Oct. 2, 2006
TORINO, Italy - Notre Dame junior sabre fencer Mariel Zagunis - who won the 2004 Olympic gold medal and the 2006 NCAA title - has added yet another top finish to her impressive trophy case, after claiming the silver medal at the 2006 FIE World Championships. Zagunis beat her longtime USA teammate Sada Jocobson in a 15-10 semifinal before losing a 15-11 final bout to 16-year-old sensation Becca Ward, who trains alongside Zagunis at the Portland-based Oregon Fencing Alliance elite sabre academy. Ward and Zagunis become just the second and third United States fencers - men or women - ever to earn an individual medal at the World Championships and are the first U.S. fencers ever to reach a World Championsip individual title bout.
(Note: pre-tournament quotes from Zagunis and her teammates folow below - check back to und.com later in the week for additional updates, including more quotes and photos from Torino if available.)
Notre Dame freshman women's epeeist Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) and former Irish men's foil standout Ozren Debic ('03) have advanced to the round-of-64 in their respective weapons and next will compete in Tuesday's continuing direct-elimination phase for those weapons. Debic is fencing as an entrant with his native Croatian national team. The nine-day tournament will conclude later in the week with team competitions in all six weapons (men's/women's foil, epee and sabre), highlighted by Zagunis and her teammates looking to repeat as the world champions in the women's sabre team competition (on Oct 7, along with the men's foil team bouts). The women's epee team competition is set for Oct. 6.
The 24-fencer USA contingent includes nine current collegians, with Notre Dame joining Penn State and Columbia as the only teams with two fencers on Team USA (others come from St. John's, Harvard and Ohio State).
Former Stanford standout Iris Zimmerman is the only other USA fencer ever to medal at the World Championships, claiming the bronze in the 1999 women's foil competition.
Zagunis was seeded fourth and had a bye into the round-of-64, ultimately beating Germany's Alexandrea Bujdoso in the quarterfinals (15-10) before facing her USA teammates in the final two bouts.
Hurley was 3-3 in her pool bouts before beating South Korea's Huo-Jung Jung in a 14-13 direct-elimination bout. She is seeded 52nd into the round-of-64 and next will face China's Weiping Zhong (the #13 seed). Hurley's younger sister Courtney is seeded 47th in the women's epee round-of-64.
Debic - a four-year All-American who played a key role in helping Notre Dame win the 2003 NCAA combined team fencing title - entered the World Championships as the #87 seed and went 2-4 in his pool bouts before edging Venezuela's Enrique Da Silva in the first direct-elimination stage (14-13, in OT). He now is seeded 63rd in the round-of-64 and next faces the tall task of fencing versus #2 seed Salvatore Sanzo of Italy.
Zagunis opened her bouts in the 89-fencer women's sabre field with a 15-9 win over 61st-seeded Amelie Zerfass of Germany, after winning the first two points before falling behind (3-4 and 6-8) and then winning four straight for a 10-8 lead. Zerfass won the next point but Zagunis closed out her opening bout in the round-of-64 with five straight touches.
A tough battle awaited in the round-of-32 versus Poland's Irena Wieckowska (#36 seed), with Zagunis nearly losing leads of 5-0, 10-2, 12-5 and 14-9 before finally closing out the victory (15-13). A 15-7 win over Ukraine's Olga Kharlan (#20 seed) was next in the round-of-16, with Zagunis again jumping out to an 8-2 lead at the break.
Just two wins from reaching the title bout, Zagunis moved past the quarterfinals afer her 15-10 win over the 28th-seeded Bujdoso (8-3 lead at the break). Jacobson - who fenced collegiately at Yale - had taken out top-seeded Anne-Lise Touya of France in another quarterfinal to set up the Team USA matchup in the semifinals.
The 8th-seeded Jacobson held an early lead (2-1) but Zagunis led 5-3, then 7-3 and 8-4 at the break. Her lead grew to 9-5 and 11-8, with Jacobson cutting the lead to 13-10 before Zagunis scored the final two touches.
The #2 and #3 seeds had been cleared out of the other side of the bracket, as Russia's Sophire Velikaia (#2) lost to Russia's Ekaterina Diatchenko in the round-of-16 while Korea's Hye Lim Kim knocked off #3 seed Leonore Perrus of France in the quarterfinals.
The 7th-seeded Ward won the first two points of the final bout, later leading 4-1 and 8-6 at the break. The lead remained at two points (8-10, 10-12 and 11-13) before Ward won the final two points.
The USA's other entrant in the women's sabre competition, Penn State's Caity Thompson, placed 32nd. Thompson also was a member of the USA's 2005 team that won the World Championship title and she trains at OFA alongside Zagunis and Ward.
If Hurley wins her round-of-64 bout, she then will fence versus the winner of Russia's Luboy Shutova (#45 seed) and Italy's Francesca Quondamcarlo (#20). Hurley's wins in the pool-round bouts came versus Vietnam's Thi Nhu Hoa Nguyen (5-3), Mexico's Yolitzin Martinez (5-1) and South Africa's Louise Jacobs (5-0). Her losses came against SCG's Svetlana Visnjic (4-5), New Zealand's Jessica Eliza Beer (4-5) and China's Xiaohuan Luo (2-5).
Former Princeton fencer Maya Lawrence was 4-2 in her women's epee pool bouts but lost in the direct-elimination prior to the round-of-64, as did her USA teammate Lacey Burt (as part of the 131-fencer women's epee field).
If Debic wins his round-of-64 bout, he then would face the winner of #31 seed Amaud Holstege of the Netherlands versus Japan's Yusuke Fukada (#34). Debic's group bouts included wins over Poland's Pawel Kawiecki (5-2) and Malta's James Frederic Atard (5-0), with losses to Argentina's Alberto Gonzalez Viaggio (3-4), Belgium's Frederik Van Dormael (1-5), Great Britain's Keith Cook (4-5) and Japan's Yuki Ota (1-5).
Monday's direct-elimintion bout (to advance to the round-of-64) saw Debic survive a tight battle with Da Silva. That bout was tied nine times, with Debic coming back from a 10-8 deficit to forge a 10-10 score before the fencers traded the lead three times. Debic held a 13-12 lead but Da Silva scored the tying touch with 15 seconds left in regulation (Debic then won, 14-13, with a touch at the 0:44 mark of sudden-death).
Three of the USA men's foilists also have advanced: former Columbia fencer Jed Dupree (#17 seed), current Columbia fencer Kurt Getz (#35) and former St. John's standout Jon Tiomkin (#40).
Penn State's pair of fencers include Thompson and foilist Doris Willette while sabreist James Williams joins his Columbia teammate Getz on the USA team. The other current collegians among the 24-fencer Team USA contingent include Harvard foilist Emily Cross, St. John's epeeist Benjamin Bratton and Ohio State foilist Andras Horanyi.
Ohio State alum Hanna Thompson rounds out the women's foil team while Bratton is joined on the men's epee team by former Air Force standout Set Kelsey and a pair of Princeton alums (Soren Thompson and Ben Solomon). Former St. John's fencers Ivan Lee and Keeth Smart lead a USA men's sabre group that also includes Brandeis alum Tim Morehouse.
The men's sabre and women's foil individual bouts concluded on Sunday, with Cross and Thompson both reaching the round-of-32 (Willette and Zimmerman made the round-of-64) while Smart's 16th-place finish led the USA men's sabre fencers (Morehosue was 31st, Williams 50th and Lee reached the round of 64). The men's epee action wrapped up Monday, as Thompson reached the round-of-16 and Kelsey the round-of-64 (Solomon lost his bout to make the 64 and Bratton was knocked out after the group rounds).
The USA team includes nine fencers with Olympic experience.
PRE-TOURNAMENT COMMENTS FROM NOTRE DAME'S MARIEL ZAGUUNIS - "Not only am I looking forward to competing individually, but we have a team title to defend. ... For the most part now, I have merged into normal student life at Notre Dame. ... It's hard to meet the challenge of being a student and an athlete, anyone at Notre Dame here can tell you that. For now, it's not too hard because all I have to concentrate on is the World Championships, because we are in our preseason at Notre Dame. Last year, it was very challenging to get all my schoolwork in while also traveling for the college events and the international tournaments. It's not easy, but Notre Dame has some really good academic support systems set up for the athletes and they understand a lot about the travel demands involved in the sport. It's been hard but a lot of my professors are very understanding. ... The NCAAs versus any other kind of fencing competition is different because there is a completely different format and it really took me until my sophomore year to get used to the way the tournament was run. When it comes to NCAAs, it's very team-oriented and it's a very different mindset going into NCAA competition because you are really there fencing for your teammates. Our team here at Notre Dame is very close and we all want to fence hard for each other. It's a different mentality for international and NCAA tournaments but I enjoy both of them very much. ... I'm very proud of Becca [Ward] to see her do so well. It's kind of a different story when we have to fence against each other, but she is a very mentally-strong fencer and has a lot of [fencing] actions. It's great to see at such a young age you can have such incredible results. ... The advantage of being such a close team is that you have to put a lot of trust in your team and anything can happen at any time. If someone is having a bad day, your teammates will get your back. Because we have so much faith in each other, it makes our team chemistry work really well. On the other side of that, in the individual events, we know each other so well and know how each other fences. It's always unfortunate when we have to fence each other and it always comes down to who can outfence the other on a particular day. ... It's really important to take the competitions one at a time, because if you are worrying about Beijing [and the 2008 Olympics], then that is not going to help you at all. It's really a matter of taking each tournament as it comes and training just as hard for every one, and then treating the Olympics when it comes in the way you have trained yourself. ... I have taken some lessons from my club coach [Ed Korfanty] in the past few weeks and hopefully that will prepare me. It's a little different than how I would prepare for a World Cup or the Olympics, because I am not 100 percent in fencing training mode right now. ... I do feel the length of two [World Cup] seasons and can anticipate how long its going to feel [before the Olympics], but I'm also looking forward to getting back in the circuit and fencing in those tournaments. ... I think the football players are bigger celebrities on campus than I am, for sure, especially this time of year. They are nice guys and I'm friends with some of them and have some of the same classes with some of them. It's not really comparable, college football and USA Fencing."
COMMENTS FROM TEAM USA'S BECCA WARD - "[Watching Mariel Zagunis win the 2004 Olympic gold medal] was really inspiring and she was someone that I could look up to and see that my clubmate do something like that, after we had trained together. It was an inspiration and you think maybe one day I could do that."
COMMENTS FROM TEAM USA'S SAJA JACOBSON - "We all are so close and have a lot of different fencing experiences and all are pretty even in skill level. So it could go any way and we are constantly beating each other and losing to each other. When we are on the strip, it's business, and when we are off we understand that we still are friends and teammates. We have fenced each other so many times that I don't even think about it anymore."
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