July 8, 2013
Mary McElwee and James Salem traveled to Columbus, Ohio, last week for the final event of the United States Fencing Association season, the 2013 Junior National Championships. The event lies off the official college circuit, but McElwee and Salem made the journey to compete in the annual event which brings together top competitors from all parts of the nation. McElwee competed Friday, July 5th, missing a flight back as a consequence of her excellent results. Passable at the pool round with five victories in six pool bouts, the rising sophomore had to fight up the ladder to regain and exceed her initial seed, a common occurrence at festivals bringing in the new waves of younger competitors. From 16th after the pool round, there was admirably no looking back, as one top-named seasoned competitor after another fell to a blend of defensive maneuvers and unusually strong attacking strategies on the part of McElwee.
"I think it was jumping out of airplanes this summer that gave me the courage to go on the attack today," McElwee reflected on having defeated the victor in the first pool round, among others, such as Canadian senior champion and previous tournament winner Eleanor Harvey. "I was up against some big names and I just went ahead and they turned out to be beatable."
"Mary could have had the final bout," agreed Head Coach Abdel Salem, referring to McElwee's lead much of the championship round against a multi-year international and national champion, Margaret Lu. "She fenced okay today."
In the Junior Men's Epee competition Saturday, Salem started the day superbly with an all-victory performance against six other competitors during the initial pool rounds. He exited pools an impressive eleventh after entering as 27th. Salem thereafter held his place within the Under 19, which is traditionally by far the most populous event of the entire competition. There were four direct elimination encounters. This demanded the skill of outlasting even the most aggressive opponent by one or two points, or one single-hit touch, in order to retain position.
Salem's athletic style allowed him to move up to medal status with a victory over Sean Callaghan, a B-rated Idaho fencer who walked into the venue ranked 100th but finished 6th after pools. Among the top eight there were a number of unusual results due to upsets early in the ladder; Salem held solid against eventual silver medal winner, Joshua Cole, an A-rated fencer starting out ranked 62nd. Salem got sixth place in the field of 308. The day lasted nearly 11 hours for the duo.
"It's good to end the season for Air Force with a medal," James said, "But I can do better with the next season."
Both fencers will return to fence another season when the Academy's fencers open the 2013 season with the Nick Toth Open.