This past weekend, the UConn fencing team competed against top-tier teams in the NEIFC Championships at Wellesley College. Across all three weapons, foil, sabre and épée, the women finished No. 13 amongst 17 qualifying programs, while the men placed No. 10 out of 14 schools.
Don’t let the placement fool you — the Huskies faced some of their toughest competition all year in this tournament. The NEIFC Championships host a variety of programs, including club teams like UConn, UMass and Northeastern, but also NCAA Division I program Sacred Heart and Division III schools such as MIT and Brandeis.
The format invoked a lot of competition, with each school sending out their top three athletes for each discipline — the A, B and C Strips. Each A Strip would fence each other, while each B would fence each other, and so forth. The top 12 fencers across all three Strips were selected to compete in an individual tournament as well, starting with a round-robin format before creating an eight-person bracket.
With a large variety of programs at Wellesley, the Huskies had just one fencer qualify for an individual tournament: Adin Jennings for men’s épée. Against five other top fencers, the sophomore finished 2-3 with an indicator of -6. Jennings and the rest of the men’s épée squad, Sam Zelin and Edward Russell, excelled amongst top competition, placing fifth in the team round. They won 64% of their matches and earned 35 more touches than they allowed.
“I’m really happy because my freshman year, when I was the A Strip… we won maybe 10 bouts in total. This year, we won 25,” explained Team President Zelin. “Last year, we had a –6 indicator and this year we had a +35 indicator, so definitely moving up.”
The Huskies held their own in other disciplines as well. The trio of Kathryn Atkinson, Sneha Kumar and Julia Luscomb put up a fight in the women’s foil team round, finishing No. 11 overall while winning 44% of their games with an indicator of -47.
“I feel that we exceeded our expectations,” said Atkinson. “We not only fenced well by our own standards, but we also held our own against some of the more rigorous NCAA teams out there. Above all, we had fun and grew as a team.”
Despite not having a third teammate, the duo of Leiyin Kuang and Rebecca Dorsey took on the women’s sabre competition. Fighting only as B and C Strips, they won 15% of their competitions with a -89 indicator.
The men’s foil squad of Xavier Braun, Philippos Nicopoulos, Yuki Askew and Joshua Liefeld put up a fight, finishing No. 11 overall in the team round. Liefeld was quickly disqualified due to a jacket deemed too small to be safe. Even with the swap, they won 31% of their battles, including clean sweeps of Rhode Island and Boston University. By the end of the day, the team’s indicator was -69.
Women’s epee found themselves in the middle of the pack, placing No. 10 in their discipline. The combination of Luisana Duarte Armendariz, Lela Romeo and Lila Scroggins combined for a 42% victory rate and an indicator of -24 overall.
The men’s sabre squad had a tough afternoon, as the trio of Nicolas Rossiter, Tre’von Francis and Christopher Pedersen combined for just one win in 39 tries, with Francis snagging the lone victory over Boston University. They finished with an indicator of -143, and hope to take this valuable experience with them and improve the rest of the season.
After competing in this year’s NEIFC Fall Invitational (known to most as “The Big One,”) UConn had plenty of things to touch up before their spring semester kicked off.
“I think one thing is that we definitely solidified teams at this point, which is good because at ‘The Big One,’ we always just take a bunch of people that want to go and then we have to solidify who’s going to be like our starting rosters,” said Zelin.
One of the biggest takeaways for Zelin was the camaraderie seen amongst teammates, even when some fencers had wrapped up for the day.
“In past years sometimes, it felt like people came [to the tournament] for themselves and then are done once they’re done [competing], said Zelin, “[This year] there was a lot of a ‘we’re in this until we’re done’ mindset, which is good.”
All-in-all, it was a day full of improvements, with the Huskies holding their own against top competition.
“We really came into this tournament down on ourselves and it wasn’t until we started fencing that we realized how much the work we put in had paid off,” said Luscomb.
The Huskies continue their season in April, when they travel to Fort Wayne, Ind. to compete in the USA Collegiate Fencing Conference Championships. This is a club-only event comprising around 40 teams, including some squads from the NEIFC Championships. For UConn, this past weekend was just the beginning.
“This isn’t the tournament we go into expecting to win,” said Zelin. “I’m really happy with the results and the fact that we all had good showings at certain times… we were very close to claiming top men’s épée club at the tournament, our women’s foil did really well too, and everybody else was holding their own. If you can hold your own against this tournament, you can definitely hold your own in April.”