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U.S. Saber Squads Return to the Podium at Junior Worlds

04/06/2018, 10:00pm CDT
By Kristen Henneman

Team USA won silver in women's team saber and bronze in men's team saber at the Junior Worlds in Verona. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE

(Verona, Italy) – Both saber teams brought home hardware on the final day of saber competition at the Junior World Championships as the women won silver and the men took bronze on Friday.

For the women, the silver medal marks the best result for Team USA since 2013 and its fourth podium finish at the Junior Worlds in the last six years. The men returned to the podium for the first time since their bronze medal win in 2015.

“I just love this team, the way we work together and the way we cheer for each other and, if someone goes down a little bit, the next person picks up the slack,” Zara Moss (Cranberry Twp, Pa.) said of the women’s team. “I think we work amazingly well together and this group of girls, I love them and the way they build me up. Having this group next to you inspires you to do your best. You’re not just fencing for yourself; you’re fencing for everyone.”

Representing Team USA was Moss, Tori Johnson (Peachtree City, Ga.), Chloe Fox-Gitomer (Portland, Ore.), and Elizabeth Tartakovsky (Livingston, N.J.)

As the No. 3 seed, the U.S. received a bye into the 16, where it dominated its match with Uzbekistan, 45-19. The Americans didn’t drop a bout with Johnson as anchor and Tartakovsky tallying a +12 indicator.

“I think I just wanted to focus on setting up the rest of the day, so if I started strong and fencing well, I would be able to keep the momentum going until the end of the day,” said Tartakovsky who returned to the podium after winning bronze in the team event in 2016.

After dropping the first bout in the quarter-finals to China, Team USA took the next five to build a 30-18 lead. Despite China winning two of the final three bouts, the U.S. held on to secure the 45-38 victory with Moss anchoring the team.

The win put Team USA back in the medal rounds where, with three of the four members returning from last year, the U.S. looked to avenge a fourth-place finish.

“Getting fourth is not fun at all, so going into [that] round, I was just focused on not doing that again and just fencing as well as I could,” said Moss who competed on the 2017 team with Tartakovsky and Fox-Gitomer.

The U.S. did, in fact, ensure there would be no chance of a fourth-place finish, edging out the host country Italy, 45-41, in the semifinals. Down 10-7 after the first two bouts, Fox-Gitomer closed the gap to one point and Tartakovsky won the fourth bout, 6-4, to give USA a 20-17 lead.

Tartakovsky, who was +8 on the match, then won the seventh bout, 5-1, to give the Americans a five-point advantage with two rounds remaining. In the eighth bout, Fox-Gitomer and Beatrice Dalla Vecchia clashed and Fox-Gitomer went down with an injury at 35-33. Moss was substituted into the match and closed the eighth with a 40-37 lead.

Johnson faced a tough opponent in the anchor round, fencing the bronze medalist from the individual competition in Lucia Lucarini (ITA). Lucarini cut the gap to one at 42-41, but Johnson scored the final three points on the two-time Junior World medalist to take out the No. 2 seed and last year’s silver medalists.

“Staying calm, first of all, because it was a lot happening,” said Johnson as to the key to closing out the match. “And remembering how I’ve fenced her at other World Cups, what she did, and honestly just keeping calm because if I’d freaked out, I would’ve lost.”

In the final, Team USA came within one touch of gold, losing a heartbreaker, 45-44.

Fencing Russia, the No. 1 team in the world and the gold medalists at the last two Junior Worlds, the U.S. went down 10-8 going into the third, but Moss won her bout, 7-2, to give Team USA a 15-12 lead.

The Americans then won or tied the next three bouts to go up six at 30-24, but in the seventh, the defending champions mounted their comeback and closed the gap to just one point, 35-34.

Tartakovsky made up some ground to increase the lead to three going into the anchor round, but two-time Junior World medalist Olga Nikitina put the Russian team on her back, taking the first four points of the bout to regain the lead for Russia, 41-40.

Facing a 44-43 deficit, Johnson kept Team USA alive with a touch, but the final score belonged to Nikitina and Team USA came up just short.

“I think we gave it our all. Even though we didn’t win, we lost by one touch, we fought our hardest and we had a pretty good showing today,” Fox-Gitomer said. “Of course it’s always sad to finish with silver, especially if it’s by one point, but I think we’re all pretty proud.”

In the men’s competition, the U.S. team was composed of Andrew Doddo (South Orange, N.J.), Mitchell Saron (Ridgewood, N.J.), Kamar Skeete (Duluth, Ga.) and Erwin Cai (Marietta, Ga.)

Earning a bye into the table of 32 as the No. 4 seed, Team USA came out strong against China, winning the first three bouts, 15-8, and going on to take the match, 45-33. Doddo, who was Team USA’s sole returning fencer from the 2017 Junior World Team, was +9 in the effort with Cai anchoring the team.

The Americans then won their table of 16 bout by the same score against Korea. Down 5-1 after the first round, Team USA won the next seven, including a 9-4 win by Cai in the second to steal the momentum from the Koreans. Cai, who returned as anchor, tied with Saron in posting a +6 indicator.

In the quarter-finals, the U.S. earned a come-from-behind victory against Belarus, 45-39, trailing by as many as six points during the match. Down 25-21, Cai won the sixth bout, 9-3. Saron and Doddo claimed wins in the seventh and eighth to give Cai a 40-36 lead going into the final bout. With three straight wins, Team USA advanced to the semis for the first time since 2015.

“We basically told each other you have to keep on fighting,” Saron said. “One touch isn’t enough. You have to keep rolling over momentum from there and expanding on the last touches you’ve gotten, and don’t get complacent with the amount of touches you get. Keep going and you’ve got to keep fighting for everything.”

While momentum played a key role in Team USA’s success in the first three matches, the Americans couldn’t keep it rolling in the semis, falling to Italy, 45-39. Team USA won two of the first three bouts to take 15-14 lead with Saron taking a critical win over Giacomo Mignuzzi (ITA), 9-4, including five straight touches to put the Americans in the lead for the first time in the match. Unfortunately, the reigning silver medalists won or tied five of the next six bouts to send the United States into the bronze medal match.

“It’s definitely difficult. It’s a crushing feeling, but you still have something to fight for,” Cai said. “You can’t walk out of here empty handed. You have to fight for everything.”

Eyeing the bronze, Team USA easily controlled the match, taking eight of the nine bouts against Great Britain, 45-21. Skeete returned to the lineup for the first time since the table of 32 after being the squad’s only member to fence both junior and cadet individual events on the previous two days. The fifth-place cadet finisher, Skeete anchored Team USA in the bronze medal final and won each of his three bouts to go +12 on the match.

“It’s definitely a solid medal I would say, because you do have to win that fence off for third to get it,” Doddo said. “Although it is bronze, we ended on a high note because we won our last match.”

Click here to view complete results.

Top eight and U.S. results in the individual events are as follows:

Junior World Team Women’s Saber Championships
1. Russia
2. USA
3. Italy
4. Korea
5. Japan
6. China
7. Bulgaria
8. Germany

Junior World Team Men’s Saber Championships
1. Italy
2. Russia
3. USA
4. Great Britain
5. Belarus
6. France
7. Germany
8. Poland

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