With all the hoopla surrounding men’s basketball, it’s been easy to forget the other winter sports team that’s preparing to defend its Ivy League title and make waves on the national level: women’s fencing.

Yale begins its 2002-03 season Saturday at the Penn State Invitational in State College, Pa. The tournament is the first of a string of competitions run until March, when the Bulldogs will get a chance to better last season’s sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championship tournament.

But the team’s roster has undergone a number of changes. Most notably, Sada Jacobson ’04 withdrew from the team for the 2002-03 season to retain two more years of NCAA eligibility while she trains for a spot on the 2004 United States Olympic team.

Jacobson claimed the top prize in the sabre event at the NCAA Fencing Championship each of the last two years, dominating competition from around the country and around the world. She is currently the United States’ top-ranked sabre fencer, and in the world rankings released this week, Jacobson claimed fourth in the seniors division and second in the juniors. She was the first woman in Ivy League history to win consecutive NCAA titles.

Yale also lost three-time All-Ivy fencer Helen Liu ’02 to graduation and All-Ivy first-team selection Zane Selkirk ’04, who has quit the team. Looking to fill the vacancies left by Jacobson, Liu, and Selkirk are two of Yale’s newest women fencers — recruits Isadora Botwinick ’06 and Justine Aw ’06.

Despite the absences, Jacobson said the team still can be successful.

“We have some really strong people on the team,” she said.

Jacobson said Botwinick and Aw would give Yale strength in the foil event, while several walk-ons — some with no prior fencing experience — were dramatically improving their sabre techniques.

“We have a good number of recruits, but we also have a lot of walk-ons who have made a ton of progress,” Jacobson said. “I am really impressed with the amount that they’ve learned.”

Yale returns four All-Ivy fencers to this year’s squad, which finished 6-0 in the Ivy League last season, including captain Sarah Senk ’03, who was named to the 2001-02 All-Ivy second team.

Erica Korb ’05, an All-Ivy first-team selection last winter, also returns to try to improve upon her 14th-place finish in the epee at nationals.

Senk said one the team’s season goals is to qualify a full team for the NCAA Championship meet. A full team consists of two fencers in each of the three categories: epee, foil and sabre. With three of last year’s complete team not returning this season, the Bulldogs’ Ivy League dominance will be challenged.

“It’s anybody’s game this year,” Senk said.

A strong Princeton team that finished second to the Elis last season may be primed to intensify the traditional Harvard-Yale-Princeton rivalry.

The team thrived last season by focusing on enjoying itself, and Senk said she hopes the same kind of attitude will carry over to this season.

“I really want to have a very enjoyable season,” Senk said.