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Remembering the Top 18 Moments of 2018

12/27/2018, 9:30pm CST
By Kristen Henneman

Celebrating the U.S. Women's Foil Team's Senior World title win in Wuxi. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – This year will go down as one to remember for USA Fencing, full of medals, record-breaking moments and milestones across all ages and weapons.

As the New Year approaches and we look ahead to 2019, here is a look back at the top 18 moments of 2018.

A Year of Firsts for Senior Women’s Épée

Senior World Team Champions Amanda Sirico, Kat Holmes, Kelley Hurley and Courtney Hurley. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi

It was a year for the history books for senior women’s épée as the squad had not one, not two, not three, but four first-time accomplishments this season. In May, Team USA won gold at the Dubai World Cup – its first time on the top step of the podium on the World Cup circuit – upsetting the two top-ranked teams in the world. A couple of months later, Kat Holmes (Washington, D.C.), Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas), Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) and Amanda Sirico (Bowie, Md.) not only brought home the first World Championship team medal for the squad, but made it a gold, winning two of their four matches in overtime – including a come-from-behind victory in the final – to become just the fifth U.S. team to earn a World title. It was the squad’s third gold of the season after it won at the Pan American Championships, and as a result, U.S. women’s épée earned its first World No. 1 in history and the 2017-18 Overall World Cup title.

Team USA Wins the Medal Count at Junior Worlds

Junior World Team Champions May Tieu, Lauren Scruggs, Delphine DeVore and Sylvie Binder. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Prior to Team USA’s record-breaking performance at Senior Worlds, Team USA’s  up-and-coming talent also made history of their own, bringing home 14 medals from the Junior and Cadet World Championships, which ties the USA Fencing record. The Americans also won the medal count for the first time in history as Team USA edged out host Italy. In the final three days, Team USA was nearly unbeatable, securing a USA Fencing record nine foil medals and half of the foil golds. Nick Itkin (Los Angeles, Calif.) won the junior men’s foil event for the first time since Alex Massialas in 2013 and Kenji Bravo (San Francisco, Calif.) clinched gold in the first-ever All-American men’s foil final at the Cadet Worlds. The Junior Women’s Foil Team also became the World Champions for the first time since 2014, finishing at No.1 in the World to earn the 2017-18 Overall World Cup Title.

Senior Men’s Foil Team Sweeps the World Cups

Alexander Massialas, Race Imboden, Gerek Meinhardt and Miles Chamley-Watson won the fifth World Cup title of the season for Team USA at the St. Petersburg World Cup in May. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi.

20-0. The U.S. men’s foil team added another item to their long list of achievements as Alex Massialas (San Francisco, Calif.), Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif.), Miles Chamley-Watson (New York City, N.Y.) and Race Imboden (Brooklyn, N.Y.) won all five World Cup team golds, becoming the only U.S. squad ever to go undefeated with 20 straight match wins. After another gold at the Pan American Championships and a silver at the World Championships, the U.S. men’s foil team also secured the Overall World Cup title for the second time in the last three years.

Familiar Faces Earn Gold at Vet Worlds

The U.S. Men's Epee Team repeated gold at the Veteran World Championships.

Winning gold at the Veteran World Championships is nothing new for Liz Kocab (Farmington Hills, Mich.), Jane Eyre (Swedesboro, N.J.) and the U.S. Men’s Épée Team. Kocab won her fifth Vet World title in eight years. After missing the podium last year, she was unstoppable in Livorno, Italy, going undefeated for her fourth individual title in the Veteran 60-69 women’s épée event. Eyre also returned to the top step of the podium after taking bronze in 2018, clinching her seventh individual Vet World title and gold in the 60-69 women’s saber competition for the fifth time in the last six years. The men’s épée team won gold for the second consecutive year as Walter Dragonetti (Las Vegas, Nev.), Daryl Taylor (Los Angeles, Calif.), Frank Hewitt (Jamul, Calif.), Bruno Goossens (Jacksonville, Ore.) and 1992 Olympians Jon Normile (Millburn, N.J.) and Chris O'Loughlin (Jersey City, N.J.) went 6-0 on the day to repeat as champions and bring home Team USA’s 12th and final medal of the Vet Worlds.

National Team Members Help Grow the Sport

Senior World Team Champion Nicole Ross (front row, third from left) coached the women's foil team at the Cabries Cadet European Cup.

Although known for their ferocity on the strip, several past and present members of Team USA gave back to the sport this year off the strip, helping at clinics, working as team captains and coaching Team USA’s younger fencers abroad. The men’s and women’s foil teams each held their annual clinic at the USA Fencing National Championships, and the women’s épée team also held clinics for youth and veteran fencers. Former National Team members Daria Schneider (Ithaca, N.Y.) and Aleks Ochocki (Linden, N.J.) stepped into different roles at the Junior and Cadet World Championships where the duo captained the squad to a historic medal count while Kat Holmes served as the women’s épée team captain. Schneider took on the team captain role again at the Senior World Championships, where Team USA came home with another six medals. And two current foil fencers, Nicole Ross (New York City, N.Y.) and Margaret Lu (Greenwich, Conn.), each traveled to Europe to coach the women’s foil teams at Cadet European Cups.

Eli Dershwitz Takes the World by Storm

Senior World silver medalist Eli Dershwitz. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi

It was a breakout year for Eli Dershwitz (Sherborn, Mass.) as he won four international medals in 2018, culminating with silver at the Senior World Championships to climb to the No. 1 ranking. With golds from the Padua World Cup and Pan American Championships as well as bronze at the Seoul Grand Prix, Derswhitz entered Worlds with momentum and he went on to become just the second U.S. fencer to earn a Senior World medal in men’s saber. With his No. 1 world ranking, he penciled his name into the history books, becoming the first men’s saber fencer, and third U.S. man in any weapon, to win an individual Overall World Cup title.

Byron Branch Wins Gold in Wheelchair Fencing Debut

Wheelchair America's Champion Byron Branch.

Determination. Strength. Perseverance. Passion. An inspiration to all around him, Byron Branch (Bellbrook, Ohio) took the top step of the podium in his first wheelchair fencing tournament at the Americas Championships. It also was the first time Branch had competed in any fencing tournament since he had lost part of his right leg in an accident in December of 2016. A police officer and former A-rated foil fencer, Branch went undefeated in Saskatoon, Canada, going 7-0 in pools and giving up no more than eight points in any of his direct elimination bouts to take the top step on the podium and give a glimpse of what might be possible at the 2020 Paralympic Games.

Lee Kiefer Scores Ninth Straight Pan Am Title

Lee Kiefer (second from left) won her ninth straight Pan Am Championship title in June. Photo Credit: Nicole Jomantas

Almost nothing is automatic in sports, but Lee Kiefer winning Pan American Championship gold medals comes real close. Kiefer competed at her first Pan Ams in 2010 as a 16-year-old and has never lost, earning more than 30 direct elimination wins. In June, Kiefer’s road to the title wouldn’t be easy and would require several hard-fought victories. In the semifinals, she outtcouhed teammate Nzingha Prescod (Brooklyn, N.Y.), winning 15-14 to keep her streak alive and in the final with the score tied at 11, she finished on a 4-1 run to overcome Kelleigh Ryan (CAN) and continue a dominance at the event that few have exerted in any sport.

Team USA Brings Home Three Medals from Youth Olympic Games

Team USA had five fencers win bronze with America's 1 at the Youth Olympic Games. (L-R): Isaac Herbst, Robert Vidovszky, Kenji Bravo, Emily Vermeule and May Tieu. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi.

Two of Team USA’s rising stars, foil fencers Kenji Bravo and May Tieu (Belle Mead, N.J.), spent much of this year on the podium. Medalists at the Cadet Worlds as individuals and the Junior Worlds in the team event, Bravo and Tieu each won medals at the Youth Olympic Games, earning silver and bronze, respectively, before leading Americas 1 to the bronze in the team event. The first medal for a U.S. athlete from any sport at the Games, Tieu won the bronze medal match in overtime, 8-7.  Bravo went 5-1 in pools and 2-1 in the direct elimination rounds to join Tieu as just the fourth and fifth U.S. fencers ever to win an individual medal at the Youth Olympic Games. Joined by Emily Vermeule (Cambridge, Mass.), Isaac Herbst (Houston, Texas), Robert Vidovszky (Folsom, Calif.) and Mexico’s Natalie Botello in the team event, the squad won bronze with a 30-24 victory over Europe 3.

2021 Vet Worlds Awarded to Fort Lauderdale

The biggest fencing tournament in the world for fencers ages 50 and older is coming back to the United States in 2021. At the FIE Congress in Paris in November, the FIE awarded Vet Worlds to Fort Lauderdale, marking the first time the event will be held in the United States since 2005. The competition will take place from October 1-6 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center with athletes from all over the world competing for gold in the 50-59, 60-69 and +70 age categories.The biggest fencing tournament in the world for fencers ages 50 and older is coming back to the United States in 2021. At the FIE Congress in Paris in November, the FIE awarded Vet Worlds to Fort Lauderdale, marking the first time the event will be held in the United States since 2005. The competition will take place from October 1-6 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center with athletes from all over the world competing for gold in the 50-59, 60-69 and +70 age categories.

Eliza Stone Wins Senior World Bronze

Senior World bronze medalist Eliza Stone. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi

She’d won three team medals before at the Senior World Championships, but 2018 would be a career-making year for Eliza Stone (Chicago, Ill.) who won her first individual medal with bronze. The No. 28 seed out of pools, Stone earned a 15-14 win in the quarter-finals over Theodora Gkountoura (GRE), who had upset World No. 3 Anna Marton (HUN). With the victory, the five-time Senior World Championship Team member was guaranteed to be the fourth U.S. women’s saber fencer to win an individual medal at Senior Worlds and the first to bring home hardware since 2014.

Members of Team USA Show Sportsmanship on World Stage

Kat Holmes received the FIE Fair Play award at Congress. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi

While winning medals is the top goal on the strip, two members of Team USA won medals this year while showing incredible sportsmanship. Kat Holmes was honored this month at the FIE Congress with the Fair Play trophy after correcting a wrong call in the quarter-finals of the Senior World Championships. Down one against the reigning World Champions, Holmes’ épée hit her own leg, causing her light to go off for a point for the United Sates. She acknowledged the hit as being her own, and went on to secure victory for Team USA. At the Youth Olympic Games, Grace Senyo’s (TOG) foils didn’t pass weapons check, so May Tieu lent her one so that she could have the ability to compete. Tieu would end up facing Senyo in the pools rounds as well as the table of 16, where Tieu won, 15-11, and went on to take bronze.

Team USA Sweeps Pan Am Team Golds

Team USA brought out the brooms in the team events of the Pan American Championships as the United States earned the sweep for the first time since 2012 and only the second time in history. For the U.S. men’s and women’s foil squads, it was the 11th and 12th consecutive gold medal, respectively, while men’s saber remained undefeated with 13 straight titles. For the women’s saber team, the win marked the 11th time in the last 12 years it has taken the top step of the podium. The women’s épée squad defended its title from last year and the men’s épée team was back on top for the first time since 2015.

Courtney Hurley Makes History

Courtney Hurley became the first U.S. epee fencer to win an individual Senior World medal with bronze in Wuxi. Photo Credit: Augusto Bizzi.

Already in the history books as part of the 2012 team that won the U.S. women’s épée team’s first Olympic medal in London, Courtney Hurley has now added her name for winning Team USA’s first individual Senior World medal in épée – man or woman. Her route to bronze included clutch one-point victories in the table of 32 and 16 before she defeated Coraline Vitalis (FRA), 15-10, to etch her name into USA Fencing history. Hurley also made history earlier in the year when she became the first U.S. women’s épée fencer to win two Grand Prix medals, taking silver in Colombia.

Notre Dame Repeats as NCAA Team Champions

Notre Dame won its 10th NCAA team title in 2018.

For the second year in a row and the 10th time overall, the University of Notre Dame was crowned the NCAA Champions in fencing. Taking the victory with 185 points, the Irish clinched the championship in the fifth round when sophomore Ariel Simmons (Bellaire, Texas) overcame Johns Hopkins’ Tiger Gao (Manhasset, N.Y.), 5-4. Columbia came in second with 170 points. The second title as the head coach for Gia Kvaratskhelia (South Bend, Ind.), the Notre Dame team that featured 10 All-Americans finished first in men’s épée and second in men’s and women’s foil as well as women’s saber. Freshman Nick Itkin also claimed the individual men’s foil title.

Mariel Zagunis Returns to Competition After Becoming a New Mom

Mariel Zagunis returned to competition this spring, winning bronze at the Moscow Grand Prix and gold at the Division I National Championships. Photo Credit: Devin Manky

The most decorated athlete in the history of USA Fencing had a new motive for success this year. Welcoming baby Sunday in October last year, Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) was back on the strip five months after giving birth, and she immediately made her mark. Returning to the exact competition that was her last in 2017, she earned a top-eight result at the Seoul Grand Prix, earning wins over two Senior World medalists. She then earned the national championships in April and won bronze at the Moscow Grand Prix the following month. The two-time Olympic Champion competed for Team USA in the team event at Senior Worlds before securing another gold at the October NAC on Sunday’s birthday, being a role model for her daughter as well as women around the world.

High School All-Academic Team Numbers Reach All-Time High

All-Academic Team member Rishab Gosalia won a $4,000 from Absolute Fencing Gear. Photo Credit: Serge Timacheff

Fencing is known as a sport that requires a high-level of mental energy and this year, USA Fencing celebrated more than 600 fencers’ hard work in the classroom as the All-Academic Program received a record-high number of applicants. The third year of the program, which celebrates high school fencers who achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher, the 620 applications was up from the previous year’s record of 460. More than 500 fencers earned first-time honors, earning a GPA of 3.85 or better. At the USA Fencing National Championships, those high school athletes were celebrated with nearly 600 people attending the ceremony in St. Louis. Michael Aufrichtig (New York City, N.Y.), the head coach at Columbia, was the keynote speaker and Absolute Fencing Gear awarded $10,000 in scholarships.

Senior Women’s Foil Wins First Senior World Championship Gold

Senior World Team Champions Margaret Lu, Nzingha Prescod, Lee Kiefer and Nicole Ross. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Last year, the U.S. Women’s Foil Team made history at the World Championships with silver. This year, they did one better. Winning the first title in the squad’s history, Lee Kiefer, Nzingha Prescod, Margaret Lu and Nicole Ross became the sixth U.S. team to stand on top of the podium at a Senior Worlds. After dominating victories in the table of 16, quarter-finals and semifinals, Team USA fenced Italy in the gold medal match, a team the United States had not beaten since 2014. Coming away with a 10-point victory, the women’s foil team added another historic moment to the list for Team USA at the Senior World Championships and the United States became the only nation this year to earn two World Championship team titles.

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