BEWARE: Objects on Penn fencing’s preseason schedule are more hectic than they appear.
“Coming into college we’re not used to this being a seasonal sport,” senior Alejandra Trumble said. “In high school, fencing’s basically done year-round, so coming back after summer can be…weird.”
This weekend, the Quakers' preseason preparation continues as they travel to University Park to compete in the 44th annual Garret Penn State Open. The event is an individual competition, where individual fencers will compete in numerous rounds of pool play.
For most of coach Andy Ma’s team, the Penn State Open marks the first competitive event after a week of practice. Last weekend Penn sent two competitors to compete in the November edition of the North American Cup. Freshman Adam Green and sophomore Julian Merchant finished 21st and 32nd respectively in men’s sabre.
But for the rest of the Red and Blue, the upcoming weekend marks the second and final preseason competition of the calendar year. After posting strong showings as the hosts of the Elite Invitational, Penn will now head to its last event before winter break.
Trumble, the women's epee captain, spoke to how the team responded to the results of the first preseason event.
“The first [tournament] is sort of like a shock to the system,” the Massachusetts native said. “A lot of people were more motivated this week and needed the week to recover and get back on training schedules.”
Freshman sabre Connor Mills echoed his teammate’s thoughts, noting how different high school fencing is from than the collegiate version.
“College fencing is a lot more intense than I thought it was going to be,” Mills said. “I have to get used to the momentum and the rhythm of the tournament. Hopefully I can be ready right off the bat.”
While Mills and other new Quakers are beginning to adjust to the team format of collegiate fencing, this weekend marks a return to the format used outside of NCAA competitions. The tournament will involve pool play of individual fencers, not teams. Bouts will be decided by fifteen touch bouts, as opposed to the shorter five point bouts that will be seen in the regular season.
For Ma, the Penn State Open provides opportunity for experience for his team, despite the differing format.
“There will be a lot of bouting,” the reigning Ivy League Men’s Fencing Coach of the Year said. “We meet different people from different schools. Basically, just test everything. It’s a totally different format so you cannot win or lose.”
Even in her senior year, Trumble uses the Penn State Open to hone pre-tournament nerves.
“Calming my nerves for the rest of the season is good,” she said. “[This tournament] is sort of no-stakes, so you don’t have to be too worried about it, and you’re able to fence people you’re going to be fencing throughout the year.”
While the tournament will mark the close of fencing’s fall semester stretch, winter break will require fencers to reach peak physical condition for the beginning of the regular season. For Ma, most of this conditioning will start at home.
“Our winter camp starts six days before school [re]starts,” Ma said. “During winter break, kids go back to their club, to train with their own coaches. They make sure they are in good shape, and come [back] physically ready.”
For Mills and Trumble, this means maintaining their peak physical form while refining their technical skills so they can hit the ground running when the new semester arrives.
But before focusing on the new year, the Red and Blue must first shift focus to a more pressing object on their schedule, which will provide crucial preparation for a hectic series of events.
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