A representative from both the Yale men’s and women’s fencing teams competed on one of the sport’s largest stages last weekend — the 2015 Junior Olympics in Richmond.
Avery Vella ’18, member of the Yale épée squad and a New Jersey native, competed in the under-20 épée tournament, where he finished 126th out of 246 fencers. Meanwhile, Lillie Lainoff ’17, who hails from Washington D.C. and is a member of the sabre squad, took part in the junior women’s sabre event, finishing 74th out of 138 fencers.
Vella qualified to participate in this year’s competition by being listed on USA Fencing’s point standings, the result of a few particularly good performances in the North American Cups over the course of the last year. Lainoff auto-qualified for the event by being nationally ranked.
Lainoff, who is currently ranked 72nd in Juniors but will soon age out of the competition category, explained that this year’s event revealed the growing popularity of the sport in the United States.
“Every year more and more fencers compete at national events, which is probably because fencing has gained exposure from recent success at the Olympics,” Lainoff said. “There were so many people in my event that they had to stagger when we started the pool rounds because the convention center didn’t have enough fencing strips.”
In the initial round of competition, Lainoff went 3–3 and nearly overcame a three-point deficit in her bout against Columbia starter Danya Hu. Lainoff finished off the pool round with a 5–0 victory before continuing on in the tournament to the direct elimination round in which she was defeated early. Lainoff was happy with how she fenced, although she acknowledged that she struggled to maintain her mental focus going from the pool round to direct elimination due to significant time gaps between bouts.
Lainoff has been an integral part of the Bulldog’s team since her freshman season last year, finishing in 10th place in the saber event at the 2014 NCAA Northeast Regional competition and helping the sabre squad to a fourth-place finish last year at the U.S. Collegiate Squad Championships.
Meanwhile, Vella took on the competition with a broken foot, having just gotten off crutches two weeks prior. On Saturday during the first round, Vella competed amongst a pool of six other fencers and finished the day with a record of 2–4. The next day, despite being ranked 193rd and struggling with his injury, Vella managed to upset the 63rd ranked fencer, winning 15–12. In his next bout, Avery fell to the eventual champion Anton Piskovatskov 15–8.
Vella noted that as an individual competition, the Junior Olympics has a very different atmosphere relative to traditional team matches.
“It’s a really fun,” Vella said. “It’s an individual event so you’re on your own a lot and especially compared to school competitions where the entire team is excited and yelling about every bout, it’s very relaxed.”
Vella noted that his injury forced him to adjust his fencing style considerably so that he could essentially stay in the same place while competing. He also acknowledged that had he not dropped a few easy bouts in the first round, he would likely have had a much easier route through direct elimination.
Fellow épée squad member Derek Soled ’16 noted that Vella has already demonstrated considerable skill in his first year fencing for the Bulldogs.
“Even though he is a freshmen … he has taken our team to new heights this year,” Soled said. “Because he is our youngest member, we are very excited to see all that he becomes in his remaining time at Yale.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams will compete at the U.S. Collegiate Squad Championships in Princeton this Sunday.