UCSD fencing team sends four to Junior Olympics

    The UCSD fencing team sent four of its brightest young stars to the Junior Olympics in Arlington, Texas, to compete against the top talent in the United States from Feb. 18 through Feb. 21.

    Freshmen Chelsea Ambort, Jason Runyan and Laurel Yianilos and sophomore Ashok Pathi all competed in the junior division, which was filled with competitors age 19 and under. While the majority of the fencers at the tournament were high school or young college students, some of the competitors were as young as 14. Ambort competed in women’s epée, Pathi and Runyan in men’s sabre and Yianilos in women’s foil.

    The tournament was split into two rounds: pool play and direct elimination. In pool play, fencers were assigned to pools of six or seven fencers, and fencers competed in round-robin, first-to-five-point bouts. After this first round, 20 percent of the competitors were weeded out, and the remaining 80 percent competed in first-to-15-point direct elimination bouts until a champion remained.

    “Tournaments like the Junior Olympics are different,” Ambort said. “The competition is so cutthroat, because people are fighting for these spots on the Junior World team, and the competitors are young and hungry.”

    Runyan, who made his second appearance at the Junior Olympics, finished 62nd out of 158 competitors. He finished 2-3 in pool play, then managed to win his first direct elimination bout 15-8 before falling in his second, missing out on the round of 32, 9-15. Runyan has another year of eligibility in Junior Olympic competition.

    “I was hoping to do better in pool play,” Jason Runyan said. “By not performing a little better, I made my matchups in direct elimination rounds a lot more difficult. The competition here is a lot stronger. Because of the stakes, a lot of people want to go. You get a lot of people and a lot of variety. All in all, you get the best fencers around.”

    Pathi finished 2-4 in pool play, just missing the cut to make direct elimination, and finished 141st overall in his final year of eligibility.

    “In my three years at the Junior Olympics, this was the most fun I’ve had,” Pathi said. “I knew the competition would be tough, because everybody there has to qualify out of their divisions, not just anybody can go. So I just went in hoping to make the best of it, have fun and learn a few things.”

    Ambort took 84th in a field of 159. After going 3-2 in pool play, she entered the first round of direct elimination, the round of 128 competitors. Ambort, a veteran of the Junior Olympics in her final year of eligibility, fell in a heartbreaker, 14-15.

    “I’m disappointed I didn’t do better, because I was hoping my experience would give me an advantage against the younger girls,” Ambort said. “It’s kind of interesting though, that I used to be the young girl going out and upsetting the older girls, and now the roles have changed. I just wish I could have done better for the school’s sake.”

    Yianilos, in her second year at the Junior Olympics, went an even 3-3 in pool play, good for a spot in direct elimination and a bye in the first round. However, in Yianilos’ first direct elimination bout in the round of 64, she went down, ending her tournament.

    “After not making it to the direct elimination round last year, my goal was to not only make it there this year, but to make it to the second round,” she said. “I achieved that, and can go back next year to get even further.”

    Assistant coach Josh Runyan was optimistic about what the UCSD fencers gained at the meet.

    “After a really strong showing at the North American Cup in January, we were hoping our fencers would perform a bit better at the Junior Olympics, but we are mostly just glad that our fencers went and gained some valuable experience,” assistant coach Josh Runyan said.

    Ambort affirms that the tournament was a learning experience.

    “Every tournament I go to, I try and take something from it, win or lose,” she said. “It’s always interesting to learn new things, in terms of tactical strategy and preparation refinement. Also, because you’re fencing against people you’ve never met before — and you have no idea what to expect — it really helps you prepare [for] similar experiences in the future.”

    Runyan, Pathi, Ambort and Yianilos will join the rest of their teammates on Feb. 26 in Irvine to compete in the team’s final conference meet of the year. The men’s squad, currently undefeated at 8-0, hopes to sweep the field against UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Southern California and UC Santa Barbara to complete their perfect season and win the conference. The women, currently at 7-1 and tied with Cal State Fullerton for first in the league, hope to sweep the field as well. The women currently hold a slim lead over Cal State Fullerton in the tiebreaker for first place.

    Next will be the Western Regionals on March 5. The Tritons will get their shot at individual glory, fighting for the right to represent the division at the NCAA Championships held from March 17 to March 20.

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