Eli foil squad captures the Little Iron Man Trophy

The men’s foil squad finally clasped the coveted Little Iron Man Trophy, fulfilling the request that its coach delivered to two sophomore epeeists when they first suited up for the Elis a year and a half ago.

Those two sophomores — John Gurrieri ’10 and Andrew Holbrook ’10 — along with newcomer Nathaniel Botwinick ’11, once again proved that they are among the best in the region. The men’s foilist squad posted an overall 26-4 record at this past Sunday’s IFA Team Fencing Championships, good enough to share the podium, and the famous trophy, with rival Columbia. Both Botwinick and Gurrieri went undefeated on the day, winning all 10 of their bouts.

In addition, the women’s epee squad took second, while on the individual side, Rebecca Moss ’10 and Michael Pearce ’09 both placed fourth at the Individual Epee Championships.

But it was the men’s foil squad that stole the show, tying for a share of the squad championship in the most dramatic fashion.

Near the end of the day, the foilists found themselves needing to sweep their three bouts against Brandeis in order to tie for the championship. But squad members said they were unaware of the magnitude of the final bouts, which may have worked to their advantage.

“Throughout the day, we knew it would be a close finish between us and Columbia, but we didn’t constantly look at the overall squad standings,” Holbrook added. “We took it one touch at time, then one bout at a time, knowing that every touch mattered, as was shown against Brandeis.”

All three bouts came down to the last touch, where the fencers prevailed, 5-4, including a come-from-behind victory for Gurrieri, who was on the brink of defeat, facing a 4-1 deficit. Minutes after Holbrook secured the final touch in his bout, the foilists learned of their shared championship and erupted with joy.

Ever since they joined the Yale Fencing team, the foilists had been eyeing the coveted Little Iron Man Trophy, which dates back to 1894, making it the oldest trophy in collegiate sports.

“I remember my second day at Yale,” Holbrook said. “Coach [Henry Harutunian] took me aside and told me how great the trophy was, and how much it meant to him and the team. Now that we’ve finally won it, we’re ecstatic, to say the least.”

The women’s epee squad took second place overall, helped by an impressive debut performance from Tasha Garcia ’11. The regular squad of Moss, Pruittiporn Kerdchoochuen ’11 and Abigail Fraeman ’09 was aided by Garcia, who subbed in as an alternate for Fraeman, winning two of her four bouts, including a victory over a top-eight individual fencer.

Pearce placed in the top 10 for the third time in a row, this time making it to the semifinals, where he eventually lost to Princeton’s Mike Elfassy, 15-12. After winning his first bout, Pearce faced three highly ranked Princeton fencers in a row, beating Nathaniel Sulat, 15-9, then losing to Graham Wicas — who placed second at the Junior World Championships — 15-9.

Women’s epeeist Rebecca Moss also placed fourth in the individual competition, after having finished in the same position last year as a freshman. Moss fell to Princeton’s Jasjit Bhinder in the semifinals by the closest margin, losing the bout 12-11. After starting the day with wins in the first round over opponents who had defeated her at last year’s tournament, fatigue got the better of Moss in the semifinals.

“The day’s competition was really draining, especially since we woke up at 5 and didn’t leave the gym until 11 p.m.,” she said. “Fatigue was especially an issue for me. Since I’m shorter than most epeeists, I have to move a lot more during my bouts to keep up.”

As a team, however, Yale could not repeat its strong individual and squad performances. The Elis finished in fifth place in the Six-Weapon Team Competition, with an overall record of 98-90, with the men going 51-39 and the women finishing 47-51.

Although the IFA Championships are separate from the NCAA schedule, they are a premier fencing tournament and the oldest collegiate championship in the country. They also serve as an important tune-up for the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships, which take place March 2 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Fencers with a good enough regular season record who perform well at Regionals qualify for the NCAA Championships, which start March 13 at Ohio State University.

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