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Sophomore Vanessa Dib secured wins in all of her matches against defending national champion Columbia.

Credit: Yuran Liu

With a strong showing at the Penn State Invitational this past Sunday, Penn men's and women's fencing came off winter break prepared for a solid second half of the season.

The Invitational saw the Quakers contend with several different opponents, including Columbia — the defending national champion — and Yale. The men’s team struggled toward the end of the meet, winning only one of the final four matches to break even with a total of three overall victories. The women’s team fared much better, losing only to Duke for an impressive total of five overall wins. They were able to defeat the two Ivies in the meet, beating even Columbia by a score of 17-10.

“For the women’s [team], all [fencers] are very solid, very consistent,” coach Andy Ma said. “The epee [team] is doing well and are pretty consistent. The other weapons are doing pretty good but are hopefully a little more consistent next time.”

Throughout the meet, it was clear that the Quakers kept working hard over break. While all competitors were advised to train at their local clubs in December, some Penn athletes were able to get a leg up by participating in the January North American Cup at the beginning of the month. The Quakers then hit the ground running with intensive training during the Penn winter camp last week, only to compete in the Invitational immediately after. No wonder the athletes competed as if they had never left.

One meet highlight was Penn’s dual wins over North Carolina after facing the team in November. The men’s team solidified their ascendancy in the rematch, having now defeated the team twice in a single season. The women’s victory was even more satisfying, as their 18-9 rematch win was a reversal of their loss last fall.

“November was our first meet,” coach Ma said. “They were nervous, especially our freshmen ... But now the freshmen are getting much better.”

Underclassmen were particularly influential in Penn's strong performance. Having the best winning percentage of all Penn fencers, freshman Amber White assisted the Quakers in their Yale victory, securing wins in two of her three matches. Freshman Grace Hao led the women’s team in its triumphant rematch with North Carolina by winning all three of her matches, and sophomore Vanessa Dib helped secure a win over the national champs, collecting victories in all of her matches against Columbia.

After this breakout start for the women’s team and strong showing from the men’s team, the Red and Blue should feel confident going into their 2020 competitions. The Quakers have no time to relish their successes, however, considering the crucial Philadelphia Invitational is only a few days away.

“This week we have three days of training [to] focus on structure and individual techniques, just to make sure we keep in shape,” Ma said. “Everyone has a strength and a weakness, and we try to develop all [of them] into strengths. Then we’ll be ready for the weekend.”

The two-day Invitational will take place from Jan. 18-19 at the Tse Center in Hutchinson Gym.