“One squad to rule them all” would be an overzealous interpretation of the Penn women’s fencing team’s 15-4 season, which has been marked by contributions from all weapons.
But it would get at an essential truth about the team. Foil has been dominant over the past two years.
The No. 8 Quakers have been consistently strong, but are still working to get the entire squad into the ranks of the elite, which includes Ivy League rival Princeton. However, foil, as evidenced by its victory at the U.S. Collegiate Weapon Squad Championships this weekend, is already there.
“The women’s foil has taken a leadership role on the team,” assistant coach Randy LeMaster said, who also emphasized the hard work of sabre and epee fencers. “Both our team captains — Sarah Parmacek and Wendy Zhao — are foil fencers.”
Starting foil — which consists of sophomores Parmacek, Rachel Chin, Luona Wang and junior Zhao — has won 78% of its points this year, compared to 61% and 53% for epee and sabre, respectively. This past Sunday, the team won the National Squad Championships, officially earning it the title of ‘best foil team in the country.’
Last season, the young squad went a perfect 19-0 until the Ivy championships, where it lost two bouts.
At Squad Championships — which is usually held after Ivies — the team was given a fifth seed, but placed fourth, losing in the quarterfinals.
“Last season gave us a lot of confidence,” Wang explained.
This year, foil — facing a longer season and a few lingering injuries — lost three bouts before the Squad Championships.
“We’re a really strong squad,” Wang said.
At the tournament this weekend, the squad demonstrated its maturity and ability to fight back in the toughest of situations. Foil managed a comfortable victory over Northwestern before it faced perennial power Ohio State.
The matchup against the Buckeyes had an inauspicious beginning, with the Quakers spotting their foes a seemingly commanding lead, 12-3.
“We knew everyone on the team,” Wang said. “We fenced them before. We kind of underestimated them a little bit.”
Parmacek led the team’s comeback, bringing the Quakers within three points with a dominating 6-0 win.
Wang, who fenced last, scored two points in the last 30 seconds against Ohio State’s Mai Shaito, forcing the match into overtime. Before the extra period, she strategized, thinking of the correct move to win the game of “physical chess.”
“Throughout the match, I was doing defensive actions. I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to do a [block].’ Then, I was like, ‘No, I’m going to do something unexpected.’ When she hesitated, I did an attack,” Wang said.
“She completely finished for us,” Chin said, appreciative of her squadmate’s match-clinching efforts.
The squad is now looking to repeat its exploits at the Ivy League Round Robins this weekend.
“There’s definitely some really good teams out there,” Chin said. “Columbia will probably be our most difficult one.”
But after last weekend’s thriller, the Quakers will be ready for anything the Lions can throw at them.
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