Fencing is a sport that often goes overlooked, and while many Vassar students may only think of fencers as the group of people that hang out prodding each other with swords in the Walker Bays while donning white body suits and face masks, there truly is a lot more to it than meets the eye. What many students are unaware of is that the Vassar men’s and women’s fencing teams are composed of fencers that are passionate about their sport and who all have different and very interesting backstories regarding how they were drawn to the sport in the first place. Some of the Brewers have been fencing for as long as nine years, and one might consider them an expert or a veteran at their sport. The same might be said of head coach Bruce Gillman who began fencing in 1982 at University of Rochester shortly after discovering his interest at the school’s activities fair. Many of the Gillman’s players even chose fencing over a more traditional sport.
For some athletes, the fencing journey began long before Vassar. Senior captain Amreen Bhasin explained how she got into the sport, “I started fencing in middle school, but didn’t start taking it seriously until around 11th grade. I actually was a recruited Vassar field hockey athlete, but Bruce Gillman emailed me, and I was having a really great time on my high school team, so I figured why not? It was fun and engaging both physically and mentally so I chose to continue. This year I ended up being one of Vassar’s women’s captain’s and actually didn’t play field hockey, which I’d never have expected!”
Some of the other Brewers had their interests peaked through various forms of inspiration such as sophomore Tom Racek. “I actually became involved in fencing for the first time when I was six years old. I saw the movie Zorro, and after watching that film, I told my Mom that I wanted to fence,” he said.
While people may not be as familiar with fencing as most other collegiate sports, freshman Rose Hulsey-Vincent explained that what fencers love about fencing isn’t really all that different from what most athletes love about their own respective sports. Just like any other sport, one is able to form a uniquely intimate yet temporary relationship with your opponent as well as experience the tunnel-vision that comes with competition. “Whenever I start fencing I can only focus on the quality of my actions and my opponent’s responses, I can’t let myself think about homework or stress. I love the analytic nature of the sport, too, and it’s taught me a great deal about problem-solving and approaching challenges in a variety of ways,” explained Hulsey-Vincent.
Most people think of fencing as an individual sport, so the team must work even harder to function as a cohesive unit. Racek explained what is necessary to make the sport a more team-oriented one, “We practice like a team. We have group warm-ups, group footwork, and group lessons. The collective image of seeing everyone doing the same exercises and drills helps to break down the mentality of it being an individual sport. Outside of practice we are all very social. It seems like every weekend we are doing something with teammates. We are all very present in each others lives.”
Hulsey-Vincent, however, does not see fencing as an individual sport at all. Instead, she sees fencing as extremely interactive, “A coach once told me that fencing is a dance. There is a lot of exchange between opponents, for instance, there is usually an ongoing struggle between fencers to take control of the distance in which the bout is fenced or the tempo of the footwork actions. I think this leads to a great deal of learning about the people you are fencing. When we fence, there’s always a teammate or two watching and cheering us on or giving us advice. Nothing builds friendships like facing challenges together!”
With such experienced teams, the men and women have had a successful season thus far. The Brewers competed in the second and final round of the Northeast Fencing Conference Meet this past weekend. The women’s team placed sixth overall. Bhasin spoke more on the tournament, “The NFC is a great conference to be a part of because of its competitiveness. We fence some really talented teams and go toe to toe with tons of NCAA qualifiers and strong competitors. Both the men and women were hoping to go undefeated this weekend. The men pulled it off and finished third in the conference, which was amazing! For the women, we started off a bit slow and fell in our first round against Sacred Heart. After Sacred Heart (our first round) the women didn’t drop a single match so we ended up 5-1.”
The men, who came in third, are ready for more competition as they gear up to take on both NYU and Columbia University this Wednesday. According to freshman Michael Skolnick, “The team is looking really good right now. We beat Sacred Heart and almost beat Brown and Brandeis.” Racek echoed these sentiments, “People are coming together and working well together, both during practice and outside of practice. It (NFCs) was the last conference meet of the season where we compete as a team. Our team goal was to go undefeated and clinch third place. When we did so we were pretty ecstatic, we all had been working incredibly hard and the final result was some nice assurance on our abilities.”
The women will also compete against NYU and Columbia this Wednesday and will continue their competition into the weekend on Saturday, where they will compete in the Eastern Women’s Fencing Championships (EWFC) in New York, N.Y. against six different teams.