Touché: Harvard fencing “He had an immediate impact on the program right from Day One,” said Brand, who is in his 16th year with the Harvard program and who has coached three other Harvard Olympic fencers, including Emily Cross ’09, a silver medalist with the U.S. women’s foil fencing team at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Not only was Dershwitz “an excellent individual fencer,” said Brand, “but he was an excellent team person, which is sometimes very difficult to find in an individual sport like fencing.”Dershwitz honed his drive and devotion after taking up the sport at age 9, eager to emulate his older brother, Philip, whose regular routs and hard hits brought him to tears but strengthened his resolve. “[Philip] really pushed me to be better; he was a great role model,” said Dershwitz. “He also made me want to push myself even harder.”As Dershwitz excelled with his sword, other sports fell away. In high school he committed himself exclusively to fencing, traveling to competitions and working with his coach to “to compete at a higher level.” The commitment paid off. In 2015 he won gold at the Junior World Championship in the saber, as well as gold at the Pan American Championships. He sealed his spot on the Olympic team with another gold medal finish at the Grand Prix in Seoul in March, one of a series of fencing’s senior world cup events.“I am really happy to be able to represent my county and my school,” said 20-year-old Eli Dershwitz. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerCompetitive fencing includes the foil, the épée, and the saber. Each comes with its own style and rules. Saber fencing involves the smallest of the three blades. Unlike épée or foil fencers, saber fencers can use the edge as well as the tip of their weapons to score points or “touches” against their opponents. The target area for the saber is the body above the waist, excluding the hands. The winner of a match is the fencer who scores 15 points or who has the most points when the three-minute match expires. Saber fencing is considered the most aggressive of the three weapon styles, with quick cutting and slashing motions and explosive movements that are key to victory.“It’s a lot faster-paced — fast reactions, fast touches, a lot of sprints,” said Dershwitz, who loves the saber’s mix of speed and complexity. “That always got to me, the amount of physical and mental ability it took at the same time, to be able to be explosive but also to be able to react quickly to what your opponent was doing.”These days a typical Olympic workout for Dershwitz includes a morning routine of weights, endurance training, and sprints, one-on-one training with his coach in the afternoon, and 2½ hours of fencing at night. When he wants to relax, the Sherborn, Mass., native often heads back to Cambridge to train or just kick back with friends. “Living so close to Harvard and being so close to all my friends and roommates from last year, it’s definitely been a big support.”Many of Dershwitz’s Crimson teammates will travel to Rio to watch him compete, including Duncan O’Brien ’16, who trained at the same fencing club where he watched Dershwitz blossom into “an unbelievable talent.” He would arrive early to jog, stretch, and practice his footwork, and he “wanted to fence until the coach turned the lights off … he inspired everyone,” recalled O’Brien, who encouraged Dershwitz to apply to Harvard.Between schoolwork and fencing for Harvard and in international competitions, freshman year was “very hectic,” said Dershwitz. He credits his family and friends with helping him through and supporting his Olympic dream. The final step is to just do his best in Brazil.“I want to look back and say I gave it everything I had … and hopefully,” he said, “I come back with a medal.”The Olympic men’s saber competition will be lived streamed at nbcolympics.com. There’s “no crying in baseball,” actor Tom Hanks famously quipped in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own,” but some fencers have been known to shed a tear. Just ask Eli Dershwitz.The Harvard undergraduate admits he has “teared up” while watching Team USA during the last three Olympic opening ceremonies. There’s a good chance he’ll be emotional again when the games kick off in Brazil next month, but this time he’ll be in the procession.Tears of joy could flow for the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic men’s fencing team during the competition as well. As the top-ranked saber fencer in the United States and current tie for 11th in the world, Dershwitz, 20, will begin his quest for a medal on Aug. 10 at the Carioca Arena 3 in Rio de Janeiro.“A lot of things have fallen into place; a lot people have helped me along the way, and I am really happy to be able to represent my country and my school this summer,” said Dershwitz, a rising sophomore who fenced for the Crimson as a freshman before taking a year off to train in his sport full-time. “I am just looking forward to putting all the hard work and dedication, all the hours of blood, sweat, and tears over the years … into one great tournament.”For many participants, those years of training culminate in a tournament that ends in a flash. Fencing matches last a maximum of three minutes, but their lightning-fast pace means bouts are often decided in 60 seconds, sometimes fewer.“You prepare yourself for four, eight, 12 years to get this one shot at the Olympic Games … and in a lot of cases you end up fencing that one match and you’re out,” said Harvard’s head fencing coach, Peter Brand, who recruited Dershwitz. The single-elimination Olympic saber competition will begin with 32 competitors and end with just two thrusting and slashing along the piste, or fencing strip, in pursuit of the gold.Eli Dershwitz is the No. 1 ranked saber fencer in the U.S., and currently tied for 11th in the world. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerBrand calls Dershwitz the kind of fencer you see “once maybe every 100 years,” and predicts he has a good shot at the podium.“Eli is an absolute phenom. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”Experts agree it’s unusual for such a young fencer to succeed in the senior ranks; most who excel at the sport typically peak in their late 20s. Dedication, talent, and hard work have all fueled Dershwitz’s swift success, said Brand, but it’s his mental toughness that sets him apart.“That’s something you can’t teach, and he’s just wired that way,” said Brand. “He does not get rattled.”Dershwitz’s composure was key during the Crimson’s 2014-15 season, when he helped the men’s team lift the Ivy League title. He performed as both a fencer and coach, competing and leading footwork sessions during practice for his fellow fencers. Related
Trevor Sochoki | Daily TrojanSummer in Southern California normally means one thing: USC football is right around the corner. Fresh off a Rose Bowl victory, Heisman-hopeful quarterback Sam Darnold stayed healthy while his sophomore coach, Clay Helton, welcomed a highly ranked recruiting class.Normally, that is enough to satiate Trojan fans’ title-thirsty anticipation. Yet for one sunshiny week at the end of June, another program shared the limelight.From June 26 through July 2, the men’s basketball team received three commitments from four-star recruits: forward J’Raan Brooks, guard Kevin Porter and forward Taeshon Cherry (who some scouts list as five-star). At the time, the trio gave the Trojans the top 2018 recruiting class per 247sports.com. Only last week did conference rival Arizona edge USC out, when five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly committed to the Wildcats. With their rapid growth, the Trojans have a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four as early as this season — a sentence that may still sound far-fetched to many USC fans. But it’s true: Head coach Andy Enfield’s squad figures to be a preseason top-15 team, and last year’s entire rotation will return.The Trojans also welcome a top-30 recruiting class led by two four-star shooting guards: Jordan Usher from Marietta, Ga., and Las Vegas native Charles O’Bannon, Jr., whose father started at power forward on UCLA’s 1995 NCAA Championship team. Seven-foot center Victor Uyaelunmo, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., rounds out the class of freshmen.But the newcomer most likely to contribute immediately is Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, now eligible after sitting out last season. Thornton was the top-ranked transfer in 2016 after starting 22 games at point guard for a Final Four Blue Devils team loaded with talented stars such as guard Grayson Allen and forward Brandon Ingram. USC could form a superteam of its own this season pending a final recruiting twist. The top prospect in the class of 2018, power forward Marvin Bagley III, has petitioned the NCAA to reclassify for this year. Although Bagley would forgo his senior year in high school and the extra year of development that comes with it, scouts still consider him a potential No. 1 draft pick next year. He has listed USC and Duke as his top two colleges ahead of powerhouses Arizona, Kansas, UCLA and Kentucky. If all goes smoothly, he could dawn a Trojan uniform as early as this fall. If not, Enfield will hope at minimum Bagley does not choose a Pac-12 rival.But the Trojans want him badly. According to Sports Illustrated, Enfield has not only offered a scholarship to Bagley, but also to his sophomore brother, Marcus, plus their 7-year-old brother, Marlay. USC has already filled all 13 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year, but someone could be on the move whether or not Bagley arrives. With Usher, O’Bannon and Thornton in the fold, the roster is flush with guards. The list goes on: returning senior captain Jordan McLaughlin, senior Elijah Stewart, sophomores De’Anthony Melton and Jonah Mathews and redshirt sophomore Shaqquan Aaron.Enfield could choose any number of rotations from this group, but the depth at his disposal could be a blessing and a curse. Only three of these players can start as long as junior forwards (and NBA Draft prospects) Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright stay healthy. The rest will be strapped for minutes. At least one player — likely more — is bound to be unhappy. Someone could transfer before the season begins. If not, maintaining chemistry may be challenging even if the team is winning at a program-record pace. Enfield faced the opposite problem last season. During some rough stretches, it appeared they could barely field a starting five. McLaughlin and Metu, the Pac-12 Most Improved Player, were the only consistent contributors. Stewart and Aaron showed flashes of brilliance but then disappeared for weeks. Aaron, the Louisville transfer, even won Pac-12 Player of the Week in late January when his 23-point performance led the Trojans to a stunning upset over No. 8 UCLA at the Galen Center. Throughout the rest of the season, however, he scored in double digits just twice; and in three NCAA Tournament games, he did not score in 23 minutes of play.While USC is rich at guard, it enjoys less depth at forward. Behind Boatwright and Metu stands a giant question mark as sophomores Nick Rakocevic and Harrison Henderson andthree-star recruit Victor Uyaelunmo complete the roster. Should either starter get hurt, Enfield must either play small or trust one of these three to shoulder the remaining weight.Last year when Boatwright missed 17 games, Rakocevic received plenty of playing time. While he impressed at times, he also floundered when matched-up against first-round NBA draft picks such as Ivan Rabb and Lauri Markkanen. Meanwhile, Henderson played just 50 minutes the entire season, and Uyaelunmo awaits his collegiate debut.Despite USC’s depth dichotomy, the program’s recent recruiting prowess has given Enfield a significant boost. Just last summer, the verdict was still out after his best players and earliest recruits, Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, forwent their senior year for the draft only to fail to make NBA rosters. Consequently, most experts tempered expectations for the Trojans and essentially adopted the mantra “What Could Have Been?” After being mere minutes away from the Sweet Sixteen last season, the sky is the limit for the Enfield era. For the first time in his five-year tenure, Enfield has established senior leaders in McLaughlin and Stewart, and he will not have to rely on a host of freshmen starters. If likely draft picks Boatwright and Metu stay healthy, the Trojans could conceivably win their first conference title since 2009 — andmaybe play basketball into April. But even in the case of Murphy’s Law — if injuries strike, Boatwright and Metu forgo their senior seasons and Bagley chooses UCLA — USC still looks set to compete for the foreseeable future. It is only a matter of time before Trojan fans start dividing their summers evenly between football and basketball recruiting.