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Following a pedestrian 3-3 showing in pool play of the Garrett Open tournament, sophomore fencer Raphael von Hoffelen turned it around in the elimination stage to take first place in the sabre category for Penn's lone individual title of the day.

Credit: Arabella Uhry

If the NCAA fencing world wasn’t already on high alert for the Quakers, it has now been put on notice after an impressive performance at the Garret Penn State Open.

The Open, like the November North American Cup last week, is an individual event, but unlike with the NAC, Penn brought the whole gang this time.

With fencers competing in each division, Red and Blue names were all over the leaderboards.

“We have an extremely young and strong team right now, and it showed this weekend,” sophomore sabre Raphael Van Hoffelen said.

The weekend success started early with the Penn women who competed on Saturday. In epee, they were led by senior Alejandra Trumble, who finished third overall in a field of the best college fencers in the nation.

In foil, the Penn women placed three of the top-10 finishers, with freshmen Nicole Vaiani and Danielle Ferdon taking third and seventh respectively, while sophomore Naomi Popkin finished eighth.

The highest women’s finish of the day came from freshman Victoria Zhang, who took home second place in the sabre division. Joining Zhang in the top-10 was fellow freshman Sara Papp, who took ninth.

Success did not stop after Saturday, as the men matched their female counterparts with an equally impressive Sunday. Just as with the women, the Penn men — led by a Vaiani — dominated the foil division. Nicole’s brother, junior John Vaiani, finished second overall and was joined by three teammates in the top-10, as sophomore Raymond Chen finished third, freshman Alexandre Amice took sixth, and sophomore Aaron Ahn grabbed tenth.

In epee, Penn was led by junior Zsombor Garzo who finished eighth overall, extending the streak of having a Penn fencer in the top-10 of each division.

The streak was never in doubt with the Penn sabre fencers who took the floor for the last competition of the weekend. Here, Penn dominated, as freshman Adam Green finished third, sophomore Julian Merchant finished eighth, and sophomore Raphael Van Hoffelen capped off the day with a first place finish so stunning that it even surprised him.

“Last year, at the same competition, I got eliminated after pool play, so this year, my goal was just to qualify for the direct elimination rounds,” Van Hoffelen said. “So I was just happy after I qualified, but then I figured now that I’m here, I should do the best I can, and I just ended up winning.”

The Penn fencers did a lot of winning this weekend, attributing their success to the chemistry and supportive environment they’ve sought to foster all year.

“The team spirit and bonding is great right now,” coach Andy Ma said. “The girls and boys all support each other. It’s great to see how close they are, and it’s definitely having a positive effect on their fencing. ”

“We’re all super close friends, and we all train together,” Van Hoffelen added. “It’s a great atmosphere.”

The fruits of such an atmosphere were on full display this weekend at Penn State where nationally competitive teams like Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Ohio State were reacquainted with the Quakers’ abilities, reminding them how strong this Penn fencing program is.

“Our performance this weekend shows the other teams that we’re still here,” Van Hoffelen said. “It shows them that last year was not a fluke.”