It seems a bit ironic that the Vassar College men’s and women’s fencing teams would begin, rather than end, their seasons at The Big One, but nonetheless, the tournament proved beneficial for the squads in several ways.
The Big One was hosted this past Saturday at Smith College by the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference. Sophomore Annie Innes-Gold explained a bit about the tournament’s structure: “The Big One is an individual competition, unlike most of our meets which are team events. It’s a good opportunity to get a lot of fencing in and get a sense of who the competition is going to be for the rest of the season.”
Many teams from the area who are part of the NEIFC Championship Tournament later in the season use this as an opportunity to get a first look at one another. The Brewers liked what they saw–placing five men in the top ten of their respective weapons.
Junior Olivia Weiss said, “The Big One was the season opener. Although this event is not part of our NCAA meets, it gives the team a chance to fence most of the opponents that we will face throughout the season.”
Still the format of The Big One is unusual for VC Fencing. Innes-Gold explained, “To prep for The Big One, we practiced 15 touch bouts. Most collegiate meets are 5 touch bouts, however the format of The Big One uses direct elimination bouts, which go to 15, so we had to work on keeping energy up for the longer bouts.”
Sophomore Eli Polston added, “In addition to being 15 point bouts[,] the tournament takes a lot longer than other meets so as a team we were focusing on conditioning and being able to stay in the zone even after you are exhausted from fencing for 4 hours straight. All in all it worked out very well as we were all able to keep our energy up all throughout the day.”
The men’s epee squad was the strongest for the Brewers, who are packed with outstanding personnel. Sophomores Jonathan Alperstein and George Whiteside both went undefeated in pool competition with a 6-0, 5-0 record respectively.
Last year’s competition saw Alperstein as the victor, and this year five Vassar fencers were in line to take a shot at the title. Alperstein, Whiteside and sophomore Daniel Swerzenski all advanced to the round of 32. Whiteside cruised through a bout against Brandies and fenced another Judge in the round of eights and then another Brandeis fencer when he advanced to the semifinals.
Alperstein bested a Boston College fencer in his round of 16 and after Swerzenski got knocked off in the round of 32, was the only Brewer in the bottom of the Direct Elimination draw. Squeaking out a win over a MIT fencer, Alperstein also clinched a spot in the semifinal round.
A tough fight against a Sacred Heart member knocked Whiteside out while Alperstein fell to a Boston College fencer. The two split the third place medal for the afternoon in epee. Whiteside said, “Our men’s epee squad has been practicing very well together and we were ready for the day. Jon and I started out strong; both of us went undefeated in pools. I had an interesting bracket with three Brandeis fencers in a row. I felt like a lot of things we’ve been working on in practice came together and I was able to fence at a higher level than I was last year. I ended up losing in the semi-finals, but I was proud of my performance.”
The sabre squad also saw a successful day, placing Polston in the top three for the second year in a row. Senior captain Elam Coalson clinched an eighth place spot and Campbell Woods finished the day ninth.
Polston was undefeated in pool play and seeded No. 1 entering the direct elimination rounds. Coalson, Woods, junior Clayton Marr and junior Eric Lee all won their first round bout to advance them to the round of 32, where Woods beat his fellow Brewer Lee to gain a spot in the top 16. Marr was bumped off to end the afternoon while Polston swept into the semifinal round, including a shutout against Boston College, posting a 15-0 bout. Coalson ended up falling to Boston College and Polston finished in the semifinal round–earning him a third place finish.
But it’s not just the physical success that has made this start to the season so great for Polston. He explained, “My favorite part has been the great team unity we have had this year. We really bonded as a team last year and the freshmen are fitting in so well, it is really great to see and makes me really excited for the rest of the season.”
Whiteside seemed to be in agreement, saying, “The best part of the season so far was our team trip to Chipotle after the Big One. Our finalists were all sporting their medals and even though not everyone was happy with their performance, we were all proud of how the team did. Fencing is an individual sport, so what makes competing with a team special is the support you get on and off of the strip.”
Sophomore Tom Racek added, “[I’m so fortunate] to have the opportunity to support teammates in their successes and motivate them through their defeats. The growth process is amazing to watch, I see teammates put together their talents and become the person that they are destined to be. As fencers, as teammates, but also as leaders.”
The foil squad enjoyed the tournament as well, where Racek finished the day in seventh place after having gone undefeated in pool play and coming into direct elimination seeded ninth. Racek was the only Brewer to see the top 16 on the foil side, and lost to Sacred Heart in the next round.
On the women’s side, the epee squad shined bright last weekend. Junior Olivia Weiss made her way all the way to the semifinals and eventually finished third place for the event. She went undefeated in pool play along with freshman Rose Hulsey-Vincent.
The rookie breezed through the first round, but was then stopped by MIT. Senior Maggie Shepherd also made it through one direction elimination round before losing in the round of 32. Weiss’s performance stood out, as she had a bye through the first elimination round, and trumped fencers from Amherst, UMass and Wellesley to clinch her spot in the semifinals where she was eventually knocked out by Sacred Heart.
The foil squad saw four finishers in the top 24 including sophomore Kirsten Denman who finished ninth on the day and went undefeated in pool play, as well as freshman Sophie Blumenstock who was tied for the tenth place position. Freshman Mirit Rutishauser placed 12th with a perfect record through pools and junior Elsa Stoff finished 24th.
Rutishauser shut out a Boston University competitor 15-0 in the first round and made it through one more before falling to Darmouth. Blumenstock made it all the way to the round of 16 where she lost to Sacred Heart.
Vassar women’s sabre saw only Annie Innes- Gold in the top 16. She ended the day after posting five wins in pool play which seeded her No. 12 entering eliminations. She was eventually taken out by Boston College.
The team’s performance at The Big One certainly has set a great tone for the season. Polston said, “The season has been going very great this year, on the men’s saber team we did not graduate anyone while lots of other teams graduated most of their top fencers. This really helps as when we started practice back up we all knew each other’s fencing style and are immediately able to push each other further and further. The Big One was our first test as a team and it went really great.”
Next up for Vassar Fencing is the Vassar Invitational, which will be held on Nov. 15 in Walker Field House beginning at 10 a.m.
On their next phase of competition, Racek said, “We expect that the competition will be tough and that every team we face will bring their “A” game. Despite this, we plan to utilize the depth we have in our saber and epee squads on the men’s squads and ultimately emerge victorious in the meets. For the women’s side it will be a similar game plan except the squad depth will come from the foil and epee squads. The biggest challenge for us after these meets is that we remain hungry and driven to better ourselves. Success is a terrible teacher, and we always have to keep that in mind.”