Air Force Fencers Conclude Season with a Bang
April 7, 2003
"With the season winding down now after the NCAA Championships, I am a proud coach," Head Coach Abdel Salem said reflecting back on the 2002-2003 season.
"Six fencers qualified this year for nationals, the most I have seen yet." C1C Seth Kelsey and C4C Tim French qualified for the men, and C1C Elia Burrill, C1C Andrea Rix, C3C Marisa Romero and C4C Caitlin Harris for the women.
"Kelsey became one of the five Air Force Academy individual NCAA champions and he has a wonderful fencing career on the horizon," Salem continued.
After a successful two-day NCAA Men's and Women's Fencing Championships, the Falcons will move on to the North American Cup Division I competition in Overland Park, Kansas, April 25-28. The Overland Park Convention Center is the venue for this event. The fencing team concluded its regular season with overall dual meet records of 11-3 (men) and 9-5 (women's).
In March, the team competed in the NCAA Western Regionals; where both the men's and women's teams finished in first place, for the second consecutive year, and six fencers qualified for the NCAA fencing championships: Kelsey, French, Burrill, Harris, Rix and Romero.
At the 2003 NCAA Western Regional Championships, Kelsey and French placed first and second, respectively, in men's epée. In women's epée, Burrill and Harris placed first and second, and Rix and Romero placed first and second, respectively, in women's sabre.
"This was our best team performance in the four years that I've been here," said Burrill.
The Academy was the venue for the NCAA Men's and Women's Fencing Championships and was host to 144 highly competitive fencers. Notre Dame, Penn State and St. John's placed first, second and third, respectively. The Academy's group finished ninth, its best NCAA Division I finish since finishing ninth in 1992, and earned an individual national champion as well.
With only two men and four women competing in the national championships, it was no surprise that the Academy could not win the championships outright. To compete at full strength, a school must qualify 12 fencers competing in all three weapons in both the men's and women's rounds: epée, foil and sabre.
With only six fencers, the Falcons would be hard pressed to earn enough victories to place in the top three. The Falcons scored 61 victories to tie with Rutgers University for the ninth-place finish. In the final standings, Kelsey had 19 victories and French had 13 in men's epée, Rix finished with nine to place 15th, while Romero placed 23rd with four victories in women's Sabre. In women's epée, Burrill placed 18th with nine victories and Harris placed 21st with seven victories.
The Academy had two fencers who finished in the top 10 at the national level: C1C Seth Kelsey and C4C Tim French. Kelsey became just the fifth NCAA Division I individual national champion at Air Force and the first since 1974. In the men's epée gold medal round of the NCAA championships, Kelsey defeated Michal Sobieraj from Notre Dame (8-7).
"It's great that the Air Force fencing program is getting better and better," Kelsey said. "Air Force is becoming a force now and it feels good to know that I am on the cutting edge of that."
Kelsey is ranked third among Seniors in the United States and has competed in several Senior World Cup competitions throughout his career at the Academy.
"This feels great. When you come to the Air Force Academy it's not the end of your career, but the beginning," Salem said. "We will continue to build our program on this win, and I am very proud of Kelsey and our team."
French placed eighth in the men's epée at the NCAAs. He was selected to represent the United States at the 2003 World Under-20 Championships, which will be held in Trapani, Italy, April 5-13. French is ranked third among Juniors in the United States, having won a silver medal at the World Cup event held in the USA. Last year, he placed 23rd at the Junior World Championships.
With the regular season concluded, Coach Salem will have several key positions to fill after graduation. However, Salem has been very successful at recruiting the Academy's cadets to its fencing program. And there is no doubt, that he will have several cadets who will pick up a fencing weapon of choice and become successful at the Air Force Academy both on and off the fencing strip.