A rebuilding young men’s fencing team will have a chance to showcase its youthful vigor at the Penn State Open Nov. 22-23.

The Elis have only one returning senior — second team All-Ivy selection in sabre Byron Igoe ’04. To succeed this season, the Elis will have to develop the abilities of their 14 freshmen.

“It’s a rebuilding year,” team captain and epee fencer James Rohrbach ’05 said. “We have a lot of freshmen who need experience at the college level.”

In preparation for the meet, the Bulldogs have been practicing five days a week since the second week of school, focusing particularly on improving the skill levels and conditioning of the freshmen.

“We’ve been practicing really hard this year, and have been working out with the varsity trainers, and hopefully that will lead to a better team,” epee fencer Michael Rucker ’07 said.

Head coach Henry Harutunian emphasizes, however, that he expects improvement from everyone.

“We want to bring our players at one level to the next level,” he said. “We want the best performance possible from everyone.”

Ninety percent of the NCAA Division I schools that have fencing programs will be competing at the Penn State Open, Harutunian said. Each fencer will be randomly assigned to a pool of opponents. Competition takes place on a one-on-one basis within the same pool. Roughly 80 percent of the fencers with the best records will move to the next pool. The process then repeats for two to three rounds until only 16 fencers remain. Those 16 fencers will then compete in direct elimination in a tournament-style bracket, with the champion being the last man standing.

Rohrbach believes that the Elis’ youth will be an advantage.

“The team has a lot of energy because [it’s] so young,” Rohrbach said. “They’re a good group of guys.”

The Penn State Open does not count towards Yale’s team record. For Harutunian and his team, however, the competition gives them a chance to test their abilities.

“It will give us a really good indication of what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Rohrbach said.

For a team still looking to improve, a strong showing at the Penn State Open will provide the Elis with further motivation for the New York University meet scheduled to take place the week following Thanksgiving Break. Success this weekend will also set a positive tone for the start of the Ivy League season, which begins in January.

All of the returning starters are expected to play key roles, including Igoe, Rohrbach, and junior foil fencer Cory Werk ’06. The freshmen class — anchored by foil fencer Michael Aboodi ’07, epee fencer John Beski ’07 and saber fencer Chris Peterson ’07 — are expected to contribute significantly in the upcoming season.

Despite the Bulldog’s relative inexperience, neither Harutunian nor Rohrbach expect anything less than excellence.

“We’re still expecting to field a strong team,” Rohrbach said.

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