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On April 5, first-year Lauren Scruggs mounted the top step of the podium at the junior world championship fencing tournament, becoming the No. 1 foil fencer in the world in the women's division. After four fierce days of competition in the other half of the globe, the New York native annihilated Japan’s Yuzuha Takeyama 15-3 to take home the gold and add to her laundry list of accomplishments in the fencing world.
To compete against the best, Scruggs left the cold streets of Cambridge for a warmer, drier climate.
“We had a direct flight from Boston which was really nice,” said Scruggs when asked to describe the opportunity to fence in the United Arab Emirates.“I had never been to that part of the world, so when I got to [Dubai] everything was crazy. There were a bunch of Mercedes and Rolls Royces, and on the drive to the hotel we got to see the Burj Khalifa.” “But I was so busy I didn’t get to see anything.”
Inside the stadium, Scruggs dominated the competition.
“In my final bout I did something called the simultaneous,” Scruggs recalled. “You just go for it from the get out. That’s something I am really good at, but also [Takeyama] couldn’t really put a light on so that made it a bit easier. After a while, I just started having fun with it, and that’s what it's all about.”
Scruggs fenced aggressively, which gave her the right of way in simultaneous hits. This advantage allowed her to destroy her opponent in just 18 points.
“[Scruggs] is really the type of person that makes you sick of winning,” said head coach Daria Schneider. “She makes you forget how hard it is. In Dubai, that happened multiple times because she was so untouchable.”
“This year was weird because I was one of the older people there, which is not something that usually happens to me,” Scruggs said. “I’ve always been the youngest, but I like being the oldest person there. Because of that I was really confident going into the event, so I didn’t feel nervous.”
“In terms of the final match, I really like being on the stage,” Scruggs continued. “It’s where I shine. The atmosphere makes me want to fence better, so being up there helped the final match and made the big difference in scores.”
“In the final [Scruggs was] so relaxed and scoring what looked from the outside to be so effortless,” Schneider added. “I just kept thinking about how she looks like she doesn’t even practice. That’s the name of the game: compete the way you practice, and practice the way you compete, and she just really embodied that.”
“It’s proof of all [my] hard work, it feels great,” said Scruggs about winning the championship.
But Coach Schneider thought the first-year was more excited than she let on.
“When I saw her yell, I really enjoyed that moment,” Schneider said. “It was like the fencing itself. She was excited because she had achieved this great accomplishment”
Nevertheless, the fencer isn’t satisfied with being junior champion.
“I am looking towards seniors which is obviously a lot harder for me right now,” Scruggs said. “I’m just looking forward to doing bigger things in seniors now that I’ve done a lot in juniors.”
“Scruggs is one of the most decorated and history-making freshmen of all time,” Schneider said. “She came here already with five junior medals and a Junior World Championship, now she has seven.”
The freshman fencer will have some work to do, as she is currently ranked number 78 on the senior circuit.
“Right now I just want to get better results in the tournaments and maybe make a team,” Scruggs said. “That’s where I’m at, and I’m just figuring out college.”
But, Coach Schnieder thinks she’s got what it takes.
“[Scruggs is] the type of person who could definitely qualify for [the 2024 Olympics in Paris],” Schneider said. “She’s working really hard to be on that path. She’ll have a good shot at being first team all American, if not NCAA champion in the next few years.”
But Scruggs is also filling a big role in Harvard’s team.
“She brings a level of excitement and confidence to the team as a whole, because there’s this special element to her,” Schneider commented. “She’s so down to earth, it makes our team feel really special to have someone like her on our team but also feel really confident to train with somebody like her in their midst. She’s already had this experience of being such a leader on the [USA fencing] junior team, so even though she’s only a freshman, I think she is going to learn in a lot of ways, energy-wise and focus-wise on our team next year and in the coming years.”
Schneider also wants the rest of her team to take a page out of Scrugg’s book in terms of managing the hectic life of being a student athlete.
“[Scruggs is] about having a balanced life, and I think that’s a very rare thing,” Schneider said. “She knows what she wants and wants to have a variety of things in her life, but not so much that she can’t enjoy herself. She has a lot of leadership in that way, because it’s so antithetical to the Harvard lifestyle, but to be honest, it’s really refreshing.”
Schnieder’s future advice to Scruggs was simple: “Make sure she’s leaning on all her resources and always asking for help when she needs it…I think when people know what you're doing, and they realize that it’s important to you and that it’s special, they want to support you and help you. That applies to all Harvard students, especially freshman, but definitely for [Scruggs].”
After arriving home from a team loss against Singapore in Serbia on Tuesday, Scruggs makes the journey to Germany this weekend to continue her road to foil stardom.
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