Team USA Fights for Olympic Qualification Points at Senior Pan Ams this Weekend
by Nicole Jomantas
(Colorado Springs, CO) – One of the most significant Olympic qualification tournaments for the Paris Games will be held this weekend at the Senior Pan American-Oceania Championships in Calgary.
Eighteen members of Team USA will fight in the two-day tournament that will serve as a key qualifier for Paris as athletes seek to move up the Olympic Ranking List.
Competition schedule is as follows:
Friday, September 15
Men’s 60 kg, 66 kg, 73 kg
Women’s 48 kg, 52 kg, 57 kg, 63 kg
Saturday, September 16
Men’s 81 kg, 90 kg, 100 kg, +100 kg
Women’s 70 kg, 78 kg, +78 kg
2022 Pan Am Medalists Return in Calgary
Five members of Team USA are returning medalists from the 2022 Senior Pan Am-Oceania Championships.
Two-time Olympian Angelica Delgado (Miami, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) won her fourth straight silver medal in the 52 kg category at this tournament last year. Delgado, who also won bronze at the Hungary Grand Slam and Perth Grand Prix events in 2022, is ranked No. 21 in the world and has a long-standing rivalry with Larissa Pimenta (BRA) – the 2019 Junior World bronze medalist who Delgado has fought in the last three Pan Am finals.
Ranked No. 11 in the world, Maria Laborde (Kenosha, WI / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) is seeking a return to the top of the 48 kg podium. In 2014, Laborde won gold at the Senior Pan Ams and would go on to win bronze at the Senior World Championships competing for Cuba. Fast forward to the 2022 Senior Pan Am-Oceania Championships which was her second tournament competing for Team USA. Laborde dropped a match to 2021 Senior Pan Am Champion Mary Dee Vargas Ley (CHI) and ended with bronze. In August, Laborde returned to the podium with a silver medal finish at the Masters Worlds – a result that has put Laborde as a near-lock for Paris with the No. 4 position on the Olympic Ranking List.
Mariah Holguin (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo) had a breakthrough at the 2022 Senior Pan Am-Oceania Championships, winning bronze at 57 kg in a season that saw the 23-year-old win gold at the Senior Nationals and bronze at the Perth Grand Prix and is currently ranked No. 33 in the world. This year, Holguin’s division is the most stacked of any at the tournament with three of the top four athletes in the world going for gold in Calgary: two-time Senior World Champion and 2022 World Masters Champion Christa DeGuchi (CAN), 2020 Olympic bronze medalist and 2021 Senior World Champion Jessica Klimkait (CAN) and 2016 Olympic and two-time Senior World Champion Rafaela Silva (BRA).
Ari Berliner (Schenectady, NY / NYAC / Jason Morris Judo Center) won his first Senior Pan Am medal last year at 66 kg. Although he was sidelined with an injury for six months, Berliner returned to competition in the spring, successfully defending his Senior National title. The top seed in the event is World No. 12 Willian Lima (BRA) – the 2021 Senior Pan Am Champion who holds four Grand Slam medals as well as the 2019 Junior World title.
John Jayne (Chicago, IL) won bronze in the 90 kg division at his first Senior Pan Am-Oceania Championships in 2022 and enters this year’s tournament as the No. 3 seed following a summer that included a silver medal win at the Tallinn European Open. World No. 6 Ivan Felipe Silva Morales (CUB) is on the opposite side of the bracket as a gold medalist at each of the last five Senior Pan Ams in which he competed. No. 2 seed Rafael Macedo (BRA) could fight Jayne in the semifinals. A three-time Senior Pan Am silver medalist, Macedo won bronze at the 2022 Masters, but has yet to win Pan Am gold.
Past Team Members Aim for the Podium
Team USA includes a total of six returning members to the Senior Pan Am-Oceania Championships squad.
Hannah Martin (Burnt Hills, NY / New York Athletic Club) is returning to her first Pan Ams since 2019 when she won her third career bronze medal. Although she narrowly missed team selection after taking a year and a half off to become a new mom in 2020 and 2021, Martin earned three top-seven results on the Grand Slam circuit since her return to competition in 2022. Martin is joined at 63 kg by Sara Golden (Crystal Lakes, IL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center) – a 2020 Junior Pan Am Champion who will be competing at her third Senior Pan Ams in Calgary and earned a top-16 finish at the 2022 Senior Worlds. The division’s top seed is Katharina Haecker (AUS) – the World No. 8 who won three Grand Slam medals this year alone. Beijing Olympic medalist Ketleyn Quadros (BRA) is another athlete to watch as she seeks to qualify for her third Olympic Team.
Nate Keeve (San Rafael, CA / New York Athletic Club) missed qualifying for the 2022 squad, but earned bronze at 100 kg at the 2021 Senior Pan Ams. Keeve won gold at the Lima Pan American Open this summer – his eighth straight medal on the circuit. The division is led by a pair of Canadians – Kyle Reyes and Shady Elnahas who are ranked No. 5 and No. 8 in the world respectively and have won every Pan Am title since 2019 between the two of them.
A 2022 Senior Pan Am Team member at 70 kg, Nicole Stout (Schenectady, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center) has since moved up to 78 kg. The five-time Senior Pan Am Team member has reached the podium at nine Pan Am Open events and is seeking her first Senior Pan Am medal. The division has been dominated for more than a decade by Mayra Aguiar (BRA) – the three-time Olympic medalist and three-time Senior World Champion.
Nick Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford Judo & Karate Center), a silver medalist at the 2020 Junior Pan Ams, made his Senior Pan Am debut in the 81 kg division last year where he finished seventh. The last two Senior Pan Ams have been won by Brazilian Guilherme Schmidt who is ranked No. 3 in the world and won silver at this year’s Masters. Canadian Francois Gauthier Drapeau also has been on fire this year, winning three Grand Slam medals and climbing to No. 6 in the world rankings.
A bronze medalist at the 2020 Junior Pan Ams, Isaiah Ramirez (Barstow, CA / Barstow PAL Judo Club) fought at his first Senior Pan Ams in 2022, placing seventh at 66 kg. In the last year, Ramirez has graduated from UCLA and began law school at Nebraska while representing Team USA around the world.
First-Time Team Members to Watch
Seven members of the U.S. team are competing for the first time at the Senior Pan Ams, but all are experienced international competitors on the junior and senior circuit looking to make their mark in Calgary.
Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC) has fought at two Senior World Championships since winning bronze at 73 kg at the 2022 Junior Worlds, but will be making his Senior Pan Am-Oceania debut in Calgary. The division is led by Tokyo Olympic and 2022 Senior World bronze medalist Daniel Cargnin (BRA) who is ranked No. 3 in the world as well as two-time Masters medalist and World No. 10 Arthur Margelidon (CAN).
Two-time Senior World Team member Kell Berliner (Schenectady, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center) is entering his first Senior Pan Ams at 81 kg, but Berliner will be a familiar face for most of his opponents with six Pan Am Open medals on his resume.
A gold medalist at both the 2021 Junior Pan Am Championships and Junior Pan Am Games, Alex Knauf (Yorkville, IL / NYAC / Cohen Brothers Judo) has only competed on the Pan Am Open circuit twice, but the three-time Senior National Champion advanced to the finals of both tournaments.
Both of Team USA’s 70 kg athletes are first-time team members. A 2015 Junior World Team member, Melissa Myers (Burnt Hills, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center) holds three Pan Am Open titles. Isabella Garriga (Richmond, TX / Texas A&M Judo) competed at both the 2021 and 2022 Junior Worlds, earning a seventh-place finish after upsetting 2022 Senior Pan Am-Oceania silver medalist Luana Carvalho (BRA) in the second round. World No. 10 Aoife Coughlan (AUS) won four Senior Oceania titles before the championship merger with the Pan Am event in 2023. Coughlan is looking for her first combined title and has pulled down three Grand Slam medals in the last year. Nine-time Grand Slam medalist Elvismar Rodriguez (VEN) is the division’s reigning Pan Am-Oceania Champion who is looking to defend her title in Calgary.
Competing at 52 kg, Jenna Schurr (Torrance, CA) qualified for her first National Team after a year that included a gold medal win at the Tahiti Oceania Open last fall.
First-time team member David Terao (Fairfax, VA) has faced many of his 60 kg competitors in a wide-open field this year, winning medals at four of his five Pan Am Open appearances and defeating reigning Senior Pan Am-Oceania Champion Sebastian Sancho (CRC) at the Varadero Pan Am Open in Cuba.
The complete delegation roster is as follows:
Jhonny Prado (Coral Springs, FL)
German Velazco (Coral Springs, FL)
Nick Yonezuka Sr. (West Long Branch, NJ)
Men’s 60 kg
David Terao (Fairfax, VA)
Men’s 66 kg
Ari Berliner (Schenectady, NY / NYAC / Jason Morris Judo Center)
Isaiah Ramirez (Barstow, CA / Barstow PAL Judo Club)
Men’s 73 kg
Jack Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC)
Men’s 81 kg
Nick Yonezuka (West Long Branch, NJ / NYAC / Cranford JKC)
Kell Berliner (Schenectady, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center)
Men’s 90 kg
John Jayne (Chicago, IL)
Alex Knauf (Yorkville, IL / NYAC / Cohen Brothers Judo)
Men’s 100 kg
Nate Keeve (San Rafael, CA / New York Athletic Club)
Women’s 48 kg
Maria Laborde (Kenosha, WI / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
Women’s 52 kg
Angelica Delgado (Miami, FL / NYAC / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
Jenna Schurr (Torrance, CA)
Women’s 57 kg
Mariah Holguin (San Antonio, Texas / Universal Judo)
Women’s 63 kg
Sara Golden (Crystal Lakes, IL / Ki-Itsu-Sai National Training Center)
Hannah Martin (Burnt Hills, NY / New York Athletic Club)
Women’s 70 kg
Melissa Myers (Burnt Hills, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center)
Isabella Garriga (Richmond, TX / Texas A&M Judo)
Women’s 78 kg
Nicole Stout (Schenectady, NY / Jason Morris Judo Center)