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Among Penn fencing's top NCAA Championship performances over the weekend was that of sophomore epee Justin Yoo, who finished second in the nation in his favored event. 

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

On Sunday, Penn fencing closed out its season at the 2017 NCAA Fencing Championships at the Indiana Farmers’ Coliseum. The Quakers came home with an eighth-place finish, scoring 107 points in the co-ed team championship tournament.

Before the start of the four-day tournament, the team had already suffered a setback. Senior captain and star epee Alejandra Trumble was forced to withdraw from the event due to illness. As a result, although Penn qualified a record 11 fencers to the NCAA tournament, only ten fencers would compete, leaving the Red and Blue without a competitor in women’s epee.

“Alejandra’s withdraw happened so late; I didn’t know until we just landed in Indianapolis,” sophomore epee Justin Yoo said, “We knew that with her not coming, it would be difficult for us to make the top four [teams] because we only had ten people, but I don’t think it stopped us in any way from performing.”

Even only scoring points in five of the six weapon classes, the Quakers were able to record another top ten finish, remaining perfect with top ten finishes in this millennium. Penn continued to boast individual success to supplement the team performances, with half of the Quakers earning All-American distinctions.

For the women, the freshman trio closed out an impressive rookie campaign as sabre Sara Papp and foils Danielle Ferdon and Nicole Vaini secured third-team distinctions. Junior John Vaiani, the elder brother of Nicole, secured another All-American distinction, marking a successful return to the NCAA Championships with a ninth-place finish after missing last year’s edition due to illness.

Yoo headlined the team’s performance with a second-place finish in the men’s epee competition. After recording an impressive 15-8 round robin tally, the sophomore qualified to the final four for the first time in his collegiate career. He defeated Princeton’s Wesley Johnson 15-6 in the semifinals to advance to the final, where he fell to the No. 1 seed Cooper Schumacher in a bout for the individual epee championship.

For Yoo, his individual performance was a bit of redemption after an underachieving performance at NCAAs in his freshman season. Like this year, Yoo came into last year’s event carrying an NCAA regional epee title and an Ivy team title. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able deliver on his own expectations, failing to finish in the top four individually, coming in at seventh after the round robins.

“I remember last year at NCAAs, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Yoo said. “I remember thinking it wasn’t my main goal, because I [was] competing at World Championships later that year, so I wasn’t hungry enough. I think that was my problem.”

But if you ask Yoo what changed between this season and the last. The answer is fairly obvious: time.

“Over time, you learn more about your sport, and I am definitely a better fencer than I was last year,” the All-American epee said. “I became more experienced, I went to more tournaments and, honestly, stuff clicked for me, it really feels like I brought myself to another level.”

This year, the sophomore Quaker will now head to Leipzig, Germany to the World Championships to compete against the world’s best epeeists. He’ll carry with him a great collegiate season for him and the Quakers.

Reflecting on the big picture for Penn fencing, the 2016-2017 season appears to be more of the same consistency. But glancing toward the future, it’s hard not to imagine Penn improving on what looked to be a rebuilding year.