The Yale men’s and women’s fencing teams concluded their seasons with a joint ninth-place finish at the NCAA championships, their best finish in 16 years, to cap off successful campaigns.
On March 11, members of both teams travelled to Brandeis University to compete in the Northeast Regionals, where the Elis faced many of their regular-season opponents. In contrast to the team-based competitions during the regular season, the regional competition scored fencers individually, with the top finishers advancing to the NCAA championships.
“It’s definitely a different feeling competing mainly for yourself instead of for the school,” foilist Cameron Allen ’21, who competed at both regionals and nationals, said. “But we all did extremely well, and we fenced our best as individuals knowing that we all still came together and supported each other as a team.”
At regionals, foilist Anna Zhou ’20 claimed the best result of the day for the Yale women, placing fourth out of a 46-person field. Fellow foilists Camille Pham ’21 and Jenny Zhao ’19 also advanced to the top of the field, finishing in ninth and 10th place, respectively. Women’s captain and saberist Ilana Kamber ’18, who has represented Yale at regionals for the past four years, led the women’s saber effort with an eighth-place finish. She was followed closely by saberists Mary Barnett ’21, who finished ninth, and fellow first-year saberist Lauren Kim ’21, who finished 14th. From the epee squad, Lucy Friedmann ’19 secured a 10th-place finish, while Michelle Nam ’20 placed 13th.
On the men’s side, epeeist Isaac Shelanski ’20 scored the Bulldogs’ best finish of the day, placing third out of 41 fencers. Shelanski was joined at the top of the competition by teammates and epeeists Jonathan Xu ’19 and Malcolm Miller ’20, who placed 10th and 16th, respectively. Adding to these impressive victories was Allen, who finished fifth overall in the foil division. From the saber squad, Walter Musgrave ’19 fenced his way up to 13th place at the competition.
Shelanski noted that Northeast Regionals is one of the toughest of the season due to its unconventional individual format. As individual competitors, all fencers must face off against all the other fencers in their pool, with top finishers in each round advancing to the next one. By the end of the tournament, top fencers would have fenced dozens of bouts for many hours on end.
“[Regionals] is definitely one of the hardest competitions of the year,” Shelanski said. “There are no breaks, so it hits you really hard and really fast. Last year, I was definitely overwhelmed by the format of the competition … I think it’s one that you have to experience a couple of times to get used to.”
Two weeks later, eight Elis travelled to Penn State for the NCAA championships, which took place from March 22-25. The Bulldogs sent three men and five women to the competition, and the team secured a spectacular ninth-place finish — a significant improvement on last year’s 12th-place finish and the best result Yale has had since placing sixth in 2002.
In his second-ever appearance at the national championships, Shelanski led the Bulldogs once again with an impressive third place finish against the country’s best epeeists. That result makes the sophomore the first Yale fencer to progress to the semifinals since 2011. In that semifinal match, he narrowly fell 15–13 to Sean White of St. John’s, who was the eventual silver medalist. By the end of the competition, Shelanski had fenced 23 bouts and had won 16 of them. Also representing the Yale men were Allen and Xu, who finished the competition with crucial victories that helped put the Elis to ninth place overall.
“I’m not surprised by [Shelanksi’s] performance,” said foilist Daniel Flesch ’19 in an apparent allusion to Lebron James’ comments on the departure of former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving. “I tried to do whatever I could to help him out and so he could be the best player he could be … As I said throughout last season, at some point when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him.”
Nam, who was the only Yale fencer in the women’s epee category, secured the top finish for the women’s team by placing 14th. Epeeists Zhou and Zhao contributed crucial wins to the team effort, placing 16th and 23th, respectively. From the saber squad, Kamber concluded her college fencing career by winning nine bouts — including one against the eventual bronze medalist — and finishing in 17th place overall. Barnett also represented the women’s saber team with a 20th place finish at her first-ever NCAA championships.
At the 2002 NCAA championships, Yale tied for sixth place with Stanford University. Yale saberist Sada Jacobson ’06 claimed the individual championship that year, and she later won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Amber Hu | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, March 27: A previous version of this article said that Yale has not sent a fencer to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament since 2002. In fact, the fencer who most recently achieved that feat did so in 2011.