After fighting through three grueling periods, Safa Ibrahim found herself tied in the Direct Elimination round of the January North American Cup.
Seeded 38th in the table of 32, the épée fencer advanced via priority, in which the fencer who scores the first hit wins the bout and advance to the next round of the tournament, which took place Jan. 9-11 and features some of the country’s elite fencers.
“I was like, ‘Oh my Gosh,” Ibrahim said, laughing. “But it definitely helped that [assistant coach Anastasia Ferdman] was next to me. She was telling me what to do. She was telling me to be confident in my touches. So I was like, ‘OK, I got this.’ I am just going to be confident and pick one move to do and hopefully it works.”
Ibrahim advanced to the next round by edging Premier Fencing Club’s Yumin Wang, 10-9. With the momentum on her side, Ibrahim surged past Camille Esnault, who was seeded No. 11, to advance to the table of 8 in a North American Cup for the second time in her brief collegiate career.
The Chicago native took home an eighth-place medal out of 111 competitors in the junior women’s épée, in which fencers aged 20 and under use the heaviest weapons of the three and are able to hit anywhere on the body.
“The arm would count, the head would count, the legs would count,” assistant coach Anastasia Ferdman said of the category.
Although Ibrahim competed in the NAC back in November finished second out of more than 150 competitors, the November competition took place in the fencing preseason. Therefore, she said, she did not expect similar success in the NAC during the regular season.
“That is the thing about fencing, you have to go in there and just fence,” Ibrahim said. “You can’t just go in there and think ‘Oh, I want to win this [direct elimination bout]. I want to win this tournament.’ From the beginning, you have to go in and say I want to fence my best and want worry about the results. I think that is how i was able to stay calm throughout the whole day.”
“I was just like, ‘I am going to fence today, be aggressive, I am going to be confident and not think about winning,” Ibrahim added.
After coming off a successful stint in the North American Cup, Ibrahim continued her winning ways as she battled some of the country’s top fencing programs.
Ibrahim ended the Penn State Invitational last Saturday with an individual record of 9-6, but not after sealing a 2 -1 victory against Penn State’s Jessie Radanovich, a 2014 NCAA semifinalist.
After just entering her first season on the No. 9 team in the country, Ibrahim performance in competition as well as in practice has resonated with members on the team.
“I thought her performance was pretty outstanding given that she is a freshman,” senior captain Lauren Rangel-Friedman said. “It really shows when you put in a lot into practice day in and day out.”
“She is working hard at whatever she is doing,” Rangel-Friedman added of Ibrahim’s work ethic in practice. “Whether that is a drill, whether it’s a bout, whatever it is, she is definitely focused.”
Fencing has been a significant part of Ibrahim’s life since she was a 13-year-old living in Chicago, when her mother introduced her to the sport. After moving from the Windy City to the Bronx in New York City, Ibrahim was reunited with the épée weapon at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a fencing clinic that has produced olympic fencers in the past.
Ibrahim has had her own success while fencing for PWF, as she won numerous awards in 2013 under the tutelage of her coach, Boris Vaksman. Her successes included victories in the Summer Nationals in the junior women’s épée, the senior women’s épée at a Grand Prix, along with earning a spot on the national-champion senior épée team at the 2013 Summer Nationals.
Now that she has reached the collegiate level, Ibrahim said she’s eyeing greater goals.
“[I] definitely [want] to win the [NCAA championships],” Ibrahim said. “That would be a great accomplishment and I am just going to try and work hard, stay focused and go out there get better.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.