Judo: U.S. Nationals steppingstone to Olympics

Several athletes from the Jason Morris Judo Center are hoping to use this weekend's U.S. Nationals t

Rankings and points aside, a major goal of the athletes from the Jason Morris Judo Center at this weekend’s U.S. Nationals is pretty basic.

“I just want to get my hands on her before the Olympic Trials,” said veteran Carrie Chandler of Dalton, Mass., referring to Val Gotay, the only women ranked ahead of her at 57 kg. “I want to see if she’s changed anything, and maybe give her something to think about.”

While the Nationals — which run today and Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va. — are the final chance for American athletes to improve their seeding before the Trials, the concerns of Morris and his students lie more in line with Chandler’s approach.

“A lot of the seedings are already locked in because of the point system,” said Morris, a four-time Olympian who took a silver medal at the 1992 Games. “Katie Mocco and Nick Kossor have the biggest challenges of our athletes. They can both claim the No. 1 spot.”

Mocco, 24, from North Bergen, N.J., needs to finish better than No. 2

seed Nina Cutro-Kelly to hold her top spot at 78 kg.

“She’s done amazingly well, for getting a late start in the sport,” said Morris. “She’s still learning.

“She just needs to stay with the game plan. No one in her weight division is in better condition.”

Kossor’s biggest match would be against 2004 Olympian Taraje Williams-Murray at 60 kg.

“If Nick wins, and beats him, he can earn the top seed going into the Trials,” said Morris of his

22-year-old student from Coatsville, Pa. “Nick’s at the top of his game, and if he goes out and dom­inates his first match, it would get him rolling.”

The Olympic Trials will be held June 13-15 at the University of

Nevada-Las Vegas, with the ult­imate goal being the Summer Olympics, Aug. 8-24, in Beijing, China.

Justin Flores, 28, from Palo Alto, Calif., the oldest of the Olympic hopefuls, is looking for matches at the Nationals. His fifth seed is locked, as others have passed him by competing more frequently and piling up points while he was training for the 2007 World Championships.

“It’s great that Justin had a chance to compete at the Worlds, but it’s put him behind in the Olympic qualifying,” said Morris.

Burnt Hills resident Hannah Martin is seeded behind Chandler, but Morris would rather his athletes not meet this weekend. Martin will move up a weight class, looking for a good finish at 63kg, and a shot at the Trials, if the U.S. has a strong enough showing in next month’s Pan American Championships to qualify the weight class.

Jeremy Liggett (63 kg) of West Glenville, club newcomer Nat­alie Lafon (48 kg), Nick Delpopolo

(73 kg) of Westfield, N.J., and

17-year-old Kyle Vashkulkat (100) of Langhorne, Pa., are among the others competing this weekend.

Lafon relocated from Texas at the beginning of the year. She’s hoping to see most of her projected Trials competition this weekend.

“You always want to get a feel for them,” she said. “You want to elminate any surprises you might see later in the qualifying.”

The JMJC already has one athlete guaranteed a No.1 seed going into the Olympic Trials; Travis Stevens (81kg), 22, of Glenville, will not compete this weekend.

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