The anticipation is hidden under a current of nonchalance in Levy Pavilion, where masks and weapons are scattered haphazardly on the floor next to makeshift fencing strips – products of the renovation of Hutchinson Gym.
This year, Penn will send nine fencers – six men and three women – to the NCAA Fencing Championships in San Antonio, Texas on Thursday, which will be broadcast on ESPN3.
“I’m excited,” freshman Ayyub Ibrahim, who qualified in epee, said. “[But] I don’t want to let anything affect me too much …[My goal is] to just not let the competition get to my head and just do my best.”
Coach Andy Ma, though, is a little more cautious about training in the same manner as the previous weeks.
“For the last six weeks, every weekend we had a meet, so we’re not going to do any intensive training [now],” he said. “We’re just keeping polished.”
Ma is trying to avoid a reoccurence of the injury bug that has already struck the Quakers once this year, as injuries among the women’s sabre fencers prevented the squad from qualifying this year.
“Overall, we had nine kids qualify,” Ma said. “It was a good season, even though we had a lot of injuries because they postponed the Ivies for three weeks.”
The Ivy League Round-Robins have particular importance for fencing because qualification for the Championships is based on both performance at the NCAA Regionals as well as a strength factor, which is determined over an earlier part of the season.
With matchups against top-five programs like Princeton and Columbia postponed due to weather, the Quakers couldn’t have those matches count towards their strength factor, which comprises 40 percent of the ultimate decision.
The Quakers have had a lot of individual success in their four years under Ma, sending at least eight fencers to NCAAs each season.
Ma attributes the team’s success to its teamwork and communication.
“I think that it’s teamwork, discipline, hard work, and communication with the kids,” he said. “Because we have around 40 kids that come from, I would say, 15, 20 different clubs. At each club, the coaches have a different philosophy so we first have to make sure that we communicate with the kids.
“We talk to them before the season; after the season, we get feedback from them so we can make sure that everyone is on the same page. I think that’s most important. So we work as a team, not as individuals, because the clubs, they [have them] work as individuals, that’s individual sports. Here, it’s a team.”
The NCAAs, though, are an individual competition. Each of Penn’s fencers – with the exception of sophomore foil fencer Luona Wang – will face a teammate in their first bout.
“That’s the worst part of the tournament – fencing your teammate,” senior sabre fencer Evan Prochniak said. “But once that’s out of the way, then it’s just [a] normal tournament.”
And with a normal tournament comes individual goals.
“This whole year I lost to Princeton a lot so [I’m looking forward to facing] the Princeton guys,” Ibrahim said. “Also, Ohio State because they did very well last year. It’d be fun to fence with people who did well last year.”
In the end, though, it’s clear that teamwork unites the fencing program.
“The communication is much better than before,” Ma said with satisfaction. “The kids really unified to work as one team. We set up a team goal – one team, one goal, you know, one family.”
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