The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Freshman foil Nicole Vaiani joins her brother John, a junior foil, Ivy League champ and all-American, on Penn's fencing team this year, where the siblings form a formidable duo.

Credit: Arabella Uhry , Arabella Uhry

When Nicole Vaiani first started learning how to fence, she would beat her older brother all the time. Now, with that experience behind her, she begins her career on Penn fencing.

And that older brother? He just so happens to be an Ivy League champion and an All-American.

“We were the best two people at our club,” junior foil John Vaiani said. “We didn’t really have anyone else to fence, anyone else to train [with].”

John’s junior year is marked by a significant new edition to the Red and Blue: his sister is now on campus with him, starting her freshman year. While the siblings are in different schools (John is enrolled in the College, while Nicole is in Wharton), they will see a lot of each other where they usually meet up — on the fencing strip.

Both siblings compete in the foil weapon class, which immediately opens them up to comparison. But for John and Nicole, the competition is more than welcome.

“Every time we fence each other, we’re always so competitive and want to beat each other,” Nicole said. “We just love to beat each other. It just makes the whole thing more fun when you have someone on the team that you can be very competitive with them, and they won’t take it to heart.”

It would seem that as siblings, there are similarities that help make the Vaiani siblings the elite fencers they are. For John, a similar mentality goes along nicely with any physical abilities he shares with his sister.

“We’re both very motivated people, we’re both type-A people,” the All-American said. “I think having each other by each other’s side just pushes the other person to train harder.”

For Nicole, it is easy to find motivation in her brother’s esteemed freshman season. In 2014-15, John managed a third-place finish at the NCAAs and an Ivy League men’s foil championship. Along the way, he recorded a squad-leading 45 wins and a .763 winning percentage.

That must be intimidating, right? That is, unless you ask Nicole, who has set similarly lofty goals for her own freshman season.

“I definitely want to make NCAAs, it’s a huge goal of mine. I definitely want to place; that’s what [John] did,” the Wharton student said. “He definitely had his best season his freshman year. It was so inspirational because no one was expecting it, and I know that if he can do it as a freshman, I can as well.”

At first glance, those goals would seem difficult for an incoming freshman. But most incoming freshman recruits don’t have a fan club of Nicole’s caliber.

“He always seems to know how to calm me down, and he knows who I am,” the younger Vaiani said. “He’s seen me on the strip multiple times, and coached me at all my tournaments, so he really knows how to help me when I’m in that frantic stage.”

Nicole’s arrival will also be a boost for John, who is coming off a spring and summer riddled by illness. Even Ivy champions can use a slice of home.

“I have been fencing my sister my whole life, really,” the junior said. “We went to the same fencing club back in Jersey. We were at the same competitions, we’d always have each other’s back, coach each other. Now that she’s here, it’s sort of like old times.”

With 18 wins at the season opening Elite Invitational, “old times” are suiting the Vaiani siblings quite nicely. So, while it may be a new venue, this sibling act is poised for a strong collegiate encore.