(Colorado Springs, Colo.) - Two years after becoming one of the first two U.S. players to win a medal at the Junior Belgian Ladies' Open, 18-year-old Jeanette Rodriguez (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) will return to Arlon with eight other members of the U.S. Team this weekend.
Although she reached the podium in the 48kg division during her last trip to Belgium, Rodriguez has since moved up to 52kg and has fought for medals during her last two European events at the heavier weight - the Finnish and Swedish Opens in November where she placed third and fifth, respectively.
Rodriguez will compete in both the junior (under-20) tournament on Saturday as well as the B-Level senior division on Sunday.
Among the U.S. competitors are seven athletes who will be competing in the junior divisions and eight fighting in the senior divisions.
In addition to competing for the title of Belgian Ladies' Open Champion, placing well in the senior divisions could result in a possible berth on the 2009 Pan American Championship Team for several athletes. With the #1 U.S. player in each division as of Feb. 16 earning the opportunity to represent the United States in Buenos Aires, several divisions have close races which could be affected by the results in Belgium.
Competing for the second time in Belgium, Natalie Lafon (Glenville, N.Y. / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) would bypass current #1 Ann Shiraishi (San Francisco, Calif. / East Bay Judo Institute) with a top-five finish in the 48kg division. Lafon is joined in the 48kg division by 2008 U.S. Open silver medalist Katelyn Bouyssou (Hope, R.I. / Mayo Quanchi Judo Club) as well as Taylor Ibera (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri), the 2008 Pan Am Champion in the 44kg division, and Veronica Prado (Coral Springs, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) who also was a former Pan Am Team member.
Fourteen-year-old Mindy Chow (Honolulu, Hawaii / Hawaii Tenri) holds the #2 ranking at 52kg while former Pan Am Games medalist Rodriguez is ranked fourth. Either player has the opportunity to pass top-ranked Kayla Chappell (Oklahoma City, Okla. / USA Stars). Chow could move up with a top-three finish while Rodriguez would need to advance to the finals.
In the 57kg division, both of the top players will be competing in Belgium. Angelica Delgado (Miami, Fla. / USA Judo National Training Site at North Miami) holds the #1 ranking currently, but 2008 U.S. Open Champion Hannah Martin (Glenville, N.Y. / NYAC / USA Judo National Training Site at the Jason Morris Judo Center) could take the top ranking with a podium finish in Belgium.
Bouyssou, Ibera, Prado, Chow, Delgado, Rodriguez and Lydia Au (Chicago, Ill. / Victorious Judo / 57kg) all will compete in the junior division on Saturday.