(Top Row L-R): Dagmara Wozniak, Monica Aksamit, Eliza Stone and Chloe Fox-Gitomer. (Bottom Row L-R): Jake Hoyle, Jason Pryor, Dennis Kraft and Curtis McDowald. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas
(Havana, Cuba) – Team competition began on Monday at the Pan American Championships with gold medal wins for the U.S. Men’s Epee and Women’s Saber Teams.
With a lineup of three first-time National Team members, the U.S. Men’s Epee Team drew one of the toughest opponents in the field in its first round.
Despite Team USA’s top seed in the tournament and bye into the table of 16, the United States drew Cuba – frequent medalist at the Pan Ams. The Cuban squad has a long history of success at the event, but did not compete at the 2017 Zonals and only fenced in two of five World Cups this season, leaving the team with a ninth seed.
Cuba led the match after the first three bouts at 12-10 before Rio Olympian Jason Pryor (South Euclid, Ohio) shut down Reynier Henriquez Ortiz, 0-2, to tie the score at 12. By the end of the sixth bout, Cuba regained a 30-27 lead, but Pryor posted a 6-4 win over Ringo Quintero Alvarez, 6-4, to put Team USA within one.
Jake Hoyle (New York City), a two-time NCAA Champion, outscored Henriquez Ortiz, 6-4, to tie the score at 38 and 2016 Junior World Team member Curtis McDowald (Jamaica, N.Y.) took the strip as anchor against Yunior Reytor Venet, pulling away from a tie with a single at 41-40. After another double, Venet took a single to tie the score at 43. McDowald answered with two singles and Team USA secured a position in the medal rounds with the 45-43 victory.
“That’s what we came here to do. We came here to take it to the other teams in the zone, so we got up, we got in there and it’s nerve-wracking when it goes down to the wire, but then again that’s how you get better,” said Pryor who was the only returning member of the squad that won the last Pan Am title for the U.S. Men’s Epee Team in 2015.
In the semifinals, Brazil led the Americans after the first two bouts, 7-6, but Team USA won or tied the nex seven bouts with MCdowald putting up a 7-3 win over Nicolas Ferreira to push the lead to 21-15 and Hoyle flying through Alexandre Camargo with one touch after another, outscoring Camargo, 10-3, for a 15-touch lead. McDowald closed out against Athos Schwantes and the U.S. team ended with a 45-35 victory.
Hoyle said the team carefully followed the plan that has led Team USA to wins over crucial opponents throughout the season.
“That’s just been the strategy all year. We got up by a few, made Brazil come and hit us, cracked it open, and that happened in that bout. Everything was going to according to plan,” Hoyle noted.
In the finals against 2017 Pan Am Champion Venezuela, Hoyle and McDowald each had breakout bouts in the middle of the match with McDowald defeating Francisco Limardo, 7-1, and Hoyle beating Jesus Limardo, 10-6. Although Brazil cut Team USA’s eight-touch lead to six at 40-34 by the end of the eighth, Hoyle came in as anchor for a strong close against Ruben Limardo Gascon, defeating the 2012 Olympic Champion, 5-2, to give Team USA a 45-36 victory.
“You always feel pressure in those situations, but I was excited for the opportunity to anchor, and I just wanted to fence my best and I’m glad it worked out,” Hoyle said. “Venezuela was a super hard match. They’re all good fencers and we just fenced them hard.”
Hoyle, McDowald and Pryor each ended the day with positive indicators across the bouts at +14, +4 and +3, respectively, across the three matches.
“It always feels good to win, but most importantly we carried out the plan. This team is incredibly professional and meticulous about how we approach team event and from the start,” Pryor said. “We knew it would be a struggle. We knew the environment would be difficult and we maintained the plan. We were down in every single bout. We dug in; took our shots, we made excellent choices, we took the lead and then we broke their souls.”
With the gold medal win, the U.S. team has the potential to move into a top-eight seed for the Senior World Championships next month in Wuxi where Pryor will fence at his fifth World Championships and Hoyle, McDowald and Dennis Kraft (Bloomfield, N.J.) will each make their Senior World debut.
The U.S. Women’s Saber Team entered the 2018 Pan Ams looking for redemption after their 2017 loss in the finals to Mexico – a squad Team USA has since defeated twice this season in both Orleans and Tunisia.
To get to the day’s much anticipated matchup, however, Team USA first had two close calls in the early rounds.
Team USA fenced Brazil in the quarter-finals, building a 30-18 lead after the first six bouts. Brazil made a comeback in the end with the team’s first three bout wins of the day, but 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist Dagmara Wozniak (Avenel, N.J.) held off the late charge for a 45-38 victory.
In the semifinals, Venezuela won or tied six of the first eight bouts to take a 40-39 lead over Team USA. Stone entered as anchor and outscored two-time Pan Am bronze medalist Alejandra Benitez, 5-3, to secure the win at 45-43.
Mexico led the final match, 25-22, but 2018 Junior World team medalist Chloe Fox-Gitomer (Portland, Ore.) outscored Julieta Toledo, 6-5, to cut Mexico’s lead to two at 30-28. Rio Olympic team medalist Monica Aksamit (Matawan, N.J.) defeated Vanessa Infante, 6-4, to return the lead to Team USA at 35-34. Wozniak entered the bout as reserve for the first time in the eighth, defeating 2017 Junior World Champion Natalia Botello, 5-1. With a five-touch cushion, Stone anchored against Toledo to end the match with a 45-40 win.
“It’s a bit of a new experience for me to anchor, but Daga prepped me. They really set me up against Mexico in the end, so I knew I had a strong team behind me and I just focused and did my work, got up there, hustled and brought it home,” Stone said. “I’m really, really glad that I had a very solid team behind me who had my back.”
Wozniak, who was injured during the day, complimented Stone on stepping in as anchor in finals.
“The goal was for me to sit on the bench the whole time, but because the score was so close and we knew tactically going in I’m a pretty good match up for Botello, so we took that chance and I was ready for it,” Wozniak said. “I just wanted to make it as big of a gap for Eliza as possible and she took it home.
The win marks the 11th Pan Am win for the U.S. Women’s Saber Team in the last 12 years.
“I think we definitely struggled a lot more than usual, but I think we just did our best to stay in the game and focus on going in one touch at a time,” Wozniak said. “We can obviously improve on a lot of stuff that happened today. I think we’re much stronger fencers than what we showed today, but we showed we can still win on a day that wasn’t our best and that’s a good feeling.”
Team USA is currently ranked No. 5 with the seeding still to be set for Senior Worlds where the Americans are seeking to return to the podium after three straight medal wins at the event from 2013-15.
Top eight results are as follows:
Women’s Team Saber Pan American Championships
7. Dominican Republic
Men’s Team Epee Pan American Championships
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