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U.S. Women’s Saber Team Wins Bronze, Men’s Epee Finishes 15th

10/15/2011, 11:59am CDT
By No Author

(Catania, Italy) – The last time the U.S. Women’s Saber Team earned a Senior World Championships medal in the team event was the 2006 Worlds in Torino. Following a fourth place finish in 2010, Team USA returned to the podium on Saturday with a bronze medal win.

“This entire season I think we’ve had a great team dynamic and I’m glad that it all came together at Worlds and we were able to get a medal this year,” said Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) who has now earned five team medals at the Senior Worlds. “I think we fenced really well and, even though we wanted to win gold, third place is still a medal and it’s still good to win.”

The fourth seed going into the event, Team USA earned a first-round bye before Zagunis, Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.), Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, N.J.) and Daria Schneider (New York City, N.Y.) defeated Tunisia, 45-35.

In the quarter-finals, Team USA faced an Italian team led by Irene Vecchi, a two-time top-eight finisher at the Senior Worlds.

“Last year we fenced France in France and definitely it was hard dealing with the crowd and being in their home country fencing for a medal and this year we fenced Italy in Italy to get into the top four. Italians are crazy for their fencers, but we were able to keep our heads together and fence really well so that was really huge,” Schneider said.  

The U.S. squad trailed Italy for the seventh and eighth bouts and Zagunis found herself in a two-point hole going into the final bout as Italy had a 40-38 lead.

Zagunis brought Team USA to a tie at 41 during her bout with Vecchi, but the point was rescinded and Italy retained the 41-40 lead. Zagunis went on to tie the bout at 43 and earn the next two touches to end the bout for Team USA at 45-43.

 “It’s difficult, but you just have to block the crowd out when you’re fencing in a bout like that. I had fenced Vecchi before in the individual and fenced her really well, so I was just trying to ignore everything around me and just fencer her like I did a couple days ago. Luckily I was able to tune out the noise and pull out a 7-3 win for the match,” Zagunis said.

In the semifinals, Team USA faced Russia. With Sophia Velikaia as anchor on the heels of her individual World Championship title on Thursday, Team USA set about trying to upset the top-ranked team in the world.

With a 20-18 lead after the fourth, Schneider took the strip against Velikaia and earned a 5-3 bout win to bring the overall score to 25-21.

“It was amazing to be able to beat a fencer like that,” said Schneider.

Zagunis’s fifth bout was a rematch of her semifinal against Julia Gavrilova on Thursday. Although Zagunis won their bout, 15-8, in the individual event, Gavrilova took this win, 9-3.

With Russia up, 30-28, Schneider lost her next bout, 5-0, to Ekaterina Diatchenko and Wozniak fell to Gavrilova, 5-3.

Zagunis was unable to make up the nine-point deficit and Team USA lost the bout, 45-33.

Although they lost the bout against Russia, Zagunis said “we all fenced the Russians well and I think we gained a lot of confidence in how we fence them.”

Within an hour, the team was back on the strip fencing for bronze.

Wozniak said she was most proud of her teammates because she felt that they pulled together all day, including during the bout against Russia.

“We just know how each of us works and what needs to be said and if one of us needs a little coaching off the strip. We didn’t hesitate like we normally would. We just jumped in and talked to each other and helped each other out,” she said. “Even after, instead of getting frustrated and worried about what happened, we were still like ‘we have another bout to fence and we need to be focused and get ourselves together to fence for the bronze medal bout.’”

In another quarter-final, 22nd seeded Azerbaijan upset China – the third seed in the tournament and 2009 World bronze medalists – to advance to the semifinals earlier in the day. Following their 45-25 loss to Ukraine in the semifinals, Team USA would meet Azerbaijan in the bronze medal bout.

Wozniak, Zagunis and Muhammad built up a 40-27 lead over Azerbaijan going into the final bout where Schneider was substituted in for Zagunis as the anchor against Sabina Mikina who finished eighth in the individual event.

Although Mikina made a comeback for her team, Schneider held off her opponent to close out the bout, 45-40.

“I’ve never been anchor. I had two reactions when [Coach] Ed [Korfanty] asked me. One was ‘oh crap this is intense!’ and the other was exciting because I knew I could be the anchor for me team and show I can handle this position,” Schneider said.  “I knew we’d win, but Sabina was fencing her heart out and she’s not the cleanest fencer so my blade was getting stuck in between her legs on her hand. That was stressful, but I finished it out and that’s the important thing. Even though I probably didn’t handle it as best as I could, it was a good experience for next time.”

Muhammad said the team had confidence they could earn a medal.

“We did it all season, but to do it on the international stage is huge,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad went on to say the experience makes her think ahead to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“Simple things like the music and the lights and everyone asking to take your photo, I definitely think ‘this must be what the Olympics are like’ and I really want to experience it again next year,” she said.

The U.S. Men’s Epee Team entered the Senior Worlds as the #3-ranked team in the world after last year’s silver medal finish, but the team was unable to advance to the medal rounds in Catania.

In what is possibly the largest field for a team epee event at a Senior Worlds, 41 teams vied for a chance at gold on Saturday. With a bracket of that size, the table of 64 was held on Friday evening and Team USA earned a bye into the table of 32 for Saturday.

The team of Seth Kelsey (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Soren Thompson (New York City, N.Y.), Cody Mattern (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Ben Bratton (New York City, N.Y.) defeated Portugal in a strategic bout in which Team USA earned the win, 14-13.

In the table of 16, Team USA led Switzerland, 16-15 after eight bouts. Max Heinzer made a comeback for the Swiss against Kelsey who was anchoring and pulled his team ahead to 23-20. On the next touch, Heinzer fell to the side of the strip and a red card was awarded to Kelsey who the referees deemed to have caused the fall. The card meant a point would be awarded to Switzerland and the score was set at 24-20.

Kelsey sped down the strip in an attempt to chase points for the remainder of the bout and brought the score as close as 25-24, but the Swiss took the win, 31-26 during the final seconds before going on to win bronze.

The loss meant Team USA would be fencing through the 9th – 12th place table.

After a 45-40 loss by Mattern, Kelsey and Thompson, the Americans fell to the 13th – 16th place table where the four team members lost to Egypt, 45-34.

Fencing for 15th place, the Americans finished their day with a win as the foursome defeated Estonia, 45-26.

Top eight and U.S. results are as follows:

Women’s Team Saber
1. Russia
2. Ukraine
3. USA
4. Azerbaijan
5. Poland
6. Hungary
7. Italy
8. China

Men’s Team Epee
1. France
2. Hungary
3. Switzerland
4. Korea
5. Italy
6. Germany
7. China
8. Norway

15. USA

Competition concludes on Sunday:

Sunday, Oct. 16 - Team Competition
Women’s Epee
Lindsay Campbell (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
Maya Lawrence (Teaneck, N.J.)

Men's Foil
Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa)
Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)

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