Despite an undefeated record last season and an Ivy League championship, many members of last year’s women’s fencing team have decided not to be a part of the Elis’ title defense.
Former team captain Zane Selkirk ’04 and teammates Jennifer Joseph ’04, Xining He ’05 and Sarah McDonough ’03 have either quit the team this year or are taking leaves of absence. Most of them cite the time commitment that playing a varsity sport requires as the reason for leaving the squad.
Selkirk resigned at the end-of-season banquet last year. She said that these absences will make the season more difficult but finds solace in the strength of the freshman.
“It is somewhat of a setback to be missing some of last year’s players — this season will certainly not be an easy one,” Selkirk said in an email. “However, it is incredibly important not to underestimate the power of determination and dedication: While the team may miss the collective experience of lost players, it cannot forget the importance of the freshmen — both experienced fencers and walk-ons — to help the team achieve its goals.”
She said she treasures her time on the team but felt it was time to move on.
“I had a lot of fun on the team and had the opportunity to learn an incredible amount as captain sophomore year — but I decided that after two years in the gym, it was time to move on and experience some of the other things that Yale has to offer,” Selkirk said.
Former team member Xining He ’05, who also quit the team, cited time commitment issues as Selkirk’s reason for leaving.
“She’s been fencing for many years, and she wanted to try something new,” He said.
He quit for similar reasons: the time commitment as well as three stress fractures incurred early last season. She enjoyed competing with Selkirk, however, and said she believes that the recent string of resignations is merely coincidental.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better captain,” He said.
Meredith Hughes ’05, a current member of the sabre corps, said the former team members all left to explore their own interests.
“They all left for completely different reasons,” Hughes said. “I don’t think you can ascribe it all to one reason.”
Hughes said she does not believe the absences have impacted the squad seriously.
“It means that we have more freshmen in leadership positions,” Hughes said. “Other than that it hasn’t really affected the team.”
Another former teammate, Jennifer Joseph ’04, who is taking a leave of absence to focus on academics, said that Selkirk did an excellent job but needed some time off.
“She put her heart and soul into it and needs to try some other things,” Joseph said. “She did a really really awesome job.”
The fencing team practices five days a week from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., as well as private lessons with coach Henry Harutunian, weight and cardiovascular training, and one-on-one sessions with a teammate, He said.
In addition He stated that Harutunian altered the normal NCAA practice schedule by cutting four weeks of practice at the end of the season and tacking them on to the beginning of this one.
“[Harutunian] pulled some strings — and made the NCAA change its rules,” He said. “We can have lessons earlier, before the season officially starts.”
Sarah McDonough ’03 also left the team to explore more of what Yale has to offer, such as theater, she said. Although she loved her time with the fencing team, she was not athletically an asset, she stated.
“It was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had,” she said. “I promised myself I’d do certain things before graduation.”
The team’s first competition occurred this weekend at the Penn State Invitational. He said the coaches use this event to get an idea of the team’s skill level.
“You get an idea of how individuals will do,” she said.
Without Selkirk, Joseph, McDonough or He, the Elis might need more than one tournament to figure out how they will fill the gaps left by their upperclassmen.