True to its name, the Elite Invitational was a day of stiff competition.
Penn men’s and women’s fencing hosted nine teams at the Tse Center on Saturday for the sixth annual Elite Invitational. With each competing against six schools to open the 2019-20 regular season, the women managed an overall record of 2-4, while the men split their results at 3-3.
The competition brought together seven of the top 10 men’s teams and nine of the top 10 women’s teams from the NCAA tournament last season. For Penn, it was nice to start the season on familiar turf.
“I’m so glad that we had the first meet as our home opener, because it’s my last first meet,” senior foil captain Nicole Vaiani said. “It’s really nice because I think everyone on the team feels the Penn bond a little bit more when we’re on our home turf, because we have the locker room where we can be alone together, or we can duck upstairs.”
Penn men’s fencing opened the day and their regular season with a 14-13 victory over North Carolina. The foil squad pulled off a 6-3 win, enough to offset a pair of 4-5 losses by the epee and saber. Sophomore foil Jerry Wu led the charge, notching three individual victories against UNC.
On the women’s side, the Red and Blue narrowly lost their opening match to the Tar Heels.
“The first round, we should have been able to beat UNC for the women,” coach Andy Ma said. “We put a lot of people in to warm up, and [they] were afraid to make some mistakes.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams would drop their next two matches to Ohio State in the second round and Harvard in the third. The men lost to the Buckeyes by a score of 15-12 and dropped their match against the Crimson 17-10, while the women fell by respective scores of 16-11 and 15-12.
A highlight of the day came with the Quakers’ pair of victories over Johns Hopkins in the fourth round. Both the men's and women’s teams proved their ability to bounce back from their losses in the previous matches, winning by scores of 20-7 and 16-11, respectively. The men’s decisive victory also marked Ma’s 400th career win.
The Red and Blue suffered two tough losses against Notre Dame in the fifth round. While the women managed to keep the Fighting Irish close, dropping the match by an overall score of 16-11, the men fell by a margin of 23-4. Notre Dame was one of the most prolific teams in the Elite Invitational, coming off a third-place finish at the NCAA tournament last season.
The Quakers aren’t discouraged by any of their losses this weekend.
“It definitely shows us what we’re up against for the season,” Vaiani said. “It’s a really motivating thing to see, that this is the level of competition, and this is the level that we’re expecting you to bring. So even though it’s been a really hard tournament, I think it’s actually something really motivating and it shows us that we have to work really hard for the rest of the season.”
The men ended the day on a high note, winning their bout against Air Force by a score of 15-12. A pair of saber freshmen, Raymond Zhao and Enzo Bergamo, played a key role in the squad’s 8-1 victory, winning two and three individual bouts respectively.
On the women’s side, emotions ran high as the Quakers emerged victorious in their final match against Northwestern. With a final score of 14-13, the round came down to 5-4 epee and 6-3 saber victories, enough to tip Penn over the edge.
Next up, the Red and Blue will head to University Park next weekend to compete in the Penn State Garrett Open.