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Senior sabre Julian Merchant hopes to lead the Quakers to a fourth consecutive Ivy League title, but they will have to overcome come top teams like Columbia and Harvard in the process. 

Credit: Arabella Uhry

As the 2018-2019 Ivy League fencing season begins, both the Penn men’s and women’s squads are preparing for tough competition coming their way.   

Last season, the men won their third straight share of the Ivy League title and finished in eighth place at the NCAA Tournament. However, with the loss of several key seniors, the introduction of a new freshmen squad, and the departure of senior epee Justin Yoo for a shot at the Olympics, both Penn and the rest of the Ivy League fencing will look far different from last year. 

According to the NCAA Coaches' Poll for the upcoming season, Columbia and Harvard are predicted to be Penn’s toughest competition. On the men’s side, Columbia ranks No. 2, Penn No. 4, and Harvard No. 5. 

Senior sabre Julian Merchant did not disagree with the rankings.

“I think pretty much every year [Columbia and Princeton are] probably one of the hardest competitions we have, but this year Harvard is probably one of the frontrunners also.”

Coach Andy Ma, who was named Co-Ivy League Coach of the Year for the previous season, affirmed the poll as well.

“This year is pretty similar to last. … I think Columbia and Harvard are the best, then Princeton then Yale and Cornell. They are getting closer and better every year.”

Eli Dershwitz and Geoffrey Tourette of Harvard were the sabre and foil champions, respectively, for the 2017-2018 season and should prove to be even stronger assets for Harvard team this season. Columbia also welcomes back Sidarth Kumbla and Nolen Scruggs, both of whom were named first team All-Ivy. 

Credit: Tamara Wurman

When asked what sets this team apart from last and how that may play out this team, Merchant seemed a bit unsure.

“We lost a lot of seniors from the epee team that were really good and were captains, so it is tough to tell what’s going on this season," he said. 

This season, Penn will have to overcome the notable departures of Jake Raynis and Zsombor Garzo. The team also faces the setbacks of several injuries, but Ma seems optimistic that these won’t pose a threat to the trajectory of the season. 

“This year we have quite a few injuries, both men’s and women’s, so we [have to] adjust our training and people [have to] do their therapy… so we hopefully [will] bring them back in shape in January."

Despite the usual challenges that a team faces at the start of a new season, the men’s squad’s results will not be able to depend on Yoo, who is taking the next three semesters off to try to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. 

However, Merchant see's Yoo’s potential qualification as a very positive thing for Penn fencing and the Penn community as a whole. To his teammates, Yoo's legacy, whether or not he is able to make the Olympic team, will continue to motivate both old and new faces. 

“He’s brought great inspiration to all the freshman. All of the freshmen I’ve talked to are just excited to work with him and be inspired by how hard he works every day in practice and also outside of the gym,” Merchant said. 

On the women’s side, Columbia ranks No. 1, Harvard No. 2, Princeton No. 6, and Penn No.7. Coming off a third place finish in the Ivy League Tournament last year behind both Princeton and Columbia, Penn looks to maintain its position.

“We have a few injuries. We will try our best to maintain top four,” Ma said.

However, the women are welcoming a strong incoming class to replace last year's talented senior class. This season could be critical in allowing these new faces to find their footing, establish their influence on the team, and set the stage for the next few years of Penn women’s fencing.