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Preseason fencing practice in Hutchinson Gym. Credit: Andrew Gardner

Last year, Penn women’s foilist Laura Paragano fell just short of All-American status thanks to a loss to Columbia’s Abby Caparros-Janto on a questionable call in the NCAA championships.

Having attended arch-rival high schools in New Jersey, the two fencers have been pitted against each other many times over the years.

Paragano was “looking forward to claiming vengeance” when the Quakers host Brown and Columbia in the second round of Ivy Championships Sunday at Hutchinson Gymnasium.

But those plans were foiled when Caparros-Janto left the Lions before this season’s start.

Rather than a personal grudge match, the No. 10 women’s fencing team (9-4, 3-1 Ivy) will have to settle for an outside shot at the Ivy crown after winning three of its four matches last weekend.

Penn Fencing coach Andy Ma expects both the men’s and women’s teams to defeat Brown, but the Lions will pose a much bigger threat.

Injuries have kept the No. 7 men’s squad (12-3, 1-2) from fulfilling its full potential, as seniors and first team All-Ivy sabres Jonathan Berkowsky and Andrew Bielen will each miss a second consecutive week. Berkowsky has an injured knee, while Bielen sliced his hand on shattered glass last Saturday and was scheduled for surgery three days ago.

“I don’t know the inside story,” Ma said. “He must [have been] angry with something.”

In their places, freshmen foilist William Goldhirsch and epee Anthony Diepenbrock have been converted to sabre in practice, but they are not expected to enjoy tremendous success because each weapon requires a high degree of specialization.

Ma compared the difference between weapons to the difference between competing in high jump and long jump, while women’s captain and sabre Danielle Kamis channeled a Winter Olympics metaphor.

“If you can be a good skier, you can’t [necessarily] snowboard, but it’s still going down a mountain,” she explained.

The injuries leave freshman phenom Evan Prochniak, who is closing in on an Ivy first-team selection of his own, as the lone stalwart at sabre. Prochniak’s quick hand-eye coordination and tall frame helped him finish 7-2 against Harvard, Princeton and Yale last weekend.

For Kamis, home-field advantage might be an important factor. The junior suffered side effects last week from a prescription motion-sickness medication she took before the seven-hour bus ride to Ithaca.

“It said, ‘it may cause drowsiness,’” Kamis said. “It definitely affected my reaction time.”

She will need to be back at the top of her game when she faces Columbia’s Daria Schneider, who won a national championship in 2007 and who Kamis called one of the world’s top three women’s sabres.

On the men’s side, all of Columbia’s superstar foilists are either injured or competing in the World Cup, which should give the Quakers an advantage.

“On paper, [their remaining foilists] are not that strong,” sophomore foilist Zane Grodman said. “But then again, anything can happen at Ivies.”

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