There’s one thing Penn men’s fencing captain Evan Prochniak won’t accept this year: B.S.
“I’m just hard on them,” Prochniak said. “They don’t like it, but I’m hard on them — no B.S.”
Eight freshmen were added to a roster of five sophomores, seven juniors and just three seniors this season.
“With the recruiting that coach [Andy] Ma did, we have a lot more depth,” assistant coach Randall LeMaster explained, citing the large roster as a significant advantage.
Yet, the team’s relative youth and large size means it has a need for leadership. That’s where Prochniak comes in.
By any standard, the senior has had a great college career. He has been an All-American three times — honorable mention as a freshman, first-team as a sophomore and second-team as a junior. He’s also been first-team All-Ivy every season. And this year as captain, he’ll fill the shoes of former captain Zane Grodman.
“The biggest thing [Prochniak] did last year was the leadership role he took on the team,” LeMaster said. “We’re glad to see a young man develop that way also — not only as a fencer, but as a mature adult.”
Sophomore Jason Chang agreed with LeMaster’s assessment.
“He’s like a leader to us,” Chang said. “We all look up to him. We respect him. We all knew he was definitely going to be a captain.
“Last year, when I was just starting, I was frustrated with the system, but he came over and really talked to me.”
Chang described Prochniak as driven to win the Ivy League title. Prochniak described himself as a tough boss to younger members of the team.
“Sometimes there’s people in here not sweating, so I’ve got to push them until they’re sweating,” he said. “Everybody at Harvard is training hard, everybody at Princeton is training hard. If they’re in here not training hard, I’ve got to push them. Not gently, though.”
LeMaster sees Prochniak almost as a fourth coach, stepping in and working with teammates if the coaches need to step away — an essential role on a 23-man roster, which has three coaches but sometimes works out in four or five separate spaces at a time.
LeMaster believes his captain’s leadership extends beyond practice, helping to bolster team morale.
“We’ve been really bringing everybody together, but we can only do so much because we only have kids for a couple hours a night,” LeMaster said. “Evan organizes team gatherings. They go to dinner together. They study together. Go up to Education Commons, you’ll see Evan and everybody studying. So there’s a real camaraderie.”
Three weeks ago at the Garret Open at Penn State, Prochniak and several other teammates got off to a strong start. Prochniak placed fourth in sabre. Junior Michael Mills finished ahead of him, winning the weapon outright and in the process becoming the first Penn sabre fencer in history to win the highly competitive tournament. Prochniak, however, said he is less concerned about individual achievement.
“With the individual stuff — that’s all secondary. We’ve got to win Ivies first. Everybody wants it. I want it. It’s my last year.”
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