By Sarah Leggett, GoDuke the Magazine
“Do your job. Winning isn’t magic … it’s doing what you normally do.”
Like some, Duke fencing senior captain Pascual Di Tella didn’t just decide one day to try out the sport because he thought it looked cool and fun. Fencing runs through his veins.
“My father was a fencer and so was my sister,” Pascual said. “My dad retired from fencing around the time I was born and I would always put on his old fencing stuff like a costume.”
Rafael Matias Di Tella fenced for Argentina and competed for his country in the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics. Rafael finished 41st in individual men’s epee both years before retiring.
Pascual’s sister, Clara Isabel Maria de las Mercedes, also fenced for the Argentina National Team and continues to fence every so often.
While his father was an epeeist, Pascual took to saber and has seen great success throughout his young career.
Prior to attending Duke, Pascual was also a member of the Argentina National Team where he competed in cadet and senior events.
“I grew up in Boston until I was seven and then I moved to Argentina with my family,” Pascual said. “I first started fencing when I was seven or eight but then stopped when I went back to Argentina because there aren’t many young people that fence. I would compete against older fencers and always lose … and I hate losing.”
With his competitive nature, Pascual recorded first-place finishes in numerous Argentine national competitions at the cadet, junior and senior levels. He also placed third in the 2013 Phoenix Junior World Cup, sixth in the same event in 2012, and won the 2013 South American Junior Championship and the 2012 South American Cadet Championship.
“When I was living in Argentina, I would go to the US for a month or a month-and-a-half to train in January or February like five hours a day,” Pascual said. “I would go back to Argentina for the rest of the year and fence very little, enough to maintain my current level.”
Duke head coach Alex Beguinet and recruiting coordinator Elizabeth Beguinet recruited Pascual to bring his wealth of fencing knowledge to compete for the Blue Devils.
And as a freshman, Pascual did not disappoint.
Pascual capped his first season at Duke as an All-American with a fifth-place finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships, posting a 16-7 record and a +23 touch differential. His fifth-place finish was the second highest by a Duke freshman in men’s fencing history, trailing only Duke Athletics Hall of Fame member Matt Andresen’s fourth-place finish in 1989. It was also the highest placing by any freshman Blue Devil since women’s saberist Becca Ward won the national title in 2009.
“Becoming an All-American was awesome,” Pascual said. “My saber coach here (Jacek Huchwajda) is incredible … really, really, really good … the best coach I’ll probably ever have. After I finished so well my freshman year it was like, ‘Wow … this guy really knows what he’s talking about.’”
Huchwajda, a two-time Olympian, enjoyed a decorated fencing career and has guided several Blue Devils to successful stints. In addition to representing Germany twice at the Olympics, Huchwajda was a three-time gold medalist at the German Open Saber Championship (1992, 1994, 1996), a two-time team bronze medalist at the World Fencing Championship (1991, 1993), a silver medalist at the 1996 Senior World Cup, a three-time German Senior National individual and team champion, a three-time German Junior National champion and a winner of the 1987 Junior World Cup.
This guy knows fencing and is one reason Pascual has seen such great success at Duke.
Pascual’s freshman year also brought him a bronze medal at the ACC Championships and he was named to the All-ACC Acacdemic Team and ACC Honor Roll.
How’s that for a rookie?
As a sophomore, Pascual was named the ACC co-men’s saber fencer of the year after leading the Blue Devils with a 57-18 overall ledger, and he qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season. With momentum from his freshman year at NCAAs, Pascual finished just short of All-America status, placing 13th at the national meet.
While his junior year might have ended short of top-12 on the national stage, Pascual had a solid season overall. He claimed ACC men’s saber fencer of the year accolades for himself and was named the ACC men’s scholar-athlete of the year alongside fellow Blue Devil Rita Somogyi.
While in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the ACC Championships, Pascual captured gold to become the first Blue Devil male to garner an ACC title since fencing returned as a league sponsored sport.
Throughout his three years as a Blue Devil, Pascual has accumulated multiple honors along his fencing journey, but he considers one thing to be missing.
“This year, I want to win ACCs in both categories but I also want to get back on top for NCAAs,” Pascual said. “I feel I under-performed last year and I want to finish strong … or at least feel that I did well.”
Last year, the men’s fencing team lost by one bout to reigning national champion Notre Dame at the conference meet. This year, Pascual and his Blue Devil teammates have their sights set on the end goal.
Behind every great team is a great leader … or something like that, right? As a two-time captain, Pascual looks to guide his team to the top.
“I’ve realized talk is cheap,” Pascual said. “You get to a certain point where there’s the real world and everything else is just what is said. You have to lead by example, as a captain and just as a person.”
Pascual was nominated his sophomore year by one of the seniors to be a captain during his junior campaign alongside foilist Jan Maceczek, and the two took their leadership qualities through to senior year.
“During his time on the team, we have seen Pascual really deepen as a saber fencer,” head coach Alex Beguinet said. “He has certainly grown in confidence. He has developed more focus in his preparations and has a bit more patience in his game.
He has learned to use his fire and passion for the sport more to his advantage now than a few years ago … it really is a pleasure to watch him against a good opponent.”
“I think the biggest thing that has changed with myself, even from last year to this year, is last year my focus was on making people around me work hard,” Pascual said. “This year, it’s more so about having high expectations for myself. I don’t care how much you work … if you win, you win. You have to have the expectation that you’re going to win the bout no matter who’s on the opposite end of the strip. Your inner expectations are more important than anything else. That goes back to what I was saying about talk is cheap. You can’t fake your inner expectations … you have to walk the walk.”
After graduation in May, Pascual plans to walk the walk to the concrete jungle to train for Tokyo 2020.
“Right now, I’m pretty well ranked for that but there are still two-and-a-half years to maintain that ranking and to hopefully get better,” Pascual said.
But before then, Pascual has a few goals to accomplish as a Blue Devil.
“Duke … is just the best,” Pascual said. “I love this school. In every facet of my life, I have grown here. From a personal level to an academic level … I have learned what it means to be good at school. I learned how to fully take advantage of every opportunity.”
Pascual is en garde to take on a few more opportunities this spring.