Already looking for ways to clinch spots at the distant March championships, the Yale men’s and women’s fencing teams will launch their season this Saturday at the Penn State Garret Open.
Last year, the Bulldogs opened their season with a bang, sweeping the 2017 Brandeis Invitational with straight wins for the women and only a single loss for the men against the NCAA 8th ranked St. John’s. The Elis also placed admirably in the 2018 NCAA championships, the men climbing to ninth and the women falling close by in 10th. Despite these impressive results, the Yale fencing program remains an understated presence on campus.
“It’s a real sport,” said Nicholas del Vecchio ’22. “We practice every day and lift twice a week.”
Fencing comes in three different forms, which use different kinds of swords — the epee, foil and saber — and follow different rules. In an interview with the news, Joy Ma ’22 explained the unique characteristics of each sword, noting the differences in range and technique between the weapons. While foilists and saberists must limit their range to the torso and above the waist, respectively, epeeists have more freedom of movement and can aim anywhere on the opponent’s body. Sabers also allow users to score points by hitting with any part of the sword, whereas foilists and epeeists must strike opponents with the point of the blade to make any headway.
Ma added that the type of sword depends on personal preference, though fencers often start with the foil because it provides “the best foundation, technically and footwork-wise.”
The women’s team fought fiercely last year, with its numerous wins tempered by scarce losses. While they faced defeat against bitter Ivy League rivals Harvard and Princeton, the Elis battled to the very end, losing to the Crimson at last February’s Ivy League Round-Robins by only a single point. On that same day, the Bulldogs cut down Brown and Cornell by 21 and 11 points, respectively.
“One of the top goals is to win Ivies this year and we really think we have a chance, what with this really great mix of people,” Grace Baghdadi ’22 said. “Another main goal is to qualify for the NCAA and beat Harvard.”
Sarah Pak ’19, who was elected as captain at the end of last year, will lead her team after establishing her position as a master swordswoman. As a first-year, she earned second place at the 2015 Garret Open, and in the Ivy League Round- Robins, Pak jumped from 11th in her first year to ninth in her sophomore year and sixth last year. The 2019 Round-Robins, held in New Haven in February, will determine if Pak will continue on her upward trajectory.
The men’s team looks forward to a successful 2018-2019 campaign as well.
Last year, the men’s team began its season with an impressive 7–1 record, including a dominant 18–9 win against Brown. However, as the season progressed, the Bulldogs ran into difficulty against Ivy League opponents like Harvard and Penn, both of whom finished the season ranked among the top five teams in the nation. The Elis finished the season with a 10–6 record and a fourth place finish in the Ivy League.
Still, the Bulldogs see immense potential in this year’s team, especially in the new fencers.
“The team this year is the most talented and driven group we have had in recent memory, with an outstanding class of first years,” said Isaac Shelanski ’20, the men’s fencing captain who finished third at the NCAA Championships last spring. “Ivy League Championships are at Yale this year, and we’re not going to let anybody come in here and beat us in our house. We have the talent to win Ivies and break into the top 10 in the country, now it’s on us to turn that talent into performance.”
However, new fencers hold ambitions far beyond the Ivy League. The Yale men’s team last won a national championship in 1994, and the women’s team hasn’t claimed a national victory since 1985. Despite intense competition in the collegiate world, the Bulldogs remain optimistic about their chances on the national stage.
“Beyond this year, we’re looking towards a national championship, which definitely wasn’t feasible in the past,” Safi Haider ’22 said. “But it looks like Yale Fencing is improving to the point where we can try to go for that.”
Yale’s fencing program first began in 1894.
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