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Penn women's fencing junior captain Simone Unwalla will look to help lead her team to an Ivy Championship this weekend.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

The whole season has led to this moment — and it’s finally here.

Penn men’s and women’s fencing will be competing for a pair of conference titles this weekend at the Ivy League Championships in Princeton, New Jersey. 

Both the men (22-8) and women (22-8) put on solid performances in the 2017 Ivy Championships this time last year. The men finished with a three-way split of the title, going 4-1 on the day and sharing the championship with Columbia and Princeton. For the women, the team managed four wins and two losses, good for third in the conference behind first-place Princeton and runner-up Columbia.

This season will be no different in terms of the toughness that both Columbia and Princeton present.

On the men’s side, Columbia is tied for the second spot in the College Fencing 360 Men’s Coaches’ Poll, while Harvard, Princeton, and Penn sit at number five, six, and seven, respectively.

While it is clear that the Red and Blue have a tough task ahead of them, they have already proven that if there’s one thing that they’re not afraid of, it’s good competition.

Take, for example, this past weekend at the Northwestern Duels in South Bend, Indiana. The men faced off against Notre Dame and Ohio State, the top two ranked teams in the country. They lost to Ohio State by a score of 16-11 and were narrowly defeated 14-13 by Notre Dame, making it the second consecutive week that they had lost to the Fighting Irish by just one point. 

The team also fought through this tough schedule despite not being at one hundred percent.

“I saw a lot of resilience [last weekend]. We were all sick and had a lot of injuries,” said Connor Mills, the sophomore captain who helped the Quakers win the share of the Ivy title last season. “Not a lot of kids made it because they were going to the World Cup as well, so even though we were facing a lot of adversity, we did much better than a lot of people thought, so I’m extremely proud and just looking forward to Ivys.”

The women’s team faced a similarly rigorous task last week in South Bend, taking on fifth-ranked Ohio State and top-ranked Notre Dame on its own home turf. Despite losing in both of these duels, the Quakers have prepared themselves for what will be another grind this weekend. Like the men’s squad, the women are slated to face three top-ten teams in Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard.

Junior captain Simone Unwalla is confident that this is the year that the Red and Blue break through to win their first Ivy League Championship since 2004.

“This year on our women’s side, we’ve gotten a lot closer, and I think we’ve made coming to practice and working hard much more of a priority,” Unwalla said. “The group of freshman that we got really, really want to win, and they’ve been putting in the work, which is important.”

Mills echoed Unwalla’s sentiments about this freshman class and the team becoming a tight-knit unit.

“[Last season] we didn’t have these freshman who are gifted, and we’re extremely thankful [to have them],” Mills said. “Also, this team has come together a lot more than it has in previous years, and I’m really happy about that.”

The strength of both the men’s and women’s units will surely be tested this Saturday and Sunday, but each team will have the constant support of the other during the duels. Typically, the two teams are on strips very close to one another, making it so that the men’s team can cheer on the women’s team and give them possible pointers, and vice versa.

If one thing is for certain, it’s that both of these groups are thoroughly motivated to take sole possession of the Ivy League title, a feat that was last achieved by the women in 2004 and by the men in 2009.

The Quakers are ready for the crown — and they know the rest of the Ivy League will be too.