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Nicole Ross and Soren Thompson Bring Home Gold to Open Summer Nationals

06/29/2018, 9:00am CDT
By Kristen Henneman

Div I Women's Foil medalists

(St. Louis, Mo.) – A pair of Olympians claimed the Division I gold medals on Thursday on the opening day of the USA Fencing National Championships and July Challenge as 2012 Olympian Nicole Ross (New York, N.Y.) and two-time Olympian Soren Thompson (New York, N.Y.) took the titles in women’s foil and men’s épée, respectively.

The first day of the July Challenge was full of excitement as two of the four finals went down to the final touch, including a 9-8 overtime victory for Ross. Thompson also had his share of close victories with three of his seven bouts being one-point wins.

Ross, who won bronze at the Pan American Championships last week, didn’t drop a bout the entire day, going 6-0 in pools with a +25 indicator to take the No. 1 seed in the direct elimination rounds and a bye into the table of 64.

Dominating her first two bouts 15-3 and 15-7, Ross bested 2018 Cadet World silver medalist May Tieu (Belle Mead, N.J.), 15-11, in the 16 before being tested by Madison Zeiss (Culver City, Calif.)
 in the quarter-finals.

Ross edged out Zeiss, 15-14, and punched her ticket to the final with a convincing 15-6 victory over 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ines Boubakri (TUN), 15-6.

“I had a lot of close matches today with great opponents who I respect a lot, so it’s always fun to have close bouts and I am really excited I came out on top,” Ross said.

In the final, Ross faced five-time Senior World Team member Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.), who will be Ross’ teammate at the upcoming Senior World Championships in Wuxi, China.

Ross got off to a strong start, taking a 4-1 lead at the first break. After leading 6-4 after the second break, Lu scored four straight points to take a two-point lead, 8-6.

With time winding down, Ross scored two points in the final 11 seconds, including the touch to tie the score at 8 with two seconds remaining, to send the bout into overtime. Ross scored first in the sudden death minute to win the bout, 9-8.

“First, I try not to rush,” said Ross of the thoughts going through her head when facing a deficit. “I think that’s the first instinct people have when the time is running out and certainly I’ve made that mistake plenty of times before, so I tried to calm myself down and really understand how much time was left. Eleven seconds is plenty of time to score two touches and I reminded myself of that. And then also tried to not worry too much about the score and losing. That helps me be a little more free and less afraid to lose.”

The July Challenge marks the final competition before the Senior World Championships. Ross, Lu, two-time Olympian Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.), who finished fifth, and two-time Olympian Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky.) will all travel to China next month with the goal of bringing home a medal after winning silver as a team at the 2017 Senior Worlds.

“It feels good for my confidence just to fence well all day, and it just so happens when I fenced well all day, I won, which is great. It was really more of a preparation competition and I can’t say anything bad about winning before the World Championships,” Ross said. “It’s definitely a good thing, but I’m not putting too much stock in it. I’m enjoying myself today and then moving on going forward.”

Thompson’s gold – his first at a national tournament since 2011 – starts a weekend full of celebration as he will be one of four fencing legends to be inducted into the US Fencing Hall of Fame on Sunday. A seven-time Senior World Championship Team member, Thompson was a part of the team that made history in 2012 when the men’s épée squad became the first U.S. Men’s Fencing Team ever to win gold at a Senior Worlds.

“That [is] the ideal weekend – to get this in and get the induction as well, so it’s incredible that it happened that way,” Thompson said. “I had a little bit of a slow start to the day, but things started clicking for me and that feels really good.”

After going 3-3 in pools, Thompson advanced to the table of 128 with a 15-12 win over Howard Zhou (CHN).

But moving into the 32 would take two clutch performances. Thompson delivered, edging out two-time Junior World Team member Lewis Weiss (Houston, Texas), 5-4, and Dwight Smith (Elmont, N.Y.), 9-8.

In the following rounds, Thompson overcame two-time Senior World Team member Jimmy Moody (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 6-0, and Cedric Mecke (New York, N.Y.), 15-7, to reach the semifinals.

Thompson took another one-point victory in the semis, this one an 11-10 overtime win against Ayman Fayez (EGY), to earn a chance to go for gold.

“There are a lot of really good fencers here and fortunately I was able to stay on my game and execute when I needed to,” Thompson said. “Nothing’s guaranteed with a field this deep, but I was able to get through it.”

Facing 2014 Junior World medalist Justin Yoo (La Verne, Calif.), Thompson rode his momentum, going up 4-0 in the first period. He extended his lead to 9-1 and took a 12-5 lead into the final period before ending on a 3-1 run to take the gold, 15-6.

“The bout came to me a little bit. I was sharp early because I had good focus … sticking with my game, I was able to build a lead and ride it though,” Thompson said. “[Justin is] a great fencer. He’s a very experienced fencer with a lot of weapons and a lot of tools, so a lot of respect for him throughout and even when I was up 12-5, I knew it wasn’t over. I knew I had to finish it, so I kept working all the way though and was able to do that.”

Two 2018 Junior World Team members also won the gold in the junior competition.

Erwin Cai (Marietta, Ga.) defended his July Challenge crown in men’s saber, winning for the second year in a row. The bronze medalist in the team event at the 2018 Junior Worlds, Cai defeated three members of this year’s Junior and Cadet World Team en route to gold. Cai defeated Cadet World Team member Christopher Walker (Atlanta, Ga.), 15-14, in the 16 and Alessandro Contreras (Silver Spring, Md.), 15-13, in the quarters. After a 15-7 win over his Junior World teammate, Mitchell Saron (Ridgewood, N.J.), 15-7, in the semis, Cai came up against Robert Vidovszky (Folsom, Calif.), the reigning Cadet World silver medalist, in the finals. Vidovszky led the bout, 14-11, before Cai took four straight touches for a 15-14 win.

A three-time Cadet World Team member and two-time Junior World Team member at just 16, Greta Candreva (Katonah, N.Y.) won both the Y14 National Championship and Cadet July Challenge women’s épée titles in 2017. This year, Candreva dominated the direct elimination rounds, holding her first four opponents to single digit scores. In the quarters, Candreva edged Catherine Beddingfield (Los Angeles, Calif.), 15-13, before a 15-12 win over Megan Eno (Salem, Ore.) in the semis. Fencing for gold against 2018 Cadet World silver medalist Emily Vermeule (Cambridge, Mass.), Candreva won her first junior title at a national event by a score of 15-12.

View complete results.

Top eight results are as follows:

Division I Women’s Foil July Challenge
1. Nicole Ross (New York, N.Y.)
2. Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.)
3. Amita Berthier (SGP)
3. Ines Boubakri (TUN)
5. Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
6. Nicole Pustilnik (San Diego, Calif.)
7. Madison Zeiss (Culver City, Calif.)
8. Sara Martos (El Cerrito, Calif.)

Junior Women’s Épée July Challenge
1. Greta Candreva (Katonah, N.Y.)
2. Emily Vermeule (Cambridge, Mass.)
3. Megan Eno (Salem, Ore.)
3. Jaclyn Khrol (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
5. Zi Shan Guo (CAN)
6. Amanda Pirkowski (Longwood, Fla.)
7. Catherine Beddingfield (Pacific Palisades, Calif.)
8. Hadley Husisian (Oakton, Va.)

Junior Men’s Aber July Challenge
1. Erwin Cai (Marietta, Ga.)
2. Robert Vidovszky (Folsom, Calif.)
3. Kamar Skeete (Duluth, Ga.)
3. Mitchell Saron (Ridgewood, N.J.)
5. Alessandro Contreras (Silver Spring, Md.)
6. Zachary Johnson (Chandler, Ariz.)
7. Charlson Kim (Dix Hills, N.Y.)
8. Julian Richards II (Princeton, N.J.)

Division I Men’s Épée July Challenge
1. Soren Thompson (New York, N.Y.)
2. Justin Yoo (La Verne, Calif.)
3. Ayman Fayez (EGY)
3. Adrien Thein-Sandler (Topanga, Calif.)
5. Alen Hadzic (Stamford, Conn.)
6. Anton Piskovatskov (Houston, Texas)
7. Cedric Mecke (New York, N.Y.)
8. Matthew Comes (Bothell, Wash.)

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