With only non-conference tournaments under their belt thus far, Penn’s men and women fencing teams will look to use winter break as one of the final tune-ups before the rigors of the conference season begin.
Even in limited action, both teams have looked very impressive up to this point. At the Garrett Open, hosted by perennial powerhouse Penn State, the men's team had four top-three finishers in their respective events, including two-time first team All-Ivy and All-American junior foil John Vaiani. On the women’s side, freshman Nicole Vaiani, John’s younger sister, placed third in foil while fellow freshman saber Victoria Zhang had the strongest performance of the day, finishing second.
“This season both the men’s and the women’s team have practiced and worked consistently,” coach Andy Ma said. “We are in great shape at this time.”
With so much success to build on, it is important that the fencers remain active and fit over winter break.
"[During winter break] we encourage all our kids to go to their local club where they used to fence,” Ma said. “Continue to fence, go to the gym to stay in shape.”
This is especially crucial because when the Quakers come back from break, they will go through a grueling six-day winter camp to prepare for the all-important stretch of league play.
In addition to staying in shape on their own, 18 fencers will be competing in the North American Cup in Columbus, Ohio. Unlike most tournaments the fencing program partakes in, this tournament is not an intercollegiate tournament. The competition is open to any member of the United States Fencing Association (USFA) in good standing.
As a result, the fencers at the NAC will be competing individually instead of as a team. But while Penn's fencers will be on their own in the score sheet, the competition will serve as a crucial tune-up for the team's dual meet season.
Representing Penn’s men's team at the tournament is a mixture of veterans and promising newcomers. Vaiani heads Penn's foils, along with sophomore Raymond Chen and exciting freshman Willie Upbin. Epee is headlined by Olympic hopeful and reigning second-team NCAA All-American Justin Yoo along with juniors Jake Raynis and Zsombor Garzo. Finally, reigning second team All-Ivy Julian Merchant carries the torch for saber.
“These are definitely our top guys,” Ma said.
As for the women’s team, a strong freshman presence with a mix of upperclassman leadership headline the participants for Penn. Foil is led by diaper dandy freshmen Vaiani and Danielle Ferdon. Both need to parlay their strong play from the Garrett Open to Columbus in order to perform at a high level against a very competitive field. In saber, freshmen will continue to show out for the Quakers as Victoria Zhang will headline the event.
The veteran presence comes from epee as senior and reigning Ivy League champion Alejandra Trumble and sophomore Katherine Sizov lead the fray for the Quakers.
Winter break for the fencing program is the vital stretch that sets the tone for the rest of the season. With Coach Ma not around to push the players everyday in practice, it is up to each man and woman to stay motivated individually and take Coach Ma’s winter break requests to heart. It remains to be seen whether the break will stifle or catapult the fencing program to new heights this season.