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Team USA to Defend Pan American Championship Titles in Cuba

06/14/2018, 6:30am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Lee Kiefer comes into Cuba as the eight-time reigning individual Pan American Champion. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi / FIE

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Twenty-six U.S. athletes will travel to Havana, Cuba this week to fence for titles in six individual and six team events at the Pan American Championships.

Competition will begin on Friday and conclude on Wednesday, June 20.

The final international competition before the Senior World Championships are held next month in Wuxi, China, the Pan American Championships will draw athletes from more than 25 nations throughout North and South America.

Last year, Team USA won gold in four individual and four team events and a combined 20 medals overall.

The team is highlighted by nine fencers who are past individual Pan American Champions, including:

  • Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky. / Women’s Foil), eight-time Pan American Champion
  • Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Men’s Foil), four-time Pan American Champion
  • Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / Women’s Epee), three-time Pan American Champion
  • Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / Women’s Epee), three-time Pan American Champion
  • Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif. / Men’s Foil), three-time Pan American Champion
  • Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y. / Men’s Saber), two-time Pan American Champion
  • Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, N.Y. / Men’s Saber), two-time Pan American Champion
  • Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif. / Men’s Foil), 2016 Pan American Champion
  • Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Women's Foil), 2009 Pan American Champion

A look at the athletes who will fence for Team USA in Havana:

Women’s Saber
Individual: June 15

Rio Olympic team bronze medalist Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) will be the top seed in the field with a No. 15 world ranking. Although she missed the podium in 2017 with a top eight result, Wozniak has medaled at five of the last eight Zonal Championships and has her eyes set on gold in her 12th straight appearance at the event – the most of any U.S. athlete on the squad this year. Wozniak’s Rio Olympic teammate, Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.), won bronze in her Zonals debut in 2009 and is aiming for a return to the podium after top eights in 2016 and 2017. After winning silver at her first Zonals in 2013, Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) added a bronze in 2014 and will be a podium contender in her fifth Pan Am appearance this year. The youngest fencer on any squad, Chloe Fox-Gitomer (Portland, Ore.) will be competing in Cuba just a day after her 18th birthday. The recent high school graduate earned a top-eight at her second Junior Worlds in June and picked up a career-high top-16 at the Athens World Cup in March.

The women’s saber individual event is ripe with potential for a first-time champion with only Maria Belen Perez Maurice (ARG) holding a previous gold after her win at the 2014 Pan Ams. Last year’s gold medalist, Paola Pliego (MEX), will not be returning to Zonals this year, leaving her teammate, 2017 Pan Am silver medalist Julieta Toledo (MEX), as the highest of the 2017 finishers to compete in Cuba. Two of the top fencers to watch in the field will be on opposite ends of the age spectrum. Sixteen-year-old Natalia Botello (MEX) has rarely competed on the senior circuit, but the future star has turned heads as a junior, winning gold at the 2017 Junior Worlds as a 14 year old and adding silvers at both the Junior and Cadet Worlds this year. Botello will be competing at her first Senior Zonals after placing in the top 64 in her Senior Worlds debut last year. At 37 years old, two-time Pan Am medalist Alejandra Benitez (VEN) has posted some of her best career results in the last year, following a top-16 at the 2017 Senior Worlds with a top-16 at the Athens World Cup in March and a top-32 in Orleans in October.

Team: June 18
Team USA’s undefeated streak in the women’s team saber event came to an end at the 2017 Pan American Championships when Mexico defeated the U.S. squad to take gold. The two teams will be the top-seeded squads again this year with the United States holding a 2-0 edge in their previous matchups this season, besting Mexico, 45-31, in Orleans and 45-36 earlier this month in Tunisia.

Men’s Epee
Individual: June 15
Led by 2016 Olympian Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio), the U.S. Men’s Épée Team includes three first-time competitors at the Pan Ams in Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.), Jake Hoyle (New York City, N.Y.) and Dennis Kraft (Bloomfield, N.J.).

Pryor, who has fenced at every Zonals since 2012, holds two of the last three individual medals won by an American in men’s epee, taking silver in 2016 and bronze in 2014. It’s 2016 Junior World Team member McDowald, however, who will hold the top seed for the Americans after a breakthrough performance at the Paris World Cup last month that included ended with a sixth-place finish. Hoyle, a two-time NCAA Champion, has reached the top-16 on the World Cup circuit and qualified for Havana with a pair of top-64 results on the circuit this season. At 32, Kraft is the oldest member of the squad, but will be competing for Team USA for the first time after qualifying for the team with a gold medal win at the Division I National Championships in April.

Three of the medalists from the 2017 Pan Ams will return to Zonals with 2012 Olympic Champion Ruben Limardo Gascon (VEN) entering as the favorite as the No. 11 fencer in the world with three past Pan Am titles to his credit. Rio Olympian John Edison Rodriguez (COL) won his first Pan Am medal with a silver last year while Alexandre Camargo (BRA) stunned a field of seasoned competitors by taking bronze at just 18 years old. Camargo has now returned to the senior circuit twice this year and defended his Pan American Junior gold. While Cuba only sent one competitor to the 2017 Pan Ams, the host nation will field a full team of four in the individual event and are expected to see its flag raised on the podium with three past medalists on the squad, including Yunior Reytor Venet, who defeated Pryor in the 2016 finals to win gold and past bronze medalists Reynier Henriquez Ortiz (2015 and 2016) and Ringo Quintero Alvarez (2013).

Team: June 18
Venezuela enters as one of the favorites, winning titles in two of the last three years with Team USA producing the upset in the 2015 finals. The U.S. men finished fourth in 2017, but will be the top seed in Havana as the ninth-ranked team in the world after a season that included a fifth-place result in Legnano and seventh in Vancouver. The Americans have fenced Pan Am opponents on the circuit five times this season, winning all five matches, including a 45-41 victory over Venezuela in Berne, Switzerland last fall. Cuba will be a team to watch as well after taking silver in its last Pan Am appearance as a team in 2016 behind Venezuela. Cuba fenced on the circuit twice this season, but has no Zonal points from 2017 which could give the squad a ninth seed in the tournament.

Men’s Foil
Individual: June 16
At the 2017 Pan Ams, Team USA swept the foil events – both men’s and women’s – taking all four individual medals in each event as well as team golds.

This year, Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.) hold the No. 1 and No. 2 positions in the world rankings and enter the event as the reigning gold and silver medalists from the 2017 Pan Ams. Their Rio Olympic bronze medal teammates, Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.) and Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.), will come in as the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds. To repeat the feat, however, the Americans must end the pool rounds in each of the four quadrants of the draw. Imboden holds the most Zonal success of the four, winning four previous titles (2011, 2012, 2015, 2017) and six medals in his seven appearances at the event. Massialas has reached the podium in seven of the last eight years, winning gold for the first time in 2016 after four silver medal finishes. Meinhardt has stood on the top of the podium three times (2007, 2013, 2014) and earned medals in nine of the last 11 years. Chamley-Watson holds five individual Pan Am medals with his best finish coming with a silver in 2010.

Team USA has dominated this event for the last seven years, but the last non-U.S. fencer to win a Pan Am title in men’s foil is one of the 53 competitors who will be seeking an upset in Havana. Thirty-year-old Antonio Leal (VEN) defeated Chamley-Watson in the 2010 finals and is scheduled to fence at his first international event since the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil, Argentina and Canada will feature teams that include past individual Pan Am medalists to watch in Cuba. Brazil’s Heitor Shimbo and Guilherme Toldo won bronze medals in 2015 and 2014, respectively while Argentina’s Felipe Guillermo Saucedo took bronze in 2014 and Canadian Max Van Haaster won bronze in 2013.   

Team: June 19
The U.S. Men’s Foil Team enters the event undefeated this season with an unprecedented five straight World Cup wins for an American squad. Although Team USA has won the last 10 straight Pan Am titles in this event, Brazil has proven to be a close challenger, pushing the U.S. team to the end in each of the last three gold medal finals.

Women’s Epee
Individual: June 16
Together, the members of the U.S. Women’s Epee Team hold 22 medals from the Zonal Championships with 2012 Olympic team bronze medalists Kelley and Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) winning three titles each with Kelley taking the last two gold medals with a third in 2011 and Courtney earning the 2009, 2013 and 2014 titles. Rio Olympian Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.) holds medals in each of her five Pan Am Championship appearances while Natalie Vie (Phoenix, Ariz.) will be making her debut in the event.

In 2017, Kelley defeated Courtney for gold while Holmes took bronze alongside 2010 Senior World medalist Nathalie Moellhausen (BRA) who won her sole Pan Am title in 2015 after defeating Kelley Hurley in the finals. The elder Hurley won their last matchup in the semis of the 2017 Pan Ams and Holmes defeated the former Italian National Team member when they fenced at the 2014 Pan Ams. Maria Martinez (VEN), a 2016 Pan Am silver medalist behind Kelley Hurley, and 2015 Pan Am bronze medalist Leonora MacKinnon (CAN) are among the other top fencers to watch in Havana.

Team: June 19
The U.S. Women’s Epee Team has had their most successful season since winning bronze at the London Games this year with a program-first gold medal at the Dubai World Cup in May and bronze in Barcelona in February. A two-time Junior World team medalist, Amanda Sirico (Bowie, Md.) will join Holmes and the Hurleys for the team competition in Cuba. Now ranked No. 6 in the world, Team USA will hold the No. 1 seed with Canada in the No. 2 position. Canada upset the U.S. team, 45-44, in the finals of the 2016 Pan Ams and will be looking for a repeat while Team USA is looking to improve on its world ranking before the Senior Worlds begin in July.

Women’s Foil
Individual: June 17
When was the last time someone besides two-time Olympian Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) won gold in women’s foil at the Pan Ams? 2009. Who was the last person to do so? Her teammate at both Olympic Games – Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – who claimed gold as a 16 year old in El Salvador, but could be seeded as low as 10th this year after injuries kept her from qualifying for the individual events at either the 2017 Pan Ams or Senior Worlds. Now ranked No. 3 in the world, Kiefer has fenced a teammate in the finals for the last three years with London Olympian Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) winning silver in 2015 and 2016. Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.) has reached the podium in two of her three of her Zonal appearances, including a bronze medal finish with Ross last year as part of the women’s foil team’s sweep of the individual events.

Ranked No. 8 in the world, Eleanor Harvey (CAN) is the U.S. squad’s strongest challenger to the podium and the Rio Olympian recently won her first Grand Prix medal, taking bronze in Shanghai last month after a top-eight finish with a loss to Kiefer at the Absolute Fencing Gear® Anaheim Grand Prix in March. Harvey defeated Prescod, however, in their last matchup in Cancun in October while Ross holds an undefeated record against the Canadian. Lu and Harvey have split their past bouts, 1-1, but both were in pool competition. A two-time medalist at the Pan Ams, Saskia Loretta Van Erven (COL) will be another top fencer to watch in Havana after a year that has included a top-16 at the Katowice World Cup and a top-32 at the 2017 Senior Worlds.

Team: June 20
The U.S. Women’s Foil Team has won the last 11 Pan American Championships with its only loss in the zone in the last decade coming to Canada in the finals of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. The last 10 of the Zonal Championship wins have come after gold medal finals against the Canadians who are now ranked No. 6 in the world with Team USA sitting in third after two World Cup podiums this season and a silver medal finish at the 2017 Senior Worlds.

Men’s Saber
Individual: June 17

Team USA has won three of the last four men’s saber titles with 2016 Olympic silver medalist Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.) entering as the reigning champion and his Rio teammate, Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) winning back-to-back golds in 2014 and 2015. Homer and Dershwitz, who is now No. 4 in the world, hold two titles each with Homer also winning this event in 2011. In his last appearance at the Pan Ams in 2016, Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.) won silver. Two-time Junior World Team member Ben Natanzon (Manalapan, N.J.) earned a position on his first Senior National Team after a silver medal finish behind Homer at Div I Nationals in April.

The men’s saber field is wide open for individual podium contenders as both up-and-comers and seasoned competitors challenge for medals in Cuba. Pascual Di Tella (ARG), a 2017 ACC Champion for Duke, upset Homer at the 2017 Senior Worlds en route to earning his first top-16 finish at the event and has potential to claim his first individual Pan Am medal. Canadian Joseph Polossifakis will be another to watch as a 2012 Pan Am Champion who returned to the podium last year with a bronze.

Team: June 20
Homer, Dershwitz and Mackiewicz will fence in the team competition with 2017 Senior World Team member Geoff Loss (Laguna Beach, Calif.) The U.S. Men’s Saber Team aims to continue its undefeated run, but watch for challenges from Canada and Argentina who won silver in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

The complete team roster is as follows:

Men’s Epee
Jake Hoyle (New York City, N.Y.)
Dennis Kraft (Bloomfield, N.J.)
Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.)
Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio)

Women’s Epee
Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.)
Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas)
Individual Only: Natalie Vie
Team Only: Amanda Sirico (Washington, D.C.)

Men’s Foil
Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.)
Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Alexander Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)
Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.)

Women’s Foil
Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.)
Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.)
Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.)

Men’s Saber
Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.)
Daryl Homer (Bronx, N.Y.)
Andrew Mackiewicz (Westwood, Mass.)
Individual Only: Ben Natanzon (Manalapan, N.J.)
Team Only: Geoff Loss (Laguna Beach, Calif.)

Women’s Saber
Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.)
Chloe Fox-Gitomer (Portland, Ore.)
Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.)
Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.)

Team Cadre
Chef de Mission
Saul Mendoza (Escondido, Calif.)

Team Leader
Kate Reisinger (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Sports Medicine
Jeremy Summers (Mount Sinai, N.Y.)
Jennifer Krug (Salem, Ore.)

Armorer
Ron Herman (Iowa City, Iowa)

Men’s Epee Coach
Kornel Udvarhelyi

Women’s Epee Coach
Andrey Geva

Men’s Foil Coach
Greg Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.)

Women’s Foil Coach
Buckie Leach (Glendale, N.Y.)

Men’s Saber Coach
Zoran Tulum (Natick, Mass.)

Women’s Saber Coach
Ed Korfanty (Portland, Ore.)

 

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