PLOVDIV, Bulgaria — Zander Rhodes (V Fencing Club, Columbia University) saved her best for her last year of junior eligibility.
After what she considers disappointing finishes at her past two Junior & Cadet Worlds, Rhodes finished in the best possible way this year: with a Junior Women’s Foil gold medal and world championship.
“The past two Junior Worlds, I actually finished first after pools and then got knocked out in the Round of 64 and finished 33rd,” she says. “So it was a little bumpy in the beginning, but I'm really happy with the result at the end.”
On Tuesday at the 2023 Junior & Cadet Fencing World Championships in Bulgaria, it was the foil squads’ turn to attempt to continue the medal domination started by the saber squads (which earned four of six possible gold medals over the tournament’s first three days). And the Juniors delivered on Day 4, winning three medals — one of each color.
Rhodes’ gold came after an all-American final bout. She defeated teammate Lauren Scruggs (Peter Westbrook Foundation, Harvard University) in a tense final that pitted the two women against each other without the aid of any strip coaches (as is custom when two Team USA athletes meet in international competition).
“This is my last Junior tournament ever,” Rhodes says. “So my mentality going into it was just to have fun and enjoy the moment.”
This is Rhodes’ third medal at Junior & Cadet Worlds but first individual win. Her other two came with the Junior Foil Team in 2021 (silver) and 2022 (gold).
Rhodes, who primarily fences at the Senior level these days, says fencing at a Junior competition meant facing a lot of young women she’s never before seen on the strip. But she says she was able to pull from her Senior-level experience to maintain momentum throughout the day.
“I had a few bouts where I was down by a lot of touches,” she says. “So I think a really big takeaway is just to keep fighting and keep enjoying your touches.”
The medals in Junior Women’s Foil extend a streak of winning at least one medal in the event every year since 2011. And it extends the Team USA gold medal streak in the event to four in a row: Scruggs in 2019, May Tieu in 2021, Scruggs in 2022 and Rhodes in 2023. (The tournament was canceled in 2020 because of COVID.)
Scruggs’ silver continues her own dominant streak at this tournament. Since her first time at the competition in 2018, Scruggs has now won eight medals at Junior & Cadet Worlds: five golds, two silvers and one bronze.
Not to be lost in the 1-2 finish for Junior Women’s Foil was a strong day for Junior Men’s Foil.
In that event, Team USA is leaving with an individual bronze medal for the second year in a row. Samarth Kumbla (Silicon Valley Fencing) started 5-1 in pools and kept winning throughout the day until losing a tough semifinal bout against the eventual champion from Italy.
Kumbla says he started the day focused on starting strong in pools, but that plan hit a snag when he lost his first pools bout, 5-1.
“It’s important to stay calm and just have confidence in yourself and your ability,” Kumbla says. “Like, you've trained hard for this moment. And you're able to do it. So you just want to keep cool and not think too much of it, and learn from your mistakes.”
Following that plan, Kumbla won all five remaining pools bouts to give himself a strong seed going into the direct elimination rounds.
Kumbla’s bronze comes in his first Junior & Cadet Worlds and continues a family tradition. His brother, Sidarth, finished his Junior and Cadet career with three Worlds medals: team gold in 2017 and both individual and team bronze in 2018.
“It means a lot. I've always looked up to my brother,” Kumbla says. “And so meeting his standards, or his past results, I’ve always dreamed of that. And so it’s just an amazing feeling overall. And I'm always striving to do better — to keep on going.”
Photo by #BizziTeam
Junior Women’s Foil
Junior Men’s Foil
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