An Israeli-born fencer, a Canadian and an Ivy champion walk into a bar. And they’re all Shaul Gordon.
The journey for one of Penn men’s fencing captains is far from usual: The son of an Italian mother, the Israeli-born fencer now calls Richmond, British Columbia, his home.
It was the time he spent in Italy from ages four to nine that developed his passion for the sport he’s made his name with.
“I was seven, and Italy is historically a powerhouse in fencing,” he explained. “I was reading Zorro, watching three musketeers, and I wanted to fence! You get to hit people! That’s why I started to like it.”
When the time came for Gordon to decide where he wanted to go to college, he made the decision to go to Penn…State.
He would only spend a year in State College before finding his way to Philadelphia, however. Going into his freshman year, Gordon knew there was a good chance he would end up transferring.
“At first my grades and fencing weren’t good enough, but my year at Penn State was important to both my academics and fencing,” Gordon said. “I always knew I wanted to transfer if my grades were good enough.”
But once his decision to transfer was made, a journey was kickstarted that took the Ivy League by storm.
In his first season with the Red and Blue in 2013-14, Gordon fought his was to first team All-Ivy and All-American honors along with a third-place finish at NCAAs.
“We are very lucky and proud to have Shaul on our team,” Penn coach Andy Ma said. “Every season he does very well and every day he’s the first to show up and last to leave. Besides his dedication he also is very smart, he is so impressive as a person. He is the full package for Penn, as a person and as an athlete.”
Gordon tied for third atop the Ivy League that first year before another first team All-Ivy performance the next. Yet despite his personal success, the team had yet to see the same results.
That changed on Feb. 7. Finally, for the first time since 2009, the men’s fencers walked away with an Ivy title, sharing the trophy with Columbia and Princeton as the senior captain took the sabre title in his own right. It was the highlight of his Penn career.
“[The highlight] has to be [winning] as a team, winning Ivies,” Gordon said. “We said early in the season, we either win or it’s a bust. There was no middle ground for this year.”
After the high that came with winning a share of the Ivy title on the men’s side, the team is looking to refocus this weekend. Up first for the Quakers, both men and women, is the Temple Invitational on Saturday.
“Last week was a lot of stress relief, so this week we’re back to normal,” coach Andy Ma said. “Our goal is to focus on March 12, but it is also important that we do our best this weekend.”
Historically, the weekend after Ivy Championships for Penn fencing has only featured one tournament, but this year is another story. Thanks to the untimely record snowfall dumped on University City by winter storm Jonas from Jan. 22-24, Penn was forced to postpone the Philadelphia Invitational until this Sunday.
When the blizzard was at its height a month ago, Ma was mostly concerned with safety and transportation of the teams competing at the Philadelphia Invitational. Now that the tournament has been rescheduled, Ma’s concerns are a little different.
“I am reasonably worried. Usually we have one heavy meet a weekend, but this weekend it’s two,” Ma said. “We will be very conservative. In fact, at first we had five rounds on Saturday but we reduced it to four to try to not overstress our players.”
These few weeks between Ivy Championships and NCAA Regionals in March are perhaps the most crucial training period for the Quakers. The team is focused on fine tuning skills, staying sharp, and most importantly, staving off injuries.
“We don’t want to push people too hard and have fatigue and injuries,” Ma said. “The goal is always long term.”
But for Shaul Gordon, the strain of back-to-back tournaments is nothing compared to the twists and turns in the journey that got him to those tournaments in the first place.
Jacob Snyder contributed reporting.
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