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Vanessa Dib (right) is a leader on a very young but talented women's epee team.

Credit: Yuran Liu

One of the major stories of the 2020 Penn fencing season so far has been the consistently impressive results from the women’s epee team.

Last year, the Red and Blue tied for third in the Ivy League, an improvement from their fourth-place finish the prior season. This coming February, the women’s team has their sights set even higher – and the epee team is an important part of that plan.

Just last weekend at the Philadelphia Invitational, the epee squad won all but two matches,  helping the women’s team to win 10-of-12 events at the Tse Center. Both of the epees’ losses were by a narrow margin, only losing 5-4 to OSU and 6-3 to St. John’s, while their victories included several 9-0 sweeps of their opponents, including Haverford, Wagner, Wayne State, and Brandeis. 

Their strong showing at the Philadelphia Invitational is just one example of the epees’ consistent success. A major highlight of the season so far was the group’s 7-2 victory over Columbia’s epee squad at the Penn State Invitational, enough to propel the Quakers past the defending national champions.

One obvious difference this season is the immediate impact made by the new recruits. The squad welcomed four freshmen in the fall, with rookies now making up a significant portion of the 10-athlete weapon group.

Leading the charge of the epee freshmen are Madeline Adams-Kim and Chloe Daniel, who have already impressed in each of their first collegiate fencing seasons with records of 25-14 and 26-10, respectively. 

“The freshmen this year are amazing, especially on the epee squad,” sophomore epee Vanessa Dib said. “They’re super talented, and everyone is just very welcoming towards the freshmen, and we just created a really good community from the start of the season.”

Dib, who posted a record of 42-25 last season and earned second-team All-Ivy honors, already established herself as the team’s top returning epee in just her second year. The remarkably young weapon group doesn’t have any seniors and only two juniors. The lack of seasoned veterans on the team makes for a unique dynamic between teammates, but it’s one that undeniably works. 

“I was a freshman last year, so I know what they’re going through in my perspective,” Dib said. “I understand the pressures and the challenges that come along with it, and I think I'm able to provide my insight towards the freshmen and just be their support system whenever they feel lost or when they’re in trouble. I definitely feel like the sophomores and juniors have had to step up and be in those leadership positions because there’s no one else except us.”

It’s this leadership that has fostered such a close bond within the epee squad. Their subdivision into weapon groups makes the already small Penn team feel even more tight-knit, especially for the new athletes. 

“I’m close with the freshmen, and I’ve been close with them since we came in,” Adams-Kim said. “We have a great team dynamic; we all hype each other up. When we get excited, we all get excited, which is really cool.”

Another major component of the epees’ success is the guidance provided by their weapon assistant coach, Slava Danilov, who is in his sixth season with the Quakers. 

“[Danilov] understands everyone really well,” Dib said. “He really tries to get to know the freshmen. Even if they just came in this year, he understands everyone’s styles, their strengths and weaknesses, and he really knows how to target our practices to help us improve the areas that need improvements.”

With the help of the new freshmen, the epees have their sights set on the Ivy League Championships on Feb. 8 and 9, where they will look to lead the Quakers to their first Ivy title since 2004. Despite the stiff competition awaiting at the tournament, the Red and Blue know they are prepared.

“The fact that we’ve been fencing other Ivy League schools, like Yale, Columbia, Harvard, all of them. … We’ve had meets with them already, so we know their styles and we talk about them at practice,” Adams-Kim said. “Slava analyzes the other fencers from the Ivy League schools and tailors his lessons to their fencing, so we’re getting more used to it.”  

The women’s epees will definitely be a group to watch as the 2020 fencing season ramps up, with their final competition before the Ivy Championships set for Feb. 1 at the Eric Sollee Invitational in Waltham, Mass.