At the risk of sounding corny and making those of our community better-versed in fencing cringe, I’m going to make a fencing pun: the women’s fencing team has really foiled the competition this year. Okay, not to be de-fence-ive, but what’s the point of writing an article about the success of the women’s team if I can’t take a jab at a couple fencing jokes.
In all seriousness though, the Brewers are off to a blistering start, sweeping 14 matchups to start the season.
Last year the Brewers were 21-28 and culminated their season with the best sabre squad in the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference (NEIFC). The 2018-2019 roster includes seven new faces, 13 returners and four veterans of NCAA regional competition.
Now they are set for the new season.
The women opened with the Big One at Smith College. There, the Brewers received solid contributions from two newcomers, first-years Zoe Tolbert and Rosie Parker. Tolbert, of Olympia, WA, made it to the round of eight for the foil squad. Parker, hailing from Portland, Oregon, finished eighth in her collegiate debut. Dueling sophomores Nico Dinelli—squad leader of the sabre team—and Parker advanced to the round of 32 for the sabre squad.
Two weeks later the Brewers were back at it to kick off their official season at the Vassar Invitational. Vassar dominated on home court, going undefeated in each of the tournament’s seven rounds. It was a day of strong individual performances from the upperclassmen, with seniors Sophie Blumenstock, Mirit Rutishauser and Rose Hulsey-Vincent leading the way. Blumenstock went undefeated at the Invitational, going 18-0 through six rounds. Rutishauser delivered a 19-3 record, and Hulsey-Vincent went 17-4 for the epee team.
The next week, the Brewers fenced to the second half of their 14 undefeated rounds at the Matt Lampell Invite. The women cruised through pool play before making quick work of Yeshiva (9-1), Florida (14-1) and Drew (14-10) to win the tournament and reach the 14-win mark.
Of their early success, in an emailed statement, Blumenstock was especially proud: “I feel great about the season so far! I’m so proud of all of my teammates, but especially of our first-years!” To her point, of the seven new faces on the squad, six are first-years. “We have a really young team this year, and I’m constantly impressed with their talent, kindness, and enthusiasm,” Blumenstock added.
The team’s early success has made acclimating to the group easier on the underclassmen. Sophomore Barsha Sasha is a newcomer to the team and to fencing. “Since we were undefeated for awhile, it felt good to be part of a team that was so good,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure, [and] I got to try new things.”
Fencing is a tough sport, often described as “physical chess” for its requirement of extreme technical focus and physical endurance. Each point, match and round require constant adjustments and athleticism. So, going up against elite competition can be daunting. That’s what the Brewers faced this Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Sacred Heart Traditional Multi Meet in New Jersey, where the Brewers matched up against mostly Division I teams. “The Traditions Meet is always a tough one, especially for new members on the team,” said Blumenstock. “We mainly fence it for fun and for experience.”
Despite the daunting challenge posed by Division I opponents, the Brewers fought hard throughout the meet. Vassar played Sacred Heart close, falling 11-16. Then, against NYU, the team almost pulled off an upset, ultimately losing 13-14. In that round, the epee and foil squads shined, winning their matches 8-1 and 5-4, respectively. Notably, senior Mirit Rutishauser performed well, going 3-0 against Sacred
Heart and 2-1 over NYU. In epee, senior Rose Hulsey-Vincent, Parker and fellow first-year Chloe Chinnadurai all earned 2-1 victories.
Although the streak of 14 consecutive wins to start the season came to an end on Sunday, the team remains stoically optimistic. While reflecting on the meet, Barsha admitted that the first losses of the season had felt bad. “It was a blur of lots of defeats,” she said. But her smile betrayed underlying positivity. Blumenstock, too, radiated optimism, saying, “Our team is so supportive, there were definitely some frustrating moments, but we always have a great time competing together.”
The Sacred Heart Invitational marked the last meet for a while for the women’s fencing squad, as well as for the men’s side. The teams don’t compete again until Jan. 20 when they host another invitational on campus. Once they return, the women’s team will dive into the bulk of their schedule, which includes difficult bouts with Columbia, NYU, Brown and Yale. And it’s a long season; the team will fence meets every weekend from January until the NCAA and Regionals meets in March. But Blumenstock and the rest of the Brewers are prepared, or you could say, en garde!