FENCING: Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Yale fencing fights on
Some Eli fencers, like Allan Ding ’24 and Sydney Hirsch ’24, are currently taking fall-term leaves of absence, but fencers both at Yale and enrolled remotely continue working to keep their swords sharp.
More than seven months after the cancellation of the NCAA Division I National Fencing Championships, Yale’s fencing teams continue training this fall to maintain their status as two of the highest-ranked squads in the country.
Last spring, seven Eli fencers were scheduled to compete in the NCAA Fencing Championships in Detroit that were ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the cancellation, both Yale teams had successful seasons under the then-new leadership of head coach Haibin Wang, who is now entering his second year at the helm of the program. The men’s team finished last year ranked 11th in the country, while the women’s squad placed 10th in the CollegeFencing360.com Coaches Poll, which is used for NCAA rankings.
“We [are] still supporting our team members who have stayed at home during the fall semester,” Wang said. “We keep in touch with them regularly and encourage them to keep fencing training at [their] local own fencing clubs. We are looking forward to [welcoming] them back in the spring.”
Wang previously served as the assistant coach — as a volunteer since 2014, and then in a full-time role since 2016 — under Henry Harutunian, who led the Bulldog fencing teams for 49 years before his contract was ultimately not renewed by the University in 2019.
Before Yale Athletics reverted back to Phase 0 earlier this week, Wang said his teams were practicing five times a week for two hours at a time, focusing on mostly strength and conditioning training and footwork. This year, all five first years elected to come to campus and join the rest of the team.
Meanwhile, some Eli fencers, including Allan Ding ’24 and Sydney Hirsch ’24, are currently taking time off from their studies but have continued practicing in their local clubs to keep their swords sharp. The fencing team regularly holds Zoom meetings to connect with athletes who have decided to take time off from school, Ding said.
“I decided to take the semester off because I felt that I had a lot more to gain by postponing my enrollment until the spring,” Ding said. “As someone who is not yet set on a concentration, I am looking to enroll in courses that spark my interest to pursue a career in that respective field. So, without the in-person course that makes learning for me engaging, I decided to take some time off and explore some topics on my own.”
Ding had a very successful campaign in his first season fencing for the Blue and White. He narrowly missed the cut for the NCAA Championships after his 18th place finish in the Northeast Regional Tournament. But perhaps his most memorable moment yet as a Bulldog was his clutch performance at the Penn Invitational, where Ding broke the tie in the final match to win 14–13 against perennial powerhouse Penn State.
Hirsch also had a successful first year as a member of the women’s fencing team. Her most notable achievement came in the NCAA Northeast Regionals, hosted on March 8, where she placed first for the saber division. Hirsch won 18 of her 23 bouts in four rounds of cuts in a competitive field — en route to her gold-medal finish and a qualifying spot in the NCAA Championship. Teammate Emme Zhou ’23 also posted a great showing, finishing second in the foil category.
“NCAA regionals was incredible,” Hirsch said. “[It’s] crazy that everything was shut down within two weeks after.”
Hirsch was the best-performing Bulldog for the women’s team in the tournament. On the men’s side, Safi Haider ’22 also qualified for the NCAA Championships after finishing second in the epee division of the tournament. Haider was the only Bulldog to make it to the final round and won 16 of his 23 bouts.
While there have been no official announcements regarding the status of spring-semester competition, Wang said he is looking forward to hopefully competing in the Ivy League and NCAA Championships next year.
Penn State will host the 2021 NCAA Fencing Championships, which are currently scheduled to begin March 25.
Eugenio Garza García | eugenio.garzagarcía@yale.edu