Athens, Greece (May 2, 2018) -- Two USA Taekwondo cadet (12-14) standouts put Old Glory in the limelight at the 3rd World Taekwondo European President’s Cup. The prestigious event, held April 25-29, showcased thousands of athletes from 63 countries. There was no shortage of exciting action at the Ano Liosia Olympic Hall in Athens, as many Olympians and world-ranked fighters battled on the mats.
Yet, it took just two cadet females to earn Team USA’s only spot in the overall team standings. With two gold medals (-59kg and +59kg), Lauren LaRocca and Natalie Hershberger exclusively grabbed the third place team spot for the U.S. behind Turkey (second place) and Russia (first place), in the female cadet category.
LaRocca, a USA Taekwondo Cadet Team alternate, was coached by Jeffery Wiliams, Sr. (owner/head coach of Xcellent Taekwondo Center in Crestwood, Illinois). She would set the golden standard for U.S. excellence in day two of the event.
LaRocca was tested early in her first match of the day against a formidable Matea Zeljko of Croatia. They exchanged points all the way, up until the last seconds of the match and eventually to a showdown for the golden point. LaRocca’s past international successes proved pivotal while dispatching her Croat competitor with calm and confidence.
Seemingly effortless victories over Turkey’s Feyzanur Akcay (9-0), Russia’s Sofia Pedan (11-2), and Spain’s Cloe Iglesias (11-7) set up a grueling final match with Serbia’s Sandra Stamevski during which LaRocca’s left leg proved too much for the Serbian’s defense in a 13-9 victory for the American.
LaRocca showed great pride in representing Team USA after her final victory.
“It was a great experience!” said an enthusiastic LaRocca. “I trained extra hard with a lot of practice and having a personal trainer I felt accomplished and relieved. It’s almost a little intimidating when you see other countries with 15-20 athletes. My favorite moment was winning gold and saying out loud ‘I did it!’ Then I hugged Master Williams and ran around the ring with the American flag representing the United States.”
Hershberger, a USA Taekwondo Cadet Team member, was coached by her father, Chris Hershberger (head coach of NexGen Taekwondo in Mansfield, Ohio).
Hershberger’s first match was against Turkish National Team member Begum Kavukcuoglu, a leggy, almost six-foot-tall fighter. Like LaRocca, Hershberger would face her toughest challenge of the day in her debut match. The opening seconds saw both fighters exchanging head shots. Hershberger quickly found her pace and distance with the Turk’s reach to set up a barrage of body and head shots leading to a comfortable 18-9 victory.
After her opening match, Hershberger’s defense shined. She would not have a single point by kick or punch scored on her in her remaining bouts, including the final. She was victorious over Greece’s Artemis Manolaraki (11-2), Germany’s Esmeralda Husovic (15-1) and Croatia’s Nikolina Mesic (9-1). When asked about the competition in Europe, Hershberger didn’t hesitate answering.
“First, I have to thank God for all of the amazing people and resources in front of me. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to represent Team USA in Greece. This was the most difficult tournament I’ve experienced outside of the U.S. The athletes are so tall! I think I’m pretty tall for my age and I’m rarely the shortest person in the division. A lot of people helped get me to Greece. I’m so thankful for my community’s support in getting me closer to my Olympic dreams! I’m very lucky.”
Stepping on to the podium in the senior competition was Jaysen Ishida (Waikele, Hawaii) who captured a bronze medal in the men's -74kg competition in a field of 68.