Team USA Looks for Gold at Junior World Championships This Week
by Nicole Jomantas
The U.S. team of 18 athletes will compete against more than 500 athletes from 68 nations during the four-day individual competition.
Team USA includes six returning members from the 2022 Junior World Team as well as two athletes who fought at the Cadet Worlds in August.
The U.S. squad also features four athletes ranked among the top 20 in the world:
- Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC), World No. 3 at 73 kg and 2022 Junior World bronze medalist
- Emily Jaspe (Hialeah, FL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center), World No. 5 at 63 kg and 2023 Cadet Worlds fifth-place finisher
- Christopher Velazco (Coral Springs, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center), World No. 11 at 60 kg and 2022 USA Judo Senior National Champion
- Harlee Hiller (Evanston, IL / Cohen Brothers), World No. 18 at 48 kg and two-time Junior Pan Am-Oceania Championships silver medalist
Competition schedule is as follows:
Wednesday, Oct. 4
Men’s 60 kg and 66 kg
Women’s 48 kg and 52 kg
Thursday, Oct. 5
Men’s 73 kg
Women’s 57 kg and 63 kg
Friday, Oct. 6
Men’s 81 kg and 90 kg
Women’s 70 kg
Saturday, Oct. 7
Men’s 100 kg and +100 kg
Women’s 78 kg and +78 kg
Preview by Weight Category
Christopher Velazco (Coral Springs, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) and Joshua Yang (Los Angeles, CA / LA Judo Club) have been each other’s top rivals domestically and will find themselves on opposite sides of the bracket in Portugal. Eighteen-year-old Velazco, who competed at both the 2022 Junior and Cadet World Championships, enters the tournament ranked No. 11 in the world and earned a bye into the round of 32 where he will face the winner of the opening match between Luis Barroso Lopez (ESP), a bronze medalist at the Senior Madrid European Open, and Mekan Ramazanov (TKM), a gold medalist at the 2022 Almaty Asian Cadet Cup. Competing at his second Junior World Championships after making his debut in 2021, 20-year-old Yang won bronze at the Junior Pan Ams and will fight Joaquim Rovira (POR) in the opening round with the winner advancing to fight Ashik Andreyan (ARM) in the 32.
With all four of the 2022 Junior World medalists having aged out, this year’s tournament will see a new crop of Junior World medalists. The division’s top seed is Marcus Auer (AUT), the World No. 3 who won gold at both the Birmingham and Lignano Junior European Cups earlier this season. The two-time Senior World Team member sits at the top of Velazco’s pool with the potential for a quarter-final matchup. Also in Velazco’s pool is 2022 Cadet World silver medalist Kelvin Ray (FRA) who won three medals on the Junior European circuit and could face Auer in the 16. Both of the bronze medalists from the 2022 Cadet Worlds will be competing in Portugal as well with Nizami Imranov (AZE) and holding the fourth seed and Talgat Orynbassar (KAZ) entering the event with back-to-back titles at the Paks and European Junior Cups to his credit. The Cadet World Champion at 55 kg, Zacharie Dijol (FRA) has won two European Junior Cup medals in his new weight and could be a factor this week as well.
Both of Team USA’s athletes in the lightweight women’s category earned medals at the Junior Pan Ams last month with 16-year-old Harlee Hiller (Evanston, IL / Cohen Brothers) winning her second straight silver medal at the event and 17-year-old Jayne Loo (Mercer Island, WA / Budokan Judo Dojo-Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington) earning bronze. This will be the first Junior Worlds for Hiller who competed at both the 2022 and 2023 Cadet Worlds, but declined her position on the 2022 Junior World Team due to injury. Ranked No. 18 in the world, Hiller’s opening match pits her against Nandin-Erdene Myagmarsuren (MGL), a 2022 Cadet World medalist at 48 kg who fought this year’s senior circuit at 52 kg. The winner will fight Junior World No. 2 and 2019 Cadet World bronze medalist Pauline Cuq (FRA) in the round of 32. Loo will fight 2023 Cadet World Champion Aitana Diaz Hernandez (ESP) in the opening round. The winner will take on Giorgia Hagianu (ROU) in the round of 32.
One of the top athletes to watch in the field will be Junior World No. 1 Merve Azak (TUR) who won bronze at the 2022 Junior Worlds and has won every junior international event in which she has competed and fought at four senior Grand Slam events this season. Although she comes in unranked as a junior, 2022 Cadet World Champion Kano Miyaki (JPN) won gold at her senior debut at the Tokyo Grand Slam in December. A silver medalist at the 2022 Cadet Worlds and bronze medalist in 2023, Tara Babulfath (SWE) is seeking to add a Junior World medal to her collection. Ranked No. 4 in the world, Babulfath has taken gold at her last four Junior European Cup events.
Twenty-year-old Amin Bakhtiyor (Fairfax, VA / Pedro’s Judo Center) competed at his first Junior Worlds in 2022 and is coming off a silver medal win at his first Junior Pan Ams in September. Bakhtiyor drew a bye into the round of 32 where he will fight either 2023 Kaunas Junior European Cup silver medalist Mesrop Nikoyan (ARM) or Erbol Abasbekov (KGZ), a bronze medalist at the Senior Kuwait City Asian Open.
The division’s top seed is Jordon Greenbank – the Australian Bakhtiyor fought in the Junior Pan Am-Oceania Championship finals. Muhammed Demirel (TUR) is the sole returning medalist from the 2022 Junior Worlds in which he won bronze and went on to take gold at the Junior Europeans last fall before fighting exclusively on the Senior World Tour for the last year. Junior World No. 4 Eran Fiks (ISR) is another top contender for the podium at his first Junior Worlds after winning three Junior European Cup titles during the last two seasons.
Twenty-year-old Kaycie Tanimoto (Fort Worth, TX / Chandler Judo Academy) made her Junior National Team debut at the Junior Pan Ams where she placed fifth. Tanimoto will fight Elene Tsiklauri (GEO) in the first round with the opportunity to fight Micaela Sciacovelli (ITA) – a three-time European Junior Cup medalist in 2023.
The division’s top seed is Giulia Carna (ITA) – the reigning Junior World Champion who has advanced to the finals of every junior event since winning silver at the 2021 Junior Worlds. Two-time Junior World bronze medalist Ndiaye Binta (SUI) is returning for a third chance at the podium and aiming to upset Carna. Several Cadet World medalists also will be fighting in Portugal, including 2023 Cadet World gold and silver medalists Khadizha Gadashova (AZE) and Alyssia Poulange (FRA) and 2022 bronze medalist Yi-His Shen (TPE).
Men’s 73 kg
In 2022, Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC) was given a late invitation to Junior Worlds after a teammate withdrew. With just days to prepare for the event, Yonezuka upset the World No. 1, Gabriel Falcao (BRA), in the first round and went on to win bronze – becoming the first U.S. man to reach the podium at a Junior Worlds in 30 years. A year later, 20-year-old Yonezuka, who is seeded third, has competed at two Senior World Championships and is a contender for the Paris Olympic Games. Yonezuka is joined in the division by teammate Ruslan Korotich (Katy, TX / Revolution Judo) who is competing on his first Junior National Team. Yonezuka earned a bye into the round of 32 where he will face either 2023 Pan Am bronze medalist Vinicius Ardina (BRA) or Armand Pokk (HUN). Korotich will fight Abubakr Sherov (TJK) in the 64 for the chance to take on three-time Junior Pan Am Champion Falcao who has returned as the Junior World No. 1.
Other top players to watch in the division include 2022 Junior World silver medalist Giorgi Terashvili (GEO) – a Paris Olympic contender who won two senior Grand Slam medals in 2022 – and 2022 Cadet World Champion Keito Kihara (JPN) who won bronze earlier this year in his only appearance on the Junior European circuit in Prague.
Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Macias (La Puente, CA / Guerreros Judo) will fight in her first Junior Worlds in Portugal after making her Cadet Pan Am debut with a bronze last month. Macias drew a bye into the round of 32, but will face a tough opponent in two-time senior Grand Prix medalist Thauany David Capanni Dias (ITA) who is expected to be a podium contender in her first Junior World appearance.
The top seed in the field is Bianca Reis (BRA) – the two-time Junior Pan Am Champion who is looking to build on her 2022 Cadet World silver medal and fifth-place finish at last year’s Junior Worlds. Although she is seeded second behind Reis, 2022 Junior World bronze medalist Veronica Toniolo (ITA) is favored by many in this field. Toniolo is ranked No. 17 in the senior standings after winning three medals on the World Tour this season, including bronze at the Tbilisi Grand Slam. Both bronze medalists from this year’s Cadet Worlds – Yu-Han Lin (TPE) and Maria Silveira (POR) – will each be competing at her first Junior Worlds.
The reigning Senior National Champion, 20-year-old Johan Silot Suse (Salem, MA / New York Athletic Club) has been undefeated in the United States this year and had an impressive first year on the internatiognal circuit, earning two seventh-place finishes on the Junior European circuit and a bronze medal at the Junior Pan Ams. Suse’s first opponent will be two-time Paks Junior European Cup silver medalist Marcell Demeter (HUN) in the 64 with the winner advancing to face two-time Junior European Cup medalist Aleksandre Loladze (GEO).
None of the 2022 Junior World medalists at 81 kg will be competing in Portugal, leaving the field open to a group of first-time medalists. Bright Maddaloni Nosa (FRA) enters the tournament as the reigning Junior European Champion and No. 1 seed with Junior Pan Am Champion Jumber Meladze (CAN) entering as the No. 2 seed.
Team USA holds a wealth of experience in the 63 category with 19-year-old Karlee Carrouth (Oklahoma City / NYAC / USA Stars) and 17-year-old Emily Jaspe (Hialeah, FL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) each returning to her second Junior World Team. Carrouth won gold at the Graz Junior European Cup in July where she defeated Junior World No. 4 Antonietta Palumbo (ITA) in the finals. Palumbo will be competing in Portugal as well where she is seeking her first World medal. First, however, Carrouth must face Japan’s Mizuki Takaki in the round of 32. A fifth-place finisher at the Cadet Worlds in August with back-to-back Junior Pan Am bronze medals to her credit, Jaspe is seeded fourth in Portugal. Jaspe will fight either 2023 Birmingham Junior European Cup Champion Aitana Fernandez Herrera (ESP) or Sofia Xanthopoulou (GRE) in the round of 32.
Both bronze medalists from the 2022 Junior Worlds are in action this week where World No. 1 Melkia Auchecorne (FRA) and Agnese Zucco (ITA) could face off in the round of 32. The field also features two Cadet World medalists looking for junior podium finishes, including reigning Cadet World silver medalist Sophia Camara (BRA) and 2022 Cadet World bronze medalist Lenka Tomankova (SVK).
Eighteen-year-old Oleksandr Nyzhnyk (Los Gatos, CA / Nakano Judo Academy) won gold at the Junior Olympics in June to qualify for his first international competition at the Junior Worlds. Nyzhnyk will fight Konstantinos Nikiforos Kazantzopoulos (GRE) in the round of 64 with the winner advancing to the round of 32 against Saud Alhajri (KSA).
Top seed Vugar Talibov (AZE) stood on the top of the podium at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and earned bronze at the Cadet Worlds and the 2023 European Junior Championships silver medalist is seeking his first Junior World medal. Talibov’s last loss came to Lars Van Oostrum (NED) in last month’s European Junior Championships final, giving Oostrum the gold and a position as No. 4 in the world. A pair of Serbians also will be ones to watch in Portugal: 2022 Cadet World bronze medalist Milan Bulaja (SRB) who has had success in his first full year as a junior, winning three Junior European Cup medals in 2023 and 2022 Junior Worlds fifth-place finisher Miljan Radulj who is ranked third in the world.
A bronze medalist at the Junior Olympics in June, 16-year-old Brinley Jackson (Midwest City, OK / USA Stars) will compete in her first IJF event at Junior Worlds where she drew a bye into the round of 32 against Jovana Cakarevic (SRB).
A bronze medalist at the 2022 Junior Worlds, Samira Bock (GER) enters as the Junior World No. 1, but her first round match will be a rematch of the 2023 World University Games final where Bock was defeated by first-time Junior World Team member Mayu Honda (JPN). Also watch for 2022 Cadet World Champion Barchinoy Kodirova (UZB) as well as Junior World No. 3 Elena Dengg (AUT) who won back-to-back medals at the Junior European Championships during the last two years.
Twenty-year-old Jared Causse (Westminster, CA / Los Angeles Tenri Judo Dojo) also will be competing in his first major international event at the Junior Worlds. The reigning Junior Olympic Champion will fight Guilherme Silva (POR) – a two-time Junior European Cup medalist during the 2023 season – in the round of 32.
Both bronze medalists from the 2022 Junior Worlds are back in action with Benjamin Mataseje (SVK) coming in as No. 2 in the Junior World Rankings and Kilian Kappelmeier (GER) ranked third. Junior World No. 1 Mathias Anglionin (FRA) is seeking his first World medal to conclude a season that included three Junior European Cup medals as well as silver at the 2023 European Junior Championships. A bronze medalist at the 2022 Cadet Worlds at 90 kg, Dota Arai (JPN) has only competed once on the circuit since his podium finish last year, but reached the senior podium at the 2023 Portugal Grand Prix with a silver.
A silver medalist at the 2021 Cadet Pan Ams, 18-year-old Canna Rupp (Midwest City, OK / USA Stars) is making her Junior World debut in Portugal where she will fight 2022 Athens Junior European Cup bronze medalist Maria-Nicoleta Vulpasin (GRE) in the round of 32.
The division’s top seed is Lieke Derks (NED) who is returning to improve on her 2022 Junior World bronze medal. Derks has fought almost exclusively on the senior circuit for the last year, winning bronze at the Upper Austria Grand Prix and placing fifth at Masters Worlds before returning to the U20 circuit to win the 2023 European Junior Championships. A bronze medalist at the 2022 Cadet Worlds, Mika Nakano (JPN) has only fought in one IJF event since then, winning silver behind Eva Ronja Buddenkotte (GER) who also will be competing at her first Junior Worlds. Junior World No. 2 is a top medal contender as well. Ranked No. 2 in the world, Morgane Rubiano (FRA) won four straight Junior European Cup medals before placing second at the European Junior Championships behind Derks.
Eighteen-year-old Alex Semenenko (Staten Island, NY / Generation Judo Club) won gold at his first-ever junior international event, winning the Skopje Junior European Cup. The wrestler for Brown University is competing at this second World Championships following his debut at the 2019 Cadet Worlds. In the round of Semenenko will fight Denis Batchaev (AIN) who has not competed internationally since winning the 2021 European Cadet Championship title.
Junior World No. 1 Shalva Gureshidze (GEO) is the only returning athletes from the 2022 Junior World podium. Since taking bronze at this event last year, Gureshidze has been undefeated at major junior international competition, taking back-to-back European Junior Championship golds as well as two Junior European Cup titles in Paks and Graz. Three of the four medalists at this year’s Cadet Worlds also will be in contention at the Junior Worlds: gold medalist Ibrahim Tataroglu (TUR), silver medalist Matheo Akiana Mongo (FRA) and bronze medalist Ramazan Ahmadov (AZE).
After moving up from 78 kg to heavyweight, 20-year-old Jessica Alaynick (Scotia, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center) won the 2023 Junior Olympic title to qualify for her first Junior World Team. Alaynick will fight Kanwarpreet Kaur (IND) in the round of 32 at her first major international event in Portugal.
The reigning Junior World Champion, Mao Arai (JPN), is back for more with countrywoman Miki Mukunoki who won bronze at the 2022 Junior Worlds. Although Paulien Sweers (NED) is ranked No. 1 in the world with four straight European international medals to her credit, Sweers has never competed at a World Championships, but is hoping to use her experience on the circuit to her advantage. Junior World No. 2 Katia Alves (BRA) has had success across multiple continents, winning gold at the Graz European Cup this summer before taking her first Junior Pan Am title.
Complete delegation roster is as follows:
Jhonny Prado (Coral Springs, FL)
German Velazco (Coral Springs, FL)
Nicolas Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ)
Men’s 60 kg
Christopher Velazco (Coral Springs, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
Joshua Yang (Los Angeles, CA / LA Judo Club)
Men’s 66 kg
Amin Bakhtiyor (Fairfax, VA / Pedro’s Judo Center)
Men’s 73 kg
Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC)
Ruslan Korotich (Katy, TX / Revolution Judo)
Men’s 81 kg
Johan Silot Suse (Salem, MA / New York Athletic Club)
Men’s 90 kg
Oleksandr Nyzhnyk (Los Gatos, CA / Nakano Judo Academy)
Men’s 100 kg
Jared Causse (Westminster, CA / Los Angeles Tenri Judo Dojo)
Men’s +100 kg
Alex Semenenko (Staten Island, NY / Generation Judo Club)
Women’s 48 kg
Jayne Loo (Mercer Island, WA / Budokan Judo Dojo-Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington)
Harlee Hiller (Evanston, IL / Cohen Brothers)
Women’s 52 kg
Kaycie Tanimoto (Fort Worth, TX / Chandler Judo Academy)
Women’s 57 kg
Jasmine Macias (La Puente, CA / Guerreros Judo)
Women’s 63 kg
Karlee Carrouth (Oklahoma City / NYAC / USA Stars)
Emily Jaspe (Hialeah, FL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
Women’s 70 kg
Brinley Jackson (Midwest City, OK / USA Stars)
Women’s 78 kg
Canna Rupp (Midwest City, OK / USA Stars)
Women’s +78 kg
Jessica Alaynick (Scotia, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center)