World medalists Nzingha Prescod, Jackie Dubrovich, Nicole Ross and Lee Kiefer with Coach Buckie Leach. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas
(Budapest, Hungary) – The U.S. Women’s Foil Team bronze at the Senior World Championships on Monday, setting the tone for the Olympic qualifying season and making history as the first U.S. Foil Team ever to earn a medal at the event for three straight years.
Team USA includes Olympians Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.), Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) The core of the team, this trio has fenced together for 10 years and won gold at the 2018 Senior Worlds as well as silver in 2017. A four-time Junior World team medalist who fenced on junior teams with Kiefer and Prescod, Dubrovich fenced at her first Senior Worlds in Budapest.
After a 45-16 win over Austria on Saturday, the Americans fenced Canada in the quarter-finals on Sunday in a rematch of the gold medal final at the Pan American Championships earlier this month where Team USA won its 13th straight Pan Am titles.
Canada led the match at 27-29 after the seventh period, but Ross rallied for the team, scoring 12 touches against Alanna Goldie – a three-time individual Pan Am bronze medalist. Team USA held a 39-35 lead going into the final bout with Kiefer closing against 2019 Pan Am individual silver medalist Jessica Zi Jia Guo to finish the bout at 45-41.
The Americans fenced Russia in the semifinals – a team led by Inna Deriglazova who won her third individual Senior World title on Saturday. Kiefer put up 27 touches in her three bouts, but Russia finished with a 45-36 win.
In the bronze medal final, the Americans met World No. 1 France for the fifth time this season. A team that has developed a great rivalry with the Americans in the past few years, France took the edge over Team USA winning each of their four matchups on the World Cup circuit, but the Americans came in determined to change the game in the most important event on the circuit.
France controlled the beginning of the match, however, building a 20-15 lead after the fourth period. In the fifth, it was Prescod who set the tone for a comeback by outscoring 2018 Senior World individual silver medalist Ysaora Thibus, 7-5, to cut France’s lead to 25-22.
“I was really trying to be brave and do what I thought would work and execute it and that’s always hard mentally, to execute what you think will work and really believe in it,” Prescod said. “I was really happy that I was able to do what I thought would work and I trusted myself and I knew that I had my whole team behind me.”
Kiefer blew through eight touches against 2019 Senior World individual silver medalist Pauline Ranvier to give Team USA its first lead of the match at 30-29 and Prescod went +3 against Anita Blaze in the next bout for a 35-31 score. Ranvier attempted to force a comeback in her bout with Ross in the eighth, but Kiefer tied the score at 42 against Thibus with less than two minutes remaining in the bout. Thibus scored once more before Kiefer took three straight to secure the win at 45-43.
“Earlier this season, I’ve been in panic mode because I feel so good making up touches and then I see a tie and I’m like ‘What do I do now?’” Kiefer laughed. “But with these people behind me, I know that, regardless of the outcome, it was our win or loss together and we were still going to be a team.”
Despite the pressure of coming into the event as the reigning World Champions, Ross said that each season is different and comes with new sets of challenges, including qualifying the squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 when women’s foil returns as a team event after being held only individually in 2016.
“When you come in as the defending World Champions, it’s hard not to think about that, but we focused on being present and not holding ourselves too much in the past and focus on what we have to do on this day,” Ross said. “I think that’s why this bronze medal feels so special, because we’re not necessarily comparing ourselves to last year. It’s a new year and we’re moving forward to Tokyo, so we’re happy with that.”
Kiefer, who won three individual medals on the circuit this season as well as individual bronze at the Senior Worlds in 2011, said that standing on the podium with her teammates and sharing that moment has a different level of meaning than winning as an individual.
“There’s that feeling of accountability because you want to do your best for your team at all times, but there’s also that feeling of joy when we’re able to build each other up and I feel so much more elevated than I bet any of us would if we had a third individually. There’s just something so strong about a whole team coming together,” she said.
The win comes just two days before the world celebrates reaching one year out from the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It still feels so far away, but our goal today is we want to qualify Team USA. Whoever’s on the team, there’s a lot of talent out there and it’s important to represent Team USA well and we did our job,” Kiefer said.
Dubrovich said her teammates were an inspiration both for their fencing as well as how well they’ve worked together for more than a decade.
“It’s so inspiring to see them – Lee, Nicole and Nzingha – fence so well against France and it is a crazy, stressful experience, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so emotionally depleted after this,” she said. “I just look up to them so much and how they’ve been able to do this for so many years and I’m just excited to be part of the team.”
The team was coached by Buckie Leach (South Bend, Ind.) who has been at the helm of the U.S. Women’s Foil Team for each of its podium finishes at the Senior World Championships, including the first bronze medal in 2011 as well as silver in 2017 and gold in 2018.
“These guys did an amazing job all day. There were ups and downs the whole time. Good moments and bad moments and good moments again,” Leach said. “They’re amazing. Every time I get a chance to work with them, it’s exciting for me. I love this team.”
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