Three months before the heart of the season starts, the fencing teams got an early opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

Bulldog fencers found tough competition to the south, where they competed in the 35th Garrett Penn State Open this weekend. Less than stellar overall results, along with strong performances by both freshmen and returning stars, gave the squads a picture of what to expect and what to work on in the coming months.

On the men’s side, Michael Pearce ’09 — who finished 5th in last year’s NCAA championships — led the team with a sixth-place finish in the epee, and he was joined in the top ten by rookie John Gurrieri ’10, who took eighth in the foil. Diana Schawlowski ’08 was the top finisher for the women’s team at 17th in the foil.

Men’s captain Michael Aboodi ’07 said the Penn State Open is notoriously challenging and that the fencers learned some valuable lessons. Sabre struggled compared to the other weapons, with only Bradley Broadhead ’08 (22nd place) in the top 30.

But the next match will not be until after Thanksgiving, Aboodi said, which gives the team a chance to improve and come back even stronger next time.

“We had two [fencers] in the top eight, which is great,” he said. “And it is still early in the year, so we have time to look at any kinks in the team and work things out.”

It has helped the team that it only graduated three seniors last year, including captain and saber squad member Chris Sinay ’06, Aboodi said.

“We lost two in foil, but we have two really strong recruits who are ready to help the team,” he said.

Freshmen look to be an integral part of the women’s team as well. Lidia Gocheva ’10 finished just behind Schawlowski, in 19th place in the foil, and Kristen Saetveit ’10 led the women’s epee squad with a 20th-place finish.

The women failed to advance anyone into the finals, but five made it to the third round, Tejas Srinivas ’07 said.

“It was our first competition, and the general feeling was that we were rusty,” Srinivas said.

But there were definite high points — all five freshman finished in the top 25 — that will serve as inspiration as the team prepares for next match, she said.

“It was great to see those freshmen compete so well their first time out,” Srinivas said. “And it bodes well for the remainder of the season.”

Saetveit said she hoped the freshmen would continue to develop as a group.

“I’d like to see us work together and improve over this season, over four years,” she said.

But Saetveit gave much of the credit to returning upperclassmen.

“They’ve been such a strong base of support and great leaders,” she said.

Srivinas said the open competition does not count for team results, so it was a good way to ease into regular-season play. The event served as an opportunity to discern what the team needs to work on, she said.

“We’re especially happy with Schawlowski’s [performance], and we can rally around her consistency in the coming events,” Srivinas said.

Both men and women’s fencing will face off next against NYU in New Haven Nov. 30.