The core of No. 6 Penn men’s fencing can be traced back to a childhood bond formed across the country nearly a decade ago. Jake Raynis and Justin Yoo, both epee fencers from California, have been instrumental in Penn’s success both this year and last. Imagining this team without either of these two seems odd, but it was almost a reality.
Raynis and Yoo met when they were 12 and 11 years old, respectively, and from that point on did basically all of their fencing together. Though their high school team was not highly competitive, they also fenced for the same club team throughout high school, strengthening their friendship even further.
As the older of the two, Raynis was the first to pick a school. His older brother was also a collegiate fencer; his brother, however, fenced at rival Harvard. Jake chose not to join his brother, instead coming to Penn and helping to raise the program to a new level.
“I knew a lot of people on the Penn team,” he explained, “and they all had really good things to say about the program.”
Landing Raynis was crucial for Penn’s program, not only because he is a highly skilled fencer, but also because his ties to Yoo made it much more likely that he would also choose Penn.
“I would say some part of my decision to fence at Penn was Jake,” Yoo said. “Jake being here gave me a sense of comfort before I even started.”
The importance of recruiting Yoo to Penn went beyond just friendship for Raynis.
“Justin is the best fencer for his age category by a mile,” Raynis said. “I knew that getting him would be great for the team.”
Since the two have been on the team together, the results have been excellent. Last year the duo helped Penn achieve its first ever No. 1 ranking and its first Ivy title since 2009. Raynis went 35-20 in dual matches last season, while Yoo finished at 46-16.
Both hope that last year’s success will carry into this year as well. Now with a year under his belt, Yoo can more accurately project the success the team is capable of this year.
“Winning NCAAs [where men’s and women’s teams are scored together] is a reach, because the women’s fencing side [nationwide] is very strong,” last year’s second team All-American explained, “but winning the Ivies and finishing the season in first is our main goal.”
With the childhood friends fencing at this high of a level, the Quakers have reason to be excited for the rest of the season. Though it may have seemed unlikely at a point that Penn would even get one of the two Californians, the two have become the backbone of a team with aspirations to be the best the Quakers have ever had.