When the average layman first hears about the sport of fencing, I would bet that most would conjure up their favorite scene from Star Wars. They’d daydream in streaks of red, green and blue slashing across the screen, as Luke Skywalker and the evil Darth Vader battle it out. Sophomore epee Rosie Parker initially thought the same thing. “I started fencing when I was six years old since I thought it would be like Star Wars and I wanted to be a Jedi,” recalled Parker. “I quickly found out it’s nothing like Star Wars, but I fell in love with the intensity and strategy that goes into each bout.”
Parker and the Vassar fencing team hosted the Vassar invitational this past weekend, winning in dominant fashion, as the men’s team posted a 7-1 match record while the women won six of seven, only falling to Drew University. After traveling to the Big One Invitational last weekend in Northampton, Massachusetts, the team very much welcomed defending their home (planet). “The most exciting part of hosting an invitational is not having to wake up before 5 a.m. to drive to another school,” joked Parker. For many student-athletes, this added prep time certainly makes a difference. Playing where you practice also bodes well for the players. As junior sabre Nico Dinelli further explained, “There is something to be said about competing in the same place where one practices. I always feel more grounded and focused at home matches; the familiarity of the environment—everything from the texture of the floor to the brightness of the lighting—definitely helps soothe competition nerves.”
The squad’s success at last weekend’s invitational builds on the team’s prior victories, including those at the Big One, where the women’s and men’s teams posted two top-10 finishers each in both epee and foil. The contrast of the individual achievements highlighted in the Big One and the overall team win in the Vassar Invitational showcases one of the interesting dynamics of fencing: the constant dichotomy between playing for your team and playing for yourself. Similar to track and field, swimming and squash, fencers compete independently, but their scores contribute to the overall team score. At the same time, individual members can advance to further competitions while their team does not, undoubtedly causing some fencers to set individual goals beyond just helping their team.
For fencing, individualization is heightened further by the three different swords used: epee, sabre and foil. Vassar’s team contains fencers in all three groups, splintering the team further. However, team cohesion and support still very much exists within the Vassar squad and across swords. “When you are fencing, it’s just you and your opponent on the strip, and in this sense it’s individual. When fencing on a team, however, your teammates are also there, on the side of the strip, ready to shout words of encouragement and give you pointers, water or whatever it is that you need,” clarified Dinelli. A supportive environment surely plays an integral role in the success of all who dawn the white armor for Vassar, as Dinelli continued, “I wouldn’t love collegiate fencing as much as I do if it were not a team sport. The team aspect allows for a support system that just doesn’t exist at other levels where every fencer is for themselves.” Still, eventually competing against your teammates in tournament brackets is not a lot of fun. Junior foil Adlai Brandt-Ogman added, “[Teammates are] the people you rely on. That’s why it becomes sad whenever you have to compete with them during the Big One, NCAA regionals and non-college tournaments.”
Despite some of the difficulties the differences in weapon might bring to the team dynamic, sword speciality is a prideful component of fencing. Each person seems to have a story behind why they picked their chosen sword, adding a personalized touch to a fencer’s story. For Parker, she originally began with foil, but switched to epee after needing a change of pace. “Because there is no right of way, meaning if two people hit at the same time then both people get points, there is a lot more room for developing a unique and personal style of fencing in epee,” detailed Parker. Brandt-Ogman first chose the sport of fencing after his parents encouraged him since he enjoyed swords when he was younger. He now specializes in foil, but at one point tried saber, until it got in the way of his foil career. Dinelli started fencing after watching her brother partake in the sport, and was initially content with just watching. But, in search of someone to practice with, her brother asked Dinelli to try it, and now she credits him with the start of her fencing career: “Because of him, I begrudgingly agreed to pick up a saber, and I haven’t wanted to put it down since.”
Dinelli and her close-knit teammates will next pick up their swords this Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Matt Lampell Hudson River Invite, concluding a back-to-back home stand. If you are available, you can make a trip down to Walker Field House to witness the squad for yourself, even if it is just to live out your own real-life Star Wars fantasy. Just remember to picture Vassar as the ones wielding the green lightsabers.