On Saturday, the men’s and women’s fencing teams will travel to compete at the 44th annual Garret Penn State Open.
Last year, foil Sarah Pak ’19 and saber Walter Musgrave ’19 posted the top Eli results of the competition, finishing second and fifth in the women’s and men’s brackets, respectively. This season’s tournament comes just a few weeks after a tight competition at Penn, with the women’s team going 3–3 against six opponents and the men’s team finishing 2–3.
“Penn State is an individual tournament so there is no team strategy,” head coach Henry Harutunian said. “Every fencer is different and strategies are all tailor-made to each particular athlete, especially at a tournament like this.”
The women started their season with an upset against Northwestern at Penn, defeating the Wildcats for the first time in over a decade.
In the other matches of the day, the women lunged at the competition, besting Johns Hopkins and New Jersey Institute of Technology while falling to University of North Carolina, Notre Dame and Temple.
Despite losing four seniors from last year’s squad, the Bulldogs roster remains strong, and the team gained four freshmen — two epees, Michelle Li ’20 and Michelle Nam ’20, foil/saber Sam Wood ’20 and foilist Anna Zhou ’20 — and returning senior Katherine Miller ’17, who took time off to train for the Rio Olympics.
After an exciting beginning, saber Joey Lew ’17 has high hopes for the season, stressing that this is the strongest team she has seen in recent years.
“In terms of expectations we can expect some strong results this year” Lew said. “[We owe this] to strong freshmen and assistant coaches who are just working really hard.”
The Penn State tournament will give the women a chance to face off individually with a new set of foes. The Eli women will compete against fencers from Notre Dame, Ohio State and host Penn State, among others.
The men’s team got off to a rocky start to the season in Philadelphia on Nov. 5, winning against UNC and Johns Hopkins and falling to NJIT, Notre Dame and OSU at the Penn Invitational. However, the team will look to improve its record at Penn State this weekend when it faces a series of opponents in individual matches.
Foil Daniel Flesch ’19 was one of five members on the team to place in the top 20 at last year’s Garret Open tournament. In preparing for this competition, he is looking to shock the other teams with some creative moves.
“The most exciting thing you can do is some bafflement against those guys,” Flesch said. “We’re working on elements of conditioning and technique. Hopefully that will translate into better performance.”
The team is joined by a new crew of four freshmen and one sophomore: foils Aiden Ahn ’20 and Lance Chantiles-Wertz ’19, saber Justin Jin ’20 and epees Malcolm Miller ’20 and Isaac Shelanski ’20.
According to saber Reed Srere ’17, the freshmen have already contributed to the roster, and he has high expectations for them.
“It’s great to see how the freshmen adjust to the NCAA style of fencing,” Srere said. “Generally you’re facing a higher level of opponent.”
However, the team lost six seniors to graduation in May, which Srere described as a blow to morale. He hopes that the loss will be a double-edged sword, allowing underclassmen to shine in their place.
While two new assistant coaches also joined the program — Galya Pundik and Haibin Wang — both Bulldog teams are led by a 46-year veteran, Harutunian.
“We lost some good fencers, but our freshmen are strong,” Harutunian said. “I think they will do a good job of filling the gaps from graduating seniors.”
Looking ahead, both teams have three tournaments in addition to the Penn State Open before their most important competition: the Ivy League championship in February. The team will face the other six varsity squads in the league on Feb. 11, 2017, as they come back to Penn.