FENCING | Epéeist pierces the competition

Last weekend, Yale men’s fencing team captain Michael Pearce ’09, an epeeist, went 9-0 against Brown, Harvard and Columbia. A long-time national and international fencer, Pearce was a member of the U.S. National Fencing team prior to fencing for Yale.

Q When did you first discover fencing?

A I started at home in San Francisco when I was seven or eight. My mom found a flyer at the local JCC. I started it there and liked it. In California, there are local and regional tournaments. In regional tournaments I would do well. By training harder, I just improved, and it was in sixth or seventh grade when I finally broke onto the national scene.”

Q When did you settle on your weapon, epee?

A Each weapon had its own personality. Epee is more slow and methodical; saber very fast; foil is somewhere in between. Coaches can tell what weapon a kid will be. I started with foil — most people do. I completely made the switch sophomore year in high school.

Q What did your high school and national career entail?

A Most high school fencing was local tournaments all over Northern California and at regional tournaments less frequently. When you reached a certain level ranking, you then go to the next level tournament.

I was on the national travel team junior year of high school to sophomore year in college. I wanted to be on the three-person world championship team — I was always top-eight. But we traveled mostly in Germany, and also Sicily, Hungary.

[The international fencers] train a lot — a lot of countries have very well-developed national training programs. In the U.S. it’s very individual. It’s not as comprehensive. But we’ve had some good results — Benji Ungar, Harvard ’09, was the first American to win the Junior Epee World Cup.

Q What are your favorite Yale experiences?

A I think at the Penn State Open last year. We had to miss the Harvard-Yale game. We were really upset, but we ended up going to a sports bar. And I ended up taking second that year.

Also, at my freshman year’s NCAA qualifiers, I was up the night before with a fever, etc. I had bronchitis. Then I qualified and at nationals took fifth.

Basically, I’ve gone through progressions of ‘teaminess’. [In high school] all your club-mates are your teammates, but their victory doesn’t help an overall goal. In high school fencing, which was kind of a joke in San Francisco, I started to get that, but it wasn’t as much of a team as it is here.

At Yale we eat team meals, travel long distances on buses, hang out after practices. That’s what I’ve really appreciated. Other people’s victory makes me want to win more. It all builds on itself. It’s the same with team victory — even if you lose, there is still something there. You still have the friendships and the respect for and from other team members.

Q Who are your top supporters?

A Both my parents have been very supportive of my fencing. My mom pushed me a lot — there were times when I didn’t want to go to practice and she would literally drag me there. Once I started getting good, though, I really wanted to go.

My coaches from back home are still an important part of my life. I used to practice two to three hours a day. five days a week.

Q What fencers do you look up to?

A Soren Thompson, who was Princeton ’05, and Ben Solomon, Princeton ’06. They’re both really good fencers, really intense, tried out for the Olympic team, just really great, nice, interesting, genuine people.

Q What is your life like outside of fencing?

A I’m an architecture major in the urban studies concentration. I enjoy reading, hanging out with my suitemates, eating. Especially chicken parmesan with pasta — it’s got everything you need!

Q It’s your senior year; what else would you like to accomplish?

A I hope to beat Penn and Princeton next weekend. I know it will be a hard match. If we fenced as we did against Harvard, we can pull out wins.

After that we have IFA — last year I took fourth; two years ago, second. I’m hoping to stay in the top four again. Last year the foil team won the Ironman trophy, the oldest trophy in collegiate sports given to whomever had the greatest number of victories over the course of the day.

Then we have the NCAA Regionals. We qualified three men and one woman last year — this year we can qualify some more. Then at Nationals there are the 24 best fencers. It’s good to fence the top guys, whether international or national.

Q How has being at Yale changed your fencing experience?

A It’s been great fencing individually, but also having a team atmosphere that has grown throughout my time here. We have team dinners, team hangouts and are fostering a real team atmosphere — it’s been one of my highlights.

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