One down, two to go.
Penn fencing battled at the first of three United States Fencing Association North American Cup competitions this past weekend in Kansas City, Mo. The North American Cup is four-day individual competition from Friday to Monday and is open to all amateur fencers that are 19 years old or younger.
The event is one of the several national fencing competitions that help individual fencers secure a spot on the USA National Junior (19U) and Cadet (17U) teams for fencing. To qualify, athletes must compete in both national and international competitions that are deemed as qualifying tournaments.
Depending on their performance at these competitions, fencers accumulate a number of points that determines their national rankings. The nation’s top four fencers of each weapon — the sabre, epee and foil — are chosen to represent the United States in fencing in the Olympics; however, only the first three can fence individually.
“It’s not a collegiate meet,” coach Andy Ma said. “You volunteer to go compete to [try to] make the U.S. National Team — something that is very difficult to do.”
Ma believes that this competition is an opportunity for skilled fencers to showcase their talents beyond the collegiate scope.
“It’s a test that [pushes] them to the next level,” Ma said. “But it’s also a good warm up to the season.”
Five duelers from Penn’s men’s team made the trek down to Kansas City to represent the Red and Blue, while the women’s team did not send any individuals. This marked the beginning of a series of large commitments that each of these Quakers have to make in their pursuit a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Despite lacking in numbers, Penn brought along skilled fencers from its epee and foil squad to the competition, including sophomores Jake Raynis and Harry McGuire, as well as freshmen Aaron Ahn, Raymond Chen and Justin Yoo.
Raynis and Yoo were former members of epee squad on the Cadet National Team. Yoo was also a member of the Junior Team and is currently ranked as the top epee fencer in the nation.
“Both have very good potential this year to make the Junior Team,” Ma said. “They are very strong fencers. They train hard and practice fencing every day.
“The men on the foil squad are also working very hard to make the Junior Team this year.”
Both freshmen foils — Ahn and Chen — have been on the Cadet Team in previous years and hope to continue to represent their country. And although the North American Cup is an individual competition and fencing is an individual sport, there is no doubt about the team’s camaraderie.
“The kids practice together. The kids eat dinner together. The kids do so many things together,” Ma said. “Everyone feels like a family member and the team has a really good chemistry.”
The individual finishes at this first round in the NAC speak to the quality of Penn's fencing squad. By the end of the four-day competition, Penn secured five slots in the top 25, as Raynis and Chen each finished third in junior men’s epee and junior men’s foil, respectively.
With such results, Ma believes there is promise in the year to come. In addition to Olympic dreams, the fencing team as a whole is simultaneously preparing itself for the rest of its collegiate season.
“For the next practices, we will focus largely on individual [development],” Ma said. “We will also focus on strengthening our bodies through physical conditioning. But it’s important we don’t tire ourselves out. If we do, [we] cannot compete well.
The Quakers will be battling again this upcoming weekend at the Elite Invitational, which will occur in Philadelphia.
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