The University of Colorado Boulder Taekwondo Club hosted the 2023 NCTA National Collegiate Taekwondo Championship. With over 600 athletes representing 50 different schools, this was one of the biggest events in NCTA Collegiate history. The Buffaloes brought the second largest team with 28 athletes, finishing the long weekend with 15 individual medals, 1 team championship and 2 high honors.
National Champions in Sparring
Touted as one of the nation’s top collegiate teams, CU Boulder continued its dominance in the Sparring Event. In the Black Belt Division, Sophomore Aly Ayers returned to form, improving on her Bronze medal performance from last year and bringing home a Silver medal in the female Featherweight division. She dominated her competition, defeating UPenn, Iowa State, and UC Davis on her way to finals. Her only loss came against a closely contested match against the #1 seed in the country from Johnson County Community College. She will be looking to secure the National Championship next year as a junior.
Newcomer freshman, Ian Lopez, made his mark in the Finweight division. Victories against MIT and University of Michigan led him to a finals match against the defending champion from UPenn. Lopez came back from a 0-1 deficit to win round 2 and secured the Gold medal in the third round by knockout. Lopez continues the trend of Buffaloes winning a Black Belt division and is set to defend his National Championship for many years to come.
Ayers, Lopez, and Kaliyah Saunders Boden also competed in the Black Belt Collegiate Team Trials. Winners of Team Trials secure a spot on Team USA to compete at the 2023 Summer World University Games in Chengdu, China. Ayers and Saunders Boden won Silver, while Lopez took home Bronze in impressive showings for all three athletes.
Color belts make their mark
In the Color Belt sparring division, the CU Boulder team produced three more National Champions. In the Green Belt group, Abby Verneuille defeated her Heavyweight counterparts from University of Texas, University of Iowa, and Columbia University while Jacob Gorovoy represented Boulder by defeating Flyweights from Brown University, Liberty University, and University of Iowa. Gorovoy was joined on the podium by teammate Dale Harris, who finished with Bronze in same division.
Yashraj Pardeshi was the third National Champion in the Color Belt division, representing the Welterweight category in the Blue Belt group. Pardeshi had an impressive run, sweeping two opponents from University of Texas on his way to the Gold medal.
Rounding out the Color Belt group, Nicholas Torres won Bronze in the Featherweight Blue Belt category, Nico Martinez brought home a Silver medal in the Welterweight Green Belt category, and Vivian Shi earned Bronze in the Welterweight Yellow Belt category.
New events, no problem
The CU Boulder team also swept the competition in two new events. In the Demonstration division, which showcases the different aspects of Taekwondo through choreographed movements, impressive acrobatics, and music/storytelling, the Buffaloes edged out MIT and University of Washington to bring home first place. In the Board Breaking division, Torres and Nikita Feoktistov each earned Gold medals, while Yellow Belt Ivan Gradjansky brought home Bronze.
Rookie Poomsae team shows out
For the first time in almost 15 years, the Buffaloes competed in the Poomsae division. It was a strong showing, with half of the team performing and each competitor just barely missing the opportunity to make the medal rounds. “There were some nerves,” said Hayle Nguyen, who is the captain of the Poomsae Team, “but then a rush of adrenaline hits because you want to do your best. You want to showcase how hard you have worked and make the team proud because we’ve gone through so much together. It’s so rewarding, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
But even with all the success this weekend, what stood out most to the athletes was the atmosphere of the event and energy of the team.
“I’m really grateful that we got to host this year!” said Ayers. “Winning Silver was one thing, but being able to do it at CU in front of my friends and family was awesome. All my friends mentioned how cool it was that our team was so loud for everyone. And how we were running back and forth to make sure we didn’t miss anybody’s match.”
“I haven’t seen this level of pride in teammates from any other club I’ve been in.” proclaimed Feoktistov. “Cheering for the team was by far the most genuine experience I’ve had in sports. We have so much invested in each other. It is an indescribable experience to cheer for your teammates and be proud of them, regardless of outcome. We all lost our voices, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Added Macanip, “Cheering for my team honestly felt infinitely more rewarding than winning a match. Plenty of my teammates were feeling nervous and terrified because this was their first competition, but being there to support them and remind them of the hard work they put into training felt especially important to me.”