Courtesy of Yale Athletics

After finishing the 2021-22 season with a top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships, Marat Israelian has been promoted to head coach of Yale’s varsity fencing teams. 

Two-time NCAA epee champion Israelian held the position of interim coach for seven months before it was announced that he was promoted to the position full-time through a Yale Athletics press release. Israelian first interacted with the Yale fencing squads in 2018 and joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach in 2019. After the abrupt dismissal of head coach Haibin Wang in 2021, Israelian was named interim head coach a month before the fencing team began competition. Israelian is now the third head of the fencing program in four years. 

“I basically [hunkered] down and just tried to focus on what I have to do, and tried to not mess this up,” Israelian said. “I try to do the best I can to … promote the team because there’s a lot of things I had to learn right away. I started two weeks before the season started so everything was new to me. It was important for me [that the] team did not feel like they did not have my support, or I did not know what I was doing or if they were … in limbo with regards to leadership.”

Israelian — a 2005 European Championship finalist — graduated from St. John’s University in 2013 where he had won the NCAA epee championship in 2010 and 2011. After graduation, he coached youth teams in New England and was named New Jersey High School Coach of the Year.

Ahead of the 2018 Ivy League Round Robins, Israelian was asked by epeeists at Yale for assistance and volunteered for the Bulldogs as a strip coach.

“It was actually circumstantial,” Israelian said. “The team itself reached out. The epee squad knew who I was, knew I was working around the area. They reached out personally because they needed help specifically in that competition, but generally, they needed help with the epee squad.”

Israelian would return in 2019 as an assistant coach and help the team in a season where Yale placed ninth at the 2019 national championships. After the surprise termination of Henry Harutunian in April of 2019 and the sudden 2021 dismissal of Wang, Israelian was named interim head coach.

In the Blue and White’s return to the NCAA Championships in 2022, they placed ninth again. This result is on par with the team’s 2019 finish, tied for the second-best result the Elis have achieved in the last 15 national championships they competed in.

Zhou, who was strip coached by assistant coach Sean McClain, described how Israelian “really helped [her] through the toughest matches” at this year’s national championships. The All-American also noted Israelian’s passion and investment in the team’s well-being since her first interactions with him five years ago. 

“It was truly so difficult for our team to continue to perform at a consistent high level that we have been these past couple of years due to all of the coach switches,” Zhou said. “I am excited that Coach Israelian is no longer in the interim position because we can now finally set long-term goals and [start] preparing earlier and more efficiently.”

Israelian describes Zhou’s All-American title as a career highlight while also noting the consistency of the women’s foil squad. Other top moments included the qualification of seven Bulldogs for nationals and 10 Yalies — seven women and three men — for the All-Regionals distinction. 

Despite the historic team finish, Israelian noted several difficulties during his first season at the helm, with the team having to tackle travel logistics, the pandemic and Israelian himself wrangling with the unfamiliarity with the responsibilities of the position. However, he cited the support of many within Yale Athletics as meaningful, noting that Deputy Athletic Director Ann-Marie Guglieri and Yale Athletics Fencing Supervisor Megan Lupini consistently helped with his transition into the role. The University admissions office, accounting office and other members outside of the coaching department were also sources of understanding and patience.

“I am thrilled that Marat will be leading our fencing programs as our next head coach,” Athletics Director Vicky Chun wrote in a statement to the News. “His proven leadership and commitment to the student-athlete experience has and will continue to take Yale fencing to the highest level of excellence.”

Ahead of recruitment season, Israelian traveled to numerous youth competitions to represent the Yale fencing program and anticipates further developing the recruitment process during his tenure. Despite uncertainties on whether he would continue in the role prior to his promotion, he advocated for the Blue and White’s program to ensure it would continue recruiting strong fencers.

Moving forward, Israelian aims for improved results.

“We should strive for much more,” Israelian said. “We’re trying to be the best so even if we’re better than we’ve been before, if we were 20th and now we’re 10th, we’re still not there.”

The fencing season finished the weekend of March 20 at the 2022 NCAA Championships in South Bend, Indiana. 

Hamera Shabbir covers golf and fencing for the Sports desk and the School of the Environment for the Science and Technology desk. Originally from California's Central Valley, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Environmental Studies.