Second verse, same as the first. Maybe even a little bit sweeter...
On Sunday, Penn men's fencing secured its second straight team Ivy League title at the Coach Dave Micahnik Fencing Center. In identical fashion to last year, the Quakers shared their 16th Ivy title with Ancient Eight rivals Princeton and defending NCAA champions Columbia.
At first glance, many things look the same: an identical 4-1 record on the weekend, and the same co-champions. But to these Quakers, this year’s success is even more satisfying.
“This year, we really rallied behind each other,” junior foil captain John Vaiani said. “I feel like team spirit is just stronger [this season]. Our first day was supposed to be impossible and, instead, we swept the day, which is incredible.”
Impossible. The Quakers’ weekend was to start with a bout against Brown, followed by a three-hour wait before tackling Harvard and No. 1 Columbia. In response, Penn went 3-0, highlighted by an incredible 15-12 takedown of the NCAA champions. Freshman foil Willie Upbin secured the winning touch to send the Quakers into the second day on without a loss.
Upbin’s reflection on the weekend underlines how unified the mindset of this program is.
“As a freshman, I never thought about being first team, second team, [foil] All-Ivy champion or whatever,” the Brooklyn native said. “It was always about the team, so to come out as a freshman and win bouts for my team, and clinch the win against Columbia was like, ‘wow...’”
Interestingly, not only did the same three teams share the title again, but for the second straight year, they also had the same results against one another at the Ivy League Fencing Round Robins. It’s become a game of rock-paper-scissors between them. Penn beats Columbia. Princeton beats Penn. Columbia beats Princeton. The second verse, much like the first. And while it’s unclear which is the rock, paper or scissors, the rivalry is not lost to any of its members.
“For the past three years, [Princeton’s] had our number,” Vaiani, the three-time first team All-Ivy foil, said. “We’ll just review what happened to be ready for them next year.”
"We’ll make it our mission to beat them next year, for sure,” Upbin added.
The women’s team also came home with a podium finish on Sunday, finishing in third to Princeton and Columbia. Senior epee Alejandra Trumble, freshman foils Danielle Ferdon and Nicole Vaiani, sophomore foil Simone Unwalla, and senior saber Dana Kong all earned second team All-Ivy status.
Epee Justin Yoo joined the elder Vaiani as Penn’s two All-Ivy first teamers while Upbin along with fellow freshman Connor Mills, senior saber Isaac Buchwald and junior epee Zsombor Garzo made up the men’s second All-Ivy team for Penn.
The cherry on top: The Dave Micahnik Center. The Red and Blue captured the title on the grounds named after the revered coach for Penn who retired in 2009, after leading the men to their 14th Ivy title.
“Home is always special,” head coach Andy Ma said. “We fence in that room all the time, we compete there all the time, we know [those] strips.”
The team was comfortably huddled up in the upper deck of their home arena, watching as their only conquerors fell to Columbia to solidify the three-way victory. Rock beat scissors, and paper had beaten rock, so all that was left was for scissors to conquer paper. The Quakers may not have gotten to clinch their title on the strip, but judging from the noises in the upper deck, it didn’t seem to really matter to anyone.
“We got loud,” Upbin chuckled. “We were just as excited as if we were down there, winning the bout. It was the same euphoria; we all celebrated together.”
The euphoria is sure to last, but the celebration stops tomorrow. Penn’s next task is to secure as many player qualifications for NCAA Championships as possible. The stage only gets bigger, and the teams only get tougher. But no matter what, the Red and Blue still have what was a crazy repeat.
Or maybe more like an improved second act.
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