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Following her brother John's footsteps, junior Nicole Vaiani has starred for Penn women's fencing for the past two seasons.

Credit: Tamara Wurman

Fencing runs in the family.

Junior foil Nicole Vaiani has been surrounded by fencing for all of her life. Coming from a family of fencers — her mother and older brother having picked up the sport — Vaiani started to fence from a young age.

Fencing used to be a recreational hobby for Vaiani. Going to practice once a week, she never imagined that it would become a much larger part of her life. As she started to compete more often, even winning Nationals at age 12, she realized that fencing was something that she wanted to pursue much more seriously.

As Vaiani progressed through high school, she won more tournaments, capturing state individual championships in 2013 and 2016 as well as being a four-year Prep State Individual champion from 2013-2016. This success led her to win team MVP for all four years of her high school career.

Setting her sights towards college, Vaiani decided to join her brother John, a member of the Class of 2018, as part of the Red and Blue. She attributed much of her decision to the coaching and atmosphere of the Penn team.

“Coach [Andy] Ma was a big factor … he was definitely one of the most supportive coaches I met throughout the college process," Vaiani said. "I really felt that he cared about who I [was] as a person instead of just adding me onto a team. I feel that there is a family presence here instead of being just a team.”

Vaiani ended her freshman year as the most successful fencer on the women’s team, finishing with a .803 win percentage. Following this incredible rookie year, she averaged an equally impressive .790 win percentage in her sophomore season, leading the team again.

Following her very successful first two seasons with the Quakers, Vaiani was met with some hardship after her brother graduated.

“It was very hard on me. He was probably one of the big reasons I came to Penn," Vaiani said. "I felt that when my brother came to Penn, that was when the program started rapidly changing and becoming a lot more competitive … I feel that he was a big leadership presence, so I feel like I now have to fill that void.”

Vaiani is leading the team now, competing another year as one of the most successful fencers at Penn.

Currently near the end of the regular season, she is most excited for the team’s trip to Northwestern next week. The Red and Blue will look forward to enjoying the success that they had during the Philadelphia Invitational from Jan. 19-20.

“Every year we fly to this tournament, the team gets much closer, and I really feel at this point in the season we're comfortable with each other, so we perform better as a team,” Vaiani said. 

Overall, Vaiani has proven she can lead the team both on and off the strip, and she will look to steer the Quakers towards victory in the upcoming weeks.