The Vassar men’s and women’s fencing teams have experienced great highs as well as great lows this season, and numerous individual highlights reflect this. Each team had a record telling of their efforts, 11-15 for the men and 10-18 for the women as the Brewers fought on despite losing several key seniors from last year. This year’s team is full of new and up-and-coming fencers, whom this season’s seniors hope will carry the team back into a winning record as the men have experienced five of the last six seasons and as the women have six out of the last six seasons.
Coach Bruce Gillman could not help but praise their efforts this year. “The 2012-13 season has been okay, considering the class that we had graduate last year,” he commented. “Team spirit has been great and our captains have done a great job helping to bring along the new fencers both in practice and in competition.”
Senior Caitlin Clevenger also felt the impact of the absence of last year’s seniors. “We have a lot of new fencers on the team who are getting their first shot at competition, which I hope means we’ll have a really strong base for the team in two years or so, but for this season we’ve really felt the loss of a few key seniors in every squad,” she noted. “So we haven’t been quite as able to put up good numbers against the teams where the score is usually pretty close, but we were able to beat last year: Tufts, BC, Brandeis.”
In the space left by former teammates, this year’s seniors took center stage, with impressive performances across the board. On the men’s team, senior Tavish Pegram leads the epee squad with a 23-14 record, while senior Alex Vastola leads foil with a record of 22-28 and junior John Arden dominates sabre with a record 31-21 wins. On the women’s team, senior Katie LeClair leads the foil squad with a 38-21 record, while senior Caitlin Clevenger heads epee with a record of 38-20, and senior Tracy Bratt is the lead in sabre with a 22-35 record.
Under their leadership, the Brewers went to Brandeis University this past weekend for the 2013 New England (NEIFC) Championships. Prior to the match, both the players and the coach were hopeful but cautiously pessimistic towards winning overall.
Clevenger broke down the structure of the event, explaining how truly difficult it is for a team to sweep the event. “One of the unique things about this tournament is that it has a structure we don’t see at any other time during the season,” she wrote in and emailed statement. “Each person on a squad (three people in a specific weapon) normally fences all three members of an opposing squad. At NEIFCs, each person is classified A, B or C, and only fences the other As, Bs or Cs on the other teams (So I, as a squad leader, will be fencing in the A bracket and will only be fencing against other squad leaders).”
“We advance in the tournament individually based on how we perform in that initial competition,” she continued, “and our team ranking is essentially just a composite of our individual results. The difference, then, is that everybody needs to be fencing at the top of their game if the team is going to do well–at a normal meet, one person has the luxury of an ‘off-day’ because their teammates can pick up the slack–we can get a squad and team win even if one person goes 0- 3. At NEIFCs, if you perform poorly in a round, you’ll be knocked out of the tournament and that has a tangible effect on the team’s standing.”
In addition to this difficulty, injuries and illness kept seniors Jillian Josimovich and Tavish Pegram on the sidelines for part of the season. In spite of this, VC was able to walk away from this weekend with one individual championship. LeClair, for the second year in a row, won the individual NEIFC Championship in Foil. Clevenger placed third in individual epee, and led her squad composed of herself, sophomore Megan Lewis, junior Noelle Sawyer and freshman Rachel Messbauer to a third place squad finish. Messbauer also demonstrated her abilities as she made the individual semifinals and finished in seventh.
For the men, Arden did well, as expected, and finished fourth as an individual. His squad composed of himself, freshman Zach Wilson, junior Kenny Lee and junior Gio Zaccheo placed fifth. Wilson also pushed on to the semifinals and placed eighth. The foil squad composed of junior Matt Steinschneider, senior Alex Vastola and sophomore Tre Artis finished third as a squad, while Steinschneider placed 10th individually. The men’s three-weapon team also impressed with a fifth place finish. Overall, the Brewers were valiant in their efforts.
Senior Tavish Pegram clarified the team’s goals for the rest of the season. “Ideally we would win the rest of our matches in the league (including beating arch-rival Sacred Heard; but they are very strong this year so that may be a bit out of reach),” he noted. “More importantly, we want to qualify as many people as possible for NCAAs from Regionals in two weeks.”
This season’s seniors have been crucial to the team’s successes, but with their graduation looming, the future of the team once again is in the hands of the underclassmen and incoming freshmen who have yet to arrive. Pegram provided clear goals for the years to come: “Our hopes for future seasons are pretty simple: to continue to strengthen our squads and compete for the league title and NCAA qualification.”