2014 Senior National Championships

I know it’s been a while but I have been so busy lately I haven’t had a chance to write for a while. I actually had an article all ready to go and had planned to publish it right after I got back from Senior Nationals then work on a wrap up of nationals but our team did so well I decided to put the previous article on hold and work on this one.   As I said I have been swamped but here goes.

Left to Right (Djamaldin Aliev, Eric "I beat Jake" Van Houten, kedge Zawack, Alyssa Zawack)

Left to Right (Djamaldin Aliev, Eric “I beat Jake” Van Houten, kedge Zawack, Alyssa Zawack) Not in Picture – Mike Kannianen

I want to start by saying that I am so proud of our team from Denver Judo on how well they did at nationals! I was completely beside myself with excitement after the first day of competition and the athletes on day 2 just kept it going. Heidi and I could not be more proud of our club. Everyone trained so hard to prepare for Nationals and all that work really paid off.

Eric Van Houten started us off in the 90kg division. Eric got off to a rough start, getting caught with a drop seoi nage for ippon early in the match. His next match was against Jake Larsen who was the top seeded player in the division. Jake use to train with us quit a bit but is now training full-time at the Olympic Training Center, so Eric knows how good and powerful Jake is. Jake got off to an early lead with a few yukos (smallest score), but was unable to finish Eric who really picked it up tin the second half of the match. Eric gripped really wall with Jake and with about a minute left in the match, he threw Jake for waza ari (half point) and was able to hang on for the win, a big win for Eric!Eric’s next match was against 2012 Paralympic Bronze medalist, Dartanyon Crockett also from the OTC.   This was a hell of a match. They each had a waza ari and 3 shidos (penalties) with 3 seconds left. Eric had just tried to throw but Dartanyon defended so they stood them back up and with three seconds to go Dartanyon attacked and Eric defended and the time ran out. The match should have gone into golden score but instead the referee gave Eric a 4th shido costing him the match. I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why he got that last shido. I would get it if he had not been attacking for the last few exchanges, but he had made a good attack right before the last exchange. I was sitting in the coach’s chair for the entire match and never looked away but I have no idea which match the referee was watching when he gave that last shido. As a matter of fact there were 7 shidos in the match between Eric and Dartanyon and I can honestly tell you were 2 or maybe 3 were for. Either way, there were 3 seconds left, they should have let it go to golden score.   I like Dartanyon quite a bit and I coached him in London, but Eric got screwed out of that match. Normally I would get on him for racking up so many shidos and say it was his fault for allowing the referee to do that to him but as I said, I don’t know why either of them got most of the penalties they got. So Eric placed 7th. If he had won that last one he would have fought for 3rd but I am still so proud of the way he fought and when we took a picture with the medalists from the first day I told him I would Photoshop the words in over his chest, “I didn’t get a medal but I beat Jake!”

Next up for us was Kedge Zawack, who started off with a big win by ippon (full point) in his first round. Then in his second match he was gripping well but he over reached for the high grip and got caught with a drop seoi. You would think he and Eric had never fought a short guy who loves drop seoi nage! J Anyway, the loss was to L.A. Smith of San Jose State who ended up winning the division so Kedge was pulled back in and won his next match by 2 waza ari and 1 yuko to nothing then won his next one pretty quickly by ippon. This win put Kedge into the bronze medal match against Ajax Tadehara from the OTC.   Kedge and Ajax have gone back and forth but with Ajax a little ahead in the win count. The split in November when Kedge beat Ajax for the first time at the Dallas tournament only to lose to him the next day in the President’s Cup. Ajax also comes up to train with us periodically so they have had a lot of time on the mat together. The match was going well and Kedge got up early by a yuko. Ajax is a tough player but Kedge was gripping really well. Then about a minute and a half in Kedge got a huge o soto gari for ippon! I was so excited and was on my feet raising my hand in the air before they hit the mat. I ran back to the rail then back up to the coach’s chair to wait for Kedge to come off the mat. When he came off the mat he high-fived me and said “Go Wreck Judo!” This was a huge win for Kedge and Denver Judo and a bronze medal at Sr. Nationals!

On the other half of the bracket for us was Djamaldin Aliev. Djamal is a 3-time world team member for the US and several time national champion, but he has not competed in about 5 years so he was a little rusty. He has been coming to practice and working hard but this was his first tournament back. He won his first match pretty easily by waza ari then ippon then he won his second match by ippon but it was from the other guy getting 4 shidos. I actually felt bad for this guy.   I don’t believe he actually earned all of the shidos but Djamal is so powerful when the guy would attack he was not able to break his balance so they looked like false attacks. I didn’t believe they were, but I was coaching Djamal, not the other kid.   I think he attacked 5 times and got shidos for 4 of them. Djamal was looking a little tired in the next match. He cut a few pounds to get back down to 100 kg so I think it took its toll him. He ended up losing the next match by shidos. This was in the quarter finals so the guy he lost to went into the semi finals and Djamal was automatically pulled back in. In Djamal’s next match he was up by a yuko and a waza ari when he got a big throw for ippon to win the match and advance to the bronze medal match against 2012 Paralympic Silver medalist, Myles Porter from the OTC. Myles had injured a rib in his previous match so he pulled out of the medal match making Djamal the bronze medal winner! Not a bad showing for his first event in 5 years! Kedge is now ranked #7 in the US and Djamal is #8.

Mike Kannianen on the podium at the 2014 Senior Nationals - (Second from the right)

Mike Kannianen on the podium at the 2014 Senior Nationals – (Second from the right)

Mike Kannianen fought in the +100kg division. Mike recently moved to Denver Judo and we are so happy to have him. This was Mike’s first senior nationals, and he started out well with a big win by ippon. In his second match, Mike looked a little tired. He told us that he had been diagnosed with strep throat just 3 days before and had been taking massive doses of antibiotics in order to be able to fight and I think that being sick caught up with him. He ended up losing the match on shidos. This put him in the bronze medal match. Mike started out well, scoring several times. However, after a few minutes he started to look tired again and started racking up the shidos. With less than a minute to go and 3 shidos on the board, Heidi had had enough and shouted at Mike “are you going to let this guy take your medal?!” This seemed to wake Mike up. He promptly threw his opponent for a waza ari and pinned him for the win and his first senior national medal. Mike is now tied for 2nd overall in the +100kg division (and is 2nd in the open division as well!)

Alyssa Gilkey Zawack, recently married to Kedge, fought in the 78kg division. This was a round robin division and Alyssa was disappointed not to be able to have a chance to have more matches. However, she fought very well. Her first match was against #1 ranked Sam Bleier from the OTC. Sam is ranked in the top 30 in the world. Alyssa came out strong, and was dominating every exchange, but made a small mistake on the ground and was pinned. Alyssa likes to make Heidi sweat, so in her second match she was down by a yuko. This evidently made her mad because she grabbed her opponent and threw her for ippon with makikomi. The referee then overruled the ippon and changed it to waza ari. This just fired Alyssa up more and she did the same throw, but this one echoed through the room, leaving no doubt that it was ippon. This was Alyssa’s second consecutive silver medal at nationals, and she is ranked #2 in the US.

By the end of day 1 we had already had an incredible trip to Nationals but we were not finished. Now we move on to day 2 where our only senior competitor was Kedge Zawack fighting in the Open division. He had injured his foot the day before but thought he would do his best to fight. He got a big throw early in his first match and was griping well is his second match when his opponent kicked his injured foot so Kedge had to withdraw from the competition.

Our next competitor was John Turner who fought in the +100 division in the Visually Impaired category. John had a rough start when his opponent did a body lock, which is illegal, but the ref called ippon and when Heidi complained the jury, rather than penalizing the player for the illegal act, they only overturned the ippon so they continued fighting. It happened again, immediately after restarting the match and rather than awarding hansokumake (disqualification) for the second illegal act, they overturned the ippon to no score again. Judo tournaments are tough enough, but they are even tougher when you have to fight the referees tool. John ended up losing that match and I’m sure his back was really sore the next day. This loss dropped John into the bronze medal match against Mike Larsen. John threw Mike for ippon in the second minute of the match finished with a bronze medal.

While the VI division was fighting, we also had Garmaa Shinebayar in the 81kg brown belt division. Garmaa would have also fought in the senior division but his US citizenship did not go through until a week after nationals so he was not allowed but look out next year! I didn’t actually get to see much of him fighting as I was helping with the VI division but Heidi coached him. Garmaa started out strong with 2 commanding wins, including one over a professional MMA fighter who was on the Ultimate Fighter TV show. In the semi finals, Garmaa got sucked into fighting his opponents more static style and was caught with a tai otoshi. He dropped into the bronze medal match where he dominated the match, coming home with his first national medal.

Fighting in the Master’s 90kg division was Greg Sadar. Greg took a bronze medal in the 2013 Masters national championship and was looking to better his finish this year. He defeated all three of his opponents handily and brought home a gold medal. This win solidifies Greg’s ranking as the #1 player in the US in the M4 90kg division.

Left to Right (Djamaldin Aliev, Greg Sadar, Garmaa Shinebayar, Becki Fierens, Alyssa Zawack, Kedge Zawack) - Not in picture - Mike Kannianen, John turner, and Eric Van Houten

Left to Right (Djamaldin Aliev, Greg Sadar, Garmaa Shinebayar, Becki Fierens, Alyssa Zawack, Kedge Zawack) – Not in picture – Mike Kannianen, John turner, and Eric Van Houten

Our last competitor of the day was Becki Fierens fighting in the women’s novice 63kg division. Becki was an orange belt so we only entered her into the novice division but realized later that we should have also entered her into the brown belt division as well. She only had 2 competitors, as this was the first time nationals has featured novice division so hopefully it will continue to grow. Becki made quick work of both of her competitors, beating them both with pins for ippon. The funniest thing that happened at the tournament was after the first exchange in her last match I was coaching Becki as she was walking back to the center of the mat and she waved her arm as if to say, “I got this, I don’t need your help!” When she came off the mat and Alyssa said something to her about it, she claimed not to have any recollection of doing that. So when we tested her for her green belt a few weeks ago, the final item on her practical exam was to demonstrate the proper gesture to make to a coach when being coached from mat side, even if you don’t feel you need the help. The correct answer, which we gave her, was to nod and at least act as if she was listening. I’m sure we will get lots of mileage out of that one in the future.

I’ll end this article the way I started it. I am so proud of the Denver “Wrecking Crew!” There is a story behind that name but it will have to wait for another time. Everyone did such an amazing job. We looked at the brackets and discovered that we were tied for 3rd overall in the elite divisions with 4 medals.

Not bad for a wrecreational club!

As always, thanks for reading.

I’ll talk to you later…