The CU Taekwondo Club won four gold medals at the Colorado State championships on Saturday with two of the medalists also qualifying for the Colorado State Team.
The top fighters, who competed in the black belt divisions, faced off against nationally and internationally seasoned fighters, coming from different schools in the state.
Sunu Sohn, a club officer and a junior at CU, successfully defended his state-champion title defeating his first opponent 15 to 14.
Sohn and his opponent from Champion Taekwondo Academy in Thornton were neck-and-neck throughout the fight. Sohn started off on the defensive after his opponent charged him with a crescent kick to the head, before pushing him out of the ring.
But Sohn was successful in his counter-offensive strategy. Managing to break his opponent’s nose early in the fight with a roundhouse kick to the face, causing him to bleed.
The two fought aggressively, exchanging head-shot after head-shot throughout the first round. In the final round, Sohn managed to land a spinning hook kick to the head, a four-point technique that won him the match. He then advanced to team trials, a double-elimination system that allows athletes to stay in the bracket even if they lose a fight.
“When I first walked in here I felt like I had to defend my title, I have to keep up where I had it,” Sohn said.
But in his first fight of the trials, Sohn lost 18-14 to an opponent from the United States Taekwondo Center after the judges granted the opponent a spinning-head kick.
“These local tournaments are hard because you don’t have the professional refs, you have amateur refs, so things are going to go wrong,” explained Buffs’ head coach David Lee.
But despite his exhaustion, Sohn came back in the second fight in a narrow 12-10 win.
“I knew what I did wrong after he did that spinning-hook kick and there were actually problems that I needed to fix, I looked up at my coach, David, and we both knew what I needed to do,” he said.
His opponent, too exhausted and injured to continue in a third bout, forfeited the match, landing Sohn a spot on the state team.
The state championship was also a first for Junior Arina Le, an environmental sciences major at CU. Le has the best record on the team, having lost only one fight in her career since she first joined back in 2014.
Le’s outstanding 29 to 18 win was one of the higher-scoring matches for the team.
“The truth is for me winning is no longer important,” she said. “Even if I win, I may not be happy with my fight, and there’s always something I can learn [like] how to fight aggressive fighters. I’m not going to lie, I love fighting aggressive people because I’m very defensive, so if they charge me, I’ll just go crazy on them.”
Alexandria Yoo, a red-belt and senior on the teas, had similar feelings about the day’s events.
“I definitely went into today with no expectations, honestly,” she said. “The one goal that I had was just to improve and work on my weaknesses. I won, but there’s still a lot of improvement to be made.”
Even though the team’s overall performance was good, their potential may have been strained by the tournament’s structure, which, according to co-head coaches Sara Fossum and Lee, was the worst they’ve ever encountered.
Another issue was low athlete turnout across the board. Divisions were small, consisting of three or four athletes tops. For some, this was a frustrating aspect of the tournament.
“I only had one fight in my bracket; there just wasn’t enough fights for anyone today and that was a little frustrating because I don’t want to pay $60 to fight our teammates,” Yoo commented. “But things like that happen, and the main thing is to just stay focused.”
Almost everyone on the team had an opponent from another school to fight, Yoo included. But two Buffs, senior Alyssa Roseman and sophomore Jill Kirchner, went up against each other for the state title in the Bantamweight division. The final score was 26-2, Roseman.
The timing of the event also affected some of the athletes. Sparring was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, but most black belt divisions didn’t get started until 5 or even 6 in the afternoon.
“It’s always tough to have to warm up and anticipate fighting and then cool back down and just wait,” Coach Fossum explained, having been a former CU athlete herself. “It’s not just hard on your body, but it’s hard on your mind. It’s tough, but it’s definitely good practice and as an athlete it’s something to get used to.”
Coach Lee explained that the state championships were just more practice before the team’s real challenge at Collegiate nationals, this year taking place in San Diego.
“The ball rolls both ways, but when you go through something like this and then you go to collegiates it’s a lot easier because you know it can’t get worse,” he said.
Last April, the team tied for eighth place at collegiate nationals, which consisted of more than 70 colleges and universities. It also boasted some of the most competitive teams, like the University of California, Berkeley, and Brown.
Despite the setbacks, players are still ready to go for the big prize.
“I’m psyched for (collegiates) this year,” Roseman said. “Last year I was struggling to cut (weight) so I fought in the division above, but this year cutting has gone better than it has maybe ever. So I should be in a more competitive division, if I got third in a harder division for me, I think I have a real chance.”
Sohn also expressed his excitement, “Last year, nationals was kind of tough. But overall, I’m excited, because San Diego is my hometown. So I’m going to be going back, and a lot of my family is going to be visiting.”
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