Two top-ten football teams collide this Saturday when the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in primetime.
Although that lede might appear to be misplaced in a fencing article, the all-important Big Ten showdown is the reason the Elite Invitational returns to Penn for the second consecutive year instead of alternating to Ohio State.
This change in venue has been embraced wholeheartedly by the Penn fencing program, as the lack of travel affords the team more time to prepare for the intense competition of this Saturday, which includes matches against five of the top eight teams in the country.
This intensity of competition is reflective of the lofty goals coach Andy Ma has set for his team.
“Last year, the men finished eighth,” Ma said. “This year, hopefully we move up six or seven spots. Last year, we had eight men and women qualify for NCAAs. This year, I hope we have at least nine or ten.”
One of the fencers who was most responsible for last year’s success and who will be most relied upon this year is Justin Yoo. The sophomore burst on to the scene as a freshman a season ago and earned second team All-American and first team All-Ivy League honors. He was an integral part of the men’s team that won Penn’s first Ivy League fencing title since 2009, and he is hungry for more.
“I want to win Ivies again. That was great,” Yoo said. “I think it’s very possible. Our team is still young, but there’s more to come.”
Both Yoo and junior Arabella Uhry, an honorable mention All-American herself, understand the importance of a strong showing at this Saturday’s invitational, agreeing that a competitive meet such as this has great implications on the rest of the season.
“This meet will set the tone for how we’re going to fence for the rest of the season,” Uhry said.
However, as Ma asserts, this meet is equally important for its role as an introduction to college fencing for his freshmen, many of whom he expects to contribute immediately.
“We have great talent with our incoming freshmen,” Ma said. “They just need experience. This weekend is our first competition of the season. It’s more of a warmup for them.”
“This will be some fencers’ first competition, so it will be good to see how they fence,” Uhry added. “I’m sure we’ll rotate a lot to give everyone experience. I think that we’re coming in with a lot of depth this year.”
However, it is clear that this event will be more than just a warmup and that a successful showing this weekend is not only preferred but expected. Last year’s men’s Ivy title and women’s fourth place finish have instilled a winning culture throughout the program.
“Winning is a habit,” Yoo said. “So if we can get in the habit of winning this weekend, we’ll be ready to win the next tournament and the next, and it just builds from there.”
With any luck, that winning mentality will build to some Ivy League and even national titles.
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