Competition foiled by undefeated VC fencing

Junior Eric Lee prepares for match during the Matt Lampell Hudson River Invitational. With undefeated record, the fencing team next competes in Sacred Heart Multi-Meet on Dec. 4. Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

Vassar men’s fencing has started the season incredibly strong, beating all 14 opponents handily.

12th-year Head Coach Bruce Gillman attributes their success thus far to the equal balance between the three weapons: foil, sabre and epee. Gillman stated, “Last year’s team was strong in epee and sabre, but we were missing strength and depth in foil. All three squads now have five starter quality fencers. We are a tougher, more complete and talented team.”

Concurring with Coach Gillman’s statement on balance, junior Eric Lee said, “The major difference this year seems to be a more cohesive team that can split the burden of winning bouts more evenly. With more skills in each squad, there’s less pressure on each individual person and more leeway for mistakes. It really lets everyone fence the best they can and worry less.”

The team did not lose any starters in epee or foil but Coach Gillman noted that the addition of freshmen Noe Berger, Jack Holmes, Aaron Choi, Roman Guglielmo and Nicholas Williams added necessary strength and depth for both squads.

As for sabre, the team will miss Elam Coalson and Zach Wilson, who graduated as members of the class of 2016. However, Coach Gillman remarked, “[freshman] Graeme Mills, [freshman] Ethan Levine, [senior] Campbell Woods and Eric Lee have stepped up to fill their roles and support last year’s Fencer of the Year [junior] Eli Polston on that squad.”

With regard to the team goals this season, Coach Gillman explained, “I think that they [the team] can finish first in the NEIFC [New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference Championships] this year. We had a few people close to qualifying for NCAA Championships. I would like to see someone qualify.”

Believing that these goals are attainable, Lee stated, “It seems like we have a really solid chance of winning our conference this year. We managed to finish third last year and we’ve only improved since then.”

The team looks to captains Woods and junior Tom Racek in order to lead them towards their goals of winning the NEIFC this year and sending individual fencers to the NCAA championships.

Both Lee and Berger believe that the captains have done an exceptional job leading the team so far.

“The captains this year have really stepped up to lead the team in more conditioning and more focused practices. They have all really worked hard to make sure we all stay focused and have the resources we need to keep improving,” said Lee.

Berger reiterated this as he stated, “Our captains have been excellent leaders so far. Tom Racek from the foil squad has done a particularly great job of looking out for everyone on the team and sending somewhat odd motivational emails.”

The season started on Nov. 5 as the team traveled to Smith College in Southhampton, MA to compete in its first tournament. The Brewers competed in “The Big One,” an annual fencing tournament held by the NEIFC that serves as a precursor for the conference Championships held in February. Being an individual tournament, the results of the day are not factored into the team’s overall record thus far. Nevertheless, VC had a strong showing in all three weapons and freshman highlighted the day.

In foil, four Brewers placed in the top 15. Taking fifth place, Berger ended the day as Vassar’s highest finisher. Berger was followed by Racek in ninth, Holmes in 10th and sophomore Michael Skolnick in 15th. Berger, Holmes and Racek went undefeated in pool action with perfect 5-0 records.

Vassar also had four finishers in the top 15 in the epee category. Junior Jonathan Alperstein shared Vassar’s highest honor of fifth place with Berger. Junior Daniel Swerzenski, seniors Ry Farley and Jackson Dammann came in 11th, 13th and 15th, respectively.

For the sabre squad, Levine and Mills were Vassar’s top performers as they came in 14th and 16th place. Three other teammates placed in the top 25 as well.

Next up, the Brewers fired on all fronts in the annual Vassar Invitational on Sunday, Nov. 13. Vassar defeated all eight opponents they faced in Walker Field House.

The day started with a big win over the Maccabees of Yeshiva College. Vassar outscored Yeshiva 20-7 as seven Brewers won both of their matches. To lead the team, the sabre squad beat the Maccabees with an unscathed record of 9-0.

After this victory, Vassar went on to defeat Hunter College 21-6 as foilists Skolnick, Choi and Racek went 9-0 together to steer the team to another win.

Arguably, the Brewers’ biggest win at the Vassar Invitational was their 17-10 defeat over Stevens College. Coach Gillman explained that this was the team’s first win over Stevens in several years so the entire team was elated with this accomplishment.

Following their match against Stevens, the Brewers competed in their closest match of the day against Haverford College. Even in this close match, VC did not falter and claimed a 16- 11 victory over the Fords. The foil squad pulled Vassar through this match as they won seven of their nine matches, led by Homes, who went 3-0. Fellow freshman Mills helped by going 3-0 in sabre as well.

Vassar defeated Lafayette in round five with a convincing 20-7 victory, followed by the team’s biggest win of the day against the Black Knights of West Point. Vassar won a whopping 25 matches while West Point only earned two. The Brewers then closed the day with wins over the University of Incarnate Word and Drew University and scores of 19-8 and 21-6 respectively.

Reflecting on his first-ever team fencing tournament, Berger said, “College fencing has been quite a new experience for me. I’ve actually never been on a team before, having only represented a club in local-, regional- and national-level individual events. The main thing to get used to is fencing a long day of short bouts.” He compared it to his past experience as he continued, “In the individual format, there is a direct elimination table of 15-touch bouts, but in college it’s five-touches all day, and we fence up to eight schools in one meet, substituting from about six fencers per squad.”

As a freshman, Berger’s long days of fencing are just beginning. For the next few months, every weekend will be filled with many hours of fencing for Berger and the rest of the squad.

The very next weekend, Nov. 20, the Brewer’s remained in Poughkeepsie as they hosted the Matt Lampell Hudson River Invitational. In the invitational, Vassar picked up its seventh straight win and celebrated its four seniors Clayton Marr, Farley, Dammann and Woods prior to the matches.

Vassar defeated all of their opponents of the day, earning a 6-0 record for the invitational and improving to 14-0 overall. The Brewers picked up wins against RPI (25-2), Drew (24-3), Vassar B (24-3), RIT A (22-5), the University of Florida (20-7) and RIT B (23-4).

The foil team was arguably most impressive as they won a combined 51 bouts over the course of the whole day, only losing three. Racek went 16-2, Holmes went 17-1 and Berger had a perfect day, winning all 18 of his matches. Alperstein also had a perfect day winning 15 matches at epee and three at sabre.

Alperstein along with his teammates helped the epee team to a 44-10 record and the sabre team to 43-11.

For the structure of this invitational, the Brewers had to split into team A and team B. While Vassar A placed first in the meet, Vassar B finished at third. Lee, a sabre fencer helped Vassar B to the high finish by winning a team-leading 13 matches on the day.

Berger reflects on the young season and believes that the Brewers are prepared to face any challenge thrown at them. His positivity stems from the exceptional leadership of Coach Gillman, the coaching staff and the captains as well as unparalleled work ethic. Berger explained, “My favorite thing about Vassar fencing so far is how motivated everyone is to improve. Practice ends at 7:15, but there are usually still a number of people fencing much later.”

In agreement, Gillman remarked, “It is fun to work with this talented and dedicated group of athletes and I can’t wait to see what happens as the season goes on. All are willing to learn and learn quickly.”

The Brewers will next face their biggest test of the season as they travel to Fairfield, CT on Dec. 4 to compete against NYU, Sacred Heart, Princeton, Penn State, Harvard and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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