The author of this piece represents the CU Boulder Taekwondo Club. Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the CU Independent or its staff.
The University of Colorado Boulder is now home to some of the best collegiate martial artists in the country, as well as one of the best coaches in the sport, following a national championship hosted in Boulder last weekend.
Of several CU athletes who competed, freshman Ian Lopez burst onto the scene for his first national championship and took gold in black belt fin weight sparring last Sunday, after two intense matches for the title.
Judges for the 46th annual National Collegiate Taekwondo Association Championships also named Lopez Best Athlete, making him the standout among more than 600 athletes representing over 50 schools. It’s the first time any CU athlete in Taekwondo has earned the award. Athletes in Taekwondo score points by kicking and punching their opponents in the body and kicking to the head. Athletes must win two out of three rounds to win the match.
Lopez barely lost the first round to the defending champion from the University of Pennsylvania but fought his way back to a shot at the title in the second. In the final round, the last few seconds boiled down to a one-sided affair, as Lopez continually pushed his opponent out of bounds to the point of exhaustion, and ultimately kicked him so hard in the head that the referee had to stop the fight — a crushing defeat for UPenn.
“There was a moment where I was still in fight mode, thinking it’s still not over,” Lopez said. “But when I turned toward the crowd and my coaches, I started to realize and all I thought was like ‘Oh did I just win? What?’”
Ivan Pagan, who coached Lopez, described how he was on the edge of his seat the entire match.
“It was very stressful and intense for sure, especially after losing that first round,” Pagan said. “We readjusted and he went in there ready to destroy…I don’t remember if I had that moment of realization, but 30 seconds into the second round I knew we had a chance.”
“Ian’s talent was undeniable the moment he joined the team,” head coach David Lee added. “He was consistently excellent at practice and other high-level tournaments like US Open.”
Coach David Lee also became a nationally recognized figure when the NCTA named him coach of the year, another first for the CU team.
“It was an incredible honor,” Lee said. “If I wasn’t so exhausted from running the event, I would’ve broken down in tears in front of 600 people. No coach in our community works for recognition. Our athletes and team mission come first, so we do everything for them.”
“Coach David is always looking for new ways to improve the team, and he’s always open to input and change when we recommend it,” CU sophomore Alyson Ayers said. “He puts a lot of energy into making the team a fun and safe community, and I appreciate that about him.”
Lopez said Lee’s coach’s award was a shoo-in.
“I had no doubt he wouldn’t win that,” he said. “I wasn’t here last year, but I know that the team has doubled since then, and Coach David has done such a good job not only helping our new members but also organizing the tournament.”
Also, Ayers won silver in women’s featherweight black belt sparring, following several fights against athletes from UPenn, Iowa State, and the University of California Davis.
In the finals, Ayers went up against the number one seed from Johnson County Community College, Logan Weber, who has also qualified for Team USA multiple times. The two were not strangers, having fought before the event this last weekend during the Team Trials sparring event on Friday
“I went into both of my matches with a bit of personal experience on her fighting style and tactics,” Ayers said. “Because I’ve struggled in my matches with her in the past, my training the past few weeks was catered for me to counter and adjust to her fighting style.”
Ayers advanced to the third and final round against Weber – but fell short. She is now the third seed in the country. The team also picked up several gold medals in color belt sparring. Yashraj Pardeshi swept his opponents from the University of Texas in the men’s blue belt welterweight division. In the green belt flyweight division, Jacob Gorovoy also displayed fierce determination, defeating fighters from Brown University, Liberty University, and the University of Iowa. Dale Harris also finished with bronze in the same category.
Green belt Abby Verneuille clocked her first opponent from the University of Texas before defeating the University of Iowa and Columbia University fighters to secure first place. CU athletes also made a huge impression during the first board-breaking and demonstration events for the NCTA, as Nikita Feoktistov and Nick Torres snagged gold in the board-breaking event.
The CU demo team stole the show with an impressive display of self-defense, acrobatics, and choreographed moves to beat out the MIT and University of Washington teams for first place. In total, the team racked up 16 gold medals, four silver, and five bronze in the various categories. As for the team’s vanguard athletes, the real fight lies ahead.
“I am excited to get back in the lab and keep working hard,” Lopez said. “My biggest goal is to work harder because that is where I find the most enjoyment. The results are just a bonus.”
Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Jesse Hughes at email@example.com.