Penn men’s and women’s fencing are returning a slew of Ivy champions, NCAA qualifiers and many key fencers from last year’s men’s Ivy title.
But their biggest strength might just be standing on the sideline.
Head coach Andy Ma has had an illustrious career in the world of fencing and enters his seventh year as the head coach of both the men’s and women’s programs. His strength as a coach earned him the Ivy League men’s fencing Coach of the Year last season.
Ma was able to lead the men’s team to its most successful season in recent memory last year. The team captured its first Ivy League Championship since 2009, several individuals earned All-American honors, and the team rose to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. Ma was recognized by his peers in the Ancient Eight with the Ivy Coach of the Year award.
Ma’s relationship with his fencers is a big reason for the success he’s found as a coach. By being supportive and positive with his team, Ma creates an environment conducive to success, something that his fencers pick up on.
“I think what makes him a really great coach is that we can always trust him,” Garzo said. “He always moves everything in order to help the team, help us individually. It doesn’t matter if it’s your personal life, or fencing, or academics, he will find a way to help you. I think it builds a common trust that’s very important.”
Ma’s strengths as a coach are not just limited to his work with the fencers on the team. The assistants working under him also reap the benefits of working in his system, which allows them to flex their individual creative muscles.
“He’s here all the time, he’s really willing to bend over backwards for any of us whenever we need anything,” assistant coach Adi Nott said. “I feel super supported, he really listens to exactly what you’re thinking, and really puts in a lot of thought and consideration. As an assistant coach whenever I have an idea he’s just like, ‘Yeah that sounds great, let’s do it, let’s try it,’ so he’s really supportive in that way.”
“I think one of coach Ma’s strengths is that he lets the weapons coaches sort of do their own things,” senior epee captain Alejandra Trumble added. ”[He] picks them and trusts them, and really allows them to do what they’re best at.”
Much of the team’s success last season came from its freshmen, as then-freshmen epees Justin Yoo and Zsombor Garzo were among some of the team’s most consistent competitors throughout the year. Every year, but last year especially, Ma works hard to make sure that the freshman get integrated quickly on the team.
“The freshman always struggle the first semester because of academics and the team,” Ma said. “So we have team captains, we have coaches, so we always encourage and educate them. The seniors and juniors help them do team bonding, so hopefully quickly they can get used to the college level.”
“I think what he does is that he developed a system,” Garzo added. “When you get into our program, we have the captains, who help a lot. And he knows how to train the captains in order to help the new ones to fit in to the team.”
With the season just getting under way, Penn fencing is facing a year of much potential. One thing is for certain and that is steady support and encouragement from Andy Ma.