Zich, Shealy, Escueta and BenAvram earn national honors from USFCA

TEXT: Brandeis Fencing USFCA National Award Winners
IMAGES: LEFT TO RIGHT: Matthew Zich leaning on a barrier; Maggie Shealy with mask off celebrating a point; Tony Escueta with mask off shouting; Lev BenAvram with mask off, getting ready to start a bout

WALTHAM, Mass. – Four members of the Brandeis University fencing community took home major awards from the United States Fencing Coaches Association last week. Assistant coach Matt Zich was named the National Assistant Coach of the Year for both men and women for his work with the Judges' sabre squad. Zich's work was further recognized when senior Maggie Shealy of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was named the Co-National and Division III Women's Sabre Fencer of the Year. First-year Lev BenAvram of Bethesda, Maryland, was named the National and Division III Men's Sabre Newcomer of the Year, while sophomore Tony Escueta of Grand Prairie, Texas, was named the Division III Men's Sabre Fencer of the Year.

Zich's work helped Brandeis produce two National Collegiate All-Americans in Shealy, who finished tied for third at the NCAA Championships to earn first-team honors, and Escueta, who placed 12th to earn third-team honors. BenAvram finished 16th at the NCAA Championships and was Division III first-team All-American. Zich helped the men's sabre squad win 24 of their first 25 matches this season, while the women's squad finished 22-11 despite having just three active fencers this season. Behind the Judges' 40 points scored by sabre fencers at the NCAA Championships, Brandeis finished in 14th place, their best since 2000 and tops among Division III schools.

Shealy turned in one of the great seasons by a Brandeis fencer in 2022-23. Due to low numbers, she fenced in every one of Brandeis's matches, posting an 84-11 record in dual matches. She was named Northeast Fencing Conference Fencer of the Year and qualified for her third career NCAA Championships. Shealy earned All-America honors for the third time in her career, getting named to the All-America squad as a first-year after the championships were cancelled and finishing eight at the 2022 championships. This year, Shealy went 19-4 during pool play at the NCAA Championships held at Duke University, earning the top seed in the elimination bracket. She ended up losing in the semifinals to Elizabeth Tartakovsky of Harvard, who fell to Nora Burke of Columbia in the finals. Burke shared the National Sabre Fencer of the Year honors with Shealy.

In addition to competition for Brandeis, Shealy was also competing for USA Fencing. While juggling her thesis, she was traveling to international meets in places like Athens, Dourdan and Seoul, finishing as high as 44th among the top women's saber fencers in the world. The week before she flew off to Seoul she also earned a bronze medal at US National Championships.

Escueta was an NCAA qualifier as a first-year, earning Division III Sabre and Newcomer of the Year honors. This year, he went 11-10 at the NCAAs to claim the 12th and final National Collegiate All-America spot. Escueta's 11 wins were the most for a Brandeis men's fencer at nationals since Adam Mandel '13 also won 11 in 2013. He was the only Division III men's fencer to finish in the top 12 of any weapon this year. During the regular season, Escueta posted a 38-15 record, second-best on the Judges.

BenAvram won gold at his first collegiate tournament. His season only got better from there, as the sabre squad won 24 of its first 25 matches, and BenAvram led the men's team with 39 wins in dual matches. BenAvram went on to place sixth at the NCAA Regional tournament to earn a berth at the NCAA Championships at Duke. At the championships, Lev finished 10 and 11, coming one win short of All-America honors for all divisions, but still getting first-team honors for Division III.

While competing for the Judges, Lev also took a leap in national competitions, qualifying for the United States Fencing Junior World Championship team in Bulgaria. While there, he finished 13th in the individual competition and helped the men's sabre squad earn their first gold medal since 2001 with wins over third-ranked Egypt and top-ranked Italy, among other upsets.