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After winning first place at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals in the epee event, sophomore Justin Yoo has big plans for this weekend's NCAA Championships.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

On Thursday, March 23rd, senior sabre Dana Kong will begin her last fencing tournament as a Quaker. And, as she approaches her last time on the strip, she will get to make her debut on the collegiate fencing’s biggest stage.

“I tried to give whatever I had left [at Mid-Atlantic regionals] because I’m a senior,” the veteran said. “Like it might’ve been the last time I ever fenced, so I was just gonna try my best and it worked out.”

Kong is one of 11 fencers who will represent the Red and Blue at the 2017 NCAA Fencing Championships in Indianapolis. Penn fencing will send the most fencers to the annual national championships in the program’s history, with the maximum number of fencers a team can send being 12.

The men qualified six fencers out of the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament, securing two births from each weapon class. Sophomore Justin Yoo highlighted the Quakers’ performance with his second straight regional epee title. Junior Zsombor Garzo secured a spot with a ninth-place finish in epee. Freshman foil Willie Upbin secured his first NCAA trip with a bronze medal finish, joining junior foil John Vaiani. In the sabre class, sophomore Julian Merchant and freshman Adam Green secured their first NCAA berths.

The women will send five fencers to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, led by sabre regional champion freshman Sara Papp, joining Kong as the other women’s sabre representative for the Red and Blue. Freshman Danielle Ferdon recorded the other podium finish at NCAA regionals, with a second-place finish in foil. Joining Ferdon on the foil team is another freshman, Nicole Vaiani, who recorded a top-five finish. Senior epee Alejandra Trumble will also close out her Penn career at her second NCAA championships.

For Kong, reaching the NCAA Championships has been a long-awaited expectation finally fulfilled. Last season, she was eliminated in the fourth round of pool play at the Mid-Atlantic tournament, finishing 13th and just missing the final round of regional play by one position. In her sophomore year, where she earned the best winning percentage among the sabre squad, she also failed to reach the final round after initially earning the fourth seed for the regional event.

“I was always in position to qualify [for NCAAs], but I have always just choked at this one tournament,” Kong said. “It’s been disappointing every year, so this year was really exciting.”

The excitement for Kong almost never came to fruition — during the regional competition, a scoring error had placed Kong with an additional loss in a bout she had actually won. The senior’s reluctance to report the issue to officials almost cost the All-Ivy selection her first NCAA berth.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, because I thought I already didn’t qualify,” the Princeton native said. “I actually had given up, because I had lost four [bouts] in a row at one point. But I pointed it out and they changed it, and I qualified, so it was pretty crazy.”

If you ask the senior, the tight margins in women’s sabre have helped her as a fencer. This season especially, there has been little room to be comfortable. With strong freshman teammates in Papp and Victoria Zhang, who was edged out by the senior at regionals, veterans like Kong and Arabella Uhry have been adamant that it is important to remain sharp in order to be given competitive strip time that was once guaranteed. As Kong closes out her career, it is only fitting that her teammates pushed her to reach the level she needed to finally grab an NCAA spot.

As for life after graduation? The Wharton grad will still be in the Philly area, doing public finance investment banking for PNC Bank.

But for now, it’s off to Indiana for Dana Kong, and one final hurrah before she hangs up her uniform.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Dana Kong's name on two occasions. The DP regrets the error. 

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