage, Alaska / All Star Judo)

Women's +78kg
1. Nina Cutro-Kelly (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo)*
2. Toni Geier (Dumont, N.J. / Tech Judo)
3. Melinda Swanson (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri)

Fight-off results
Cutro-Kelly def. Swanson, 2-1

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