justin_yoo

He missed Penn men's fencing's only loss to Ohio State, but returning first team All-Ivy selection and junior Justin Yoo can make a major impact if he competes this Saturday.

Photo: Lizzy Machielse

Who: Penn fencing

What: Penn State Invitational against Penn State, North Carolina, Columbia, Haverford, Duke, Yale, Temple (women only)

Where: State College, Pa.

When: All day, Jan. 13

Why it’s the Game of the Week: Penn fencing had a stellar 2016-17 season by any measure. Despite a disappointing eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Red and Blue men upset the nation’s No. 1 team Columbia, won their second straight Ivy League championship, and finished the regular season ranked fourth nationally. The women, though coming short of conference title glory, did upset Ohio State and finished the season No. 6 in the nation.

But this year’s teams have shown potential to be even better, and this weekend’s Penn State Invitational will be a prime opportunity to show that to the nation.

Returning five of their six All-Ivy selections from a season ago — the most in the entire conference — expectations were high for the Penn men entering the year, and the team hasn’t wilted under the pressure. Penn holds a 9-1 overall record, with the only loss coming to defending national runner-up Ohio State in a 15-12 decision where Penn was missing both Justin Yoo and Connor Mills. Though the women graduated All-Ivy selections Dana Kong and Alejandra Trumble, they also have gotten out to a strong start, holding an equal 9-1 record with the loss also coming to Ohio State.

But as strong as the Quakers have been, they’ll be put to the test against the stacked field at the Penn State Invitational. Four of the men’s teams and five of the women’s teams competing on Saturday finished in the top 10 last season. The field is headlined by Columbia, who ended at No. 1 for both genders despite being upset by Penn’s men, and will be especially hungry for revenge in the men’s teams’ first matchup since then.

Photo: Gillian Diebold

Both the Penn men and women are already 2-0 this year against teams they will be facing on Saturday, having each topped Penn State and North Carolina. But the Nittany Lions, whose men finished last season ranked No. 6 and women were No. 4, have the advantage of being in their home arena this time around. This helped them in last year’s edition of this tournament, when the Penn men and women both lost to Columbia and Penn State en route to third-place finishes.

With elite foes like Penn State, Columbia, and Duke on tap, Penn will have no shortage of top competition to put its elite records to the test. If this is truly the year that Penn contends for something more than an Ivy League championship, it’ll be on full display this weekend.

Our take: Based on its performances over the past few years, Penn fencing has established itself as one of the nation’s top programs, but this year’s men’s squad just might be the best yet. Columbia’s men and women are both undefeated this season, but the Lions haven’t faced any squads of the same caliber as Penn. Meanwhile, Penn State did have the Quakers’ number last season, but Penn men's team's 19-8 blowout over the Nittany Lions only five weeks ago proved that this version of the Red and Blue can hang with anyone. 

It’s unclear whether the Penn men will be at full strength with stars like Yoo and Mills competing. But if the Quakers have all of their best athletes on the floor, we think the Red and Blue men will drive home as tournament champions. As for the women, closing the gap with the Lions — who topped Penn, 18-9, at the 2017 Ivy Championships — might be a tall task, not to mention that the women have a harder field because Temple does not have a men’s team. But still, we expect the Quakers to improve on last year’s effort with a second-place finish here.

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