Fencing builds on new talent

This past weekend, the Brewer women’s fencing team traveled to the Cleveland State University Invitational to compete against many schools. The team battled a very strong field at the tournament and went 4-2 overall. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
This past weekend, the Brewer women’s fencing team traveled to the Cleveland State University Invitational to compete against many schools. The team battled a very strong field at the tournament and went 4-2 overall. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
This past weekend, the Brewer women’s fencing team traveled to the Cleveland State University Invitational
to compete against many schools. The team battled a very strong field at the tournament and went 4-2 overall. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics

With a full roster but only one senior, the fencing team was quite uncertain coming into this season. Last year, the team had lost a lot of key players after its spring season and therefore entered this year without much experience. Head Coach Bruce Gillman wrote in an emailed statement, “This is a rebuilding year. We have a very young team, with only one senior. We have some talented freshmen who need more seasoning and some that have switched weapons to help the team and need to get more practice.”

The sole senior on the team, épée Noelle Sawyer, is also the co-captain along with junior épée Megan Lewis. In an emailed statement, Sawyer wrote, “Considering the number of people we began the season with who had never fenced before, I would say that the season is going very well. The further we get into the season, the better it seems we are doing. On January 18th, for example, we had a match at Cleveland State where we beat four of the six schools. I think with continued improvement that the season looks very promising.”

Gillman agreed, writing that, “I am very happy with the direction we are moving. All of the coaches are pleased to be working with such a great group of student-athletes. I am more confident than I was last semester, but we have some tough teams to face in the weeks ahead.”

The team currently sports a 10-19 overall record, including its conference play from this past weekend in a tournament at Boston College. Heading into the weekend, Sawyer wrote, “We are very excited about conference play to see where we stand against others that we play every year.” To get ready for conference play this year, including a tournament at Cleveland State University, the team had to come back a week early from winter break to fit in its practice schedule.

Head Coach Gillman wrote that he did so in order to prepare the team for its tournament by also getting in a few days of practice before leaving. Sawyer explained, “We came back a week early this year to practice for a few days and then to travel to a match at Cleveland State, which was a grueling eight hour bus ride! The last time the team went was three years ago, so coming back early is not a regular thing. I was very proud of us for coming back early and jumping straight out of winter break mode and back into practice. We may have grumbled and complained, but we got here, worked hard, and the early days of practice really played off at our match.”

Before break on Dec. 9, the team traveled to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT and dropped five matches, four of which were against ranked teams in the nation. In its match vs. New York University, the épée team had a highlight performance, led by sophomore Rachel Messbauer who went undefeated. In foil vs. NYU, freshman Elsa Stoff also went undefeated. The Brewers then faced No. 7 ranked Harvard and No. 2 ranked Princeton, and fell to both teams. However, junior foil Anastasia Stevens had one win in épée vs. Harvard. Against Princeton, Lewis had a win in épée.

The team ended up going 4-2 vs. Cleveland State University (CSU). In the first match of the day, the Brewers beat Cleveland State 19-8, and then went on to beat opponent Detroit-Mercy 17-10. In its third match vs. Wayne State University, the team lost 16-11, but went on to beat both Case Western Reserve University and the University of Florida. However, the team lost the last match of the day vs. University of Michigan with a score of 14-3.

Sophomore Lily Elbaum went undefeated in sabre vs. host CSU, and Stoff went undefeated in foil. In addition to these wins, Sawyer and Lewis were both undefeated in épée.

According to Coach Gillman, this 2011 record is the standard to which the Vassar fencing team now holds itself. “The best team that Vassar has ever had was the Northeast Conference Championship team in 2011,” he explained. “This team has a lot of new faces. They need experience. We will have more next year and we are moving towards having a team equal to the 2011 team within the next two years. I am very excited.”

Along with junior co-captain Megan Lewis, junior Kathleen Konno is sabre squad leader and Stoff is the foil squad leader. Sawyer explained the confusion and differences between squad leaders and team captains: “Since there are three weapons (épée, foil and sabre), the team is divided into three squads, one for each weapon. During meets, the team can get separated by weapon; therefore, each squad has to have the ability to be autonomous and make decisions about who to start and when to make substitutions.” Sawyer added, “Elsa Stoff is the standout in foil, with [freshman] Claudia Carcamo not far behind. Kathleen Konno has the best sabre record right now. All of the épée women have great records—[freshman] Olivia Weiss’s is currently the best, with both Megan Lewis and Rachel Messbauer following closely.”

For those unfamiliar with fencing, Sawyer provided a breakdown of the game in an emailed statement. “Not many people know much about fencing, because it is not the most spectator friendly sport. Each weapon has its own set of rules, valid target area and style of fencing. The way that collegiate matches work is that we fence one team per round and there are several rounds per meet,” she wrote.

“Each squad has three slots to start people in, and each of our three fencers will fence each of the other teams’ three fencers. That makes nine bouts per squad, and twenty-seven bouts per round. To win the round, we need fourteen or more individuals wins across the whole team. Fencing is both an individual and team sport. Your individual bouts do not affect individual teammates, but the teams performance can be dependent on your individual bouts. It is both liberating and burdensome.”

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