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Penn women's fencing won the Ivy League Round Robin Championships.

Credit: Samantha Turner

No. 6 Penn women’s fencing headed up to New York for the Ivy League Round Robin Championships as underdogs. The team left the Empire State as champions. 

Those who have followed the team through the course of its season shouldn’t be surprised by the result. In the team’s last outing at the LIU Invitational, the Red and Blue (23-7) won all three of its contests, including one against the top-ranked Division I women’s fencing program in the nation at the time, Princeton. Despite entering the tournament as the fifth seed, the team had already showcased its ability to punch way above its weight class. 

For the uninitiated, there are three weapons in fencing: sabre, foil, and épée. For each weapon, each user will fence their corresponding opponent for a total of nine bouts, with each bout consisting of five touches. At the end of all bouts, the win-loss ratio is added up across all three weapons, and the team with the most number of wins across all three categories secures the overall win. 

Sixteen fencers represented the Red and Blue across the two-day affair, including Wharton junior and team captain Vivian Lu, all-Ivy first team honoree senior foilist Sabrina Cho, and All-Ivy second team honoree junior foilist Katina Proestakis-Ortiz. All three represented Penn in the postseason last year and brought some much-needed experience to this year’s tournament.

After the end of day one, Penn found itself tied for third place after winning its contests against third-seeded Yale and seventh-seeded Brown, 17-10 and 23-4, respectively. In what became the most dramatic faceoff of the day, the Quakers were unable to complete the sweep against No. 1 and top-seeded Columbia. Up 11-5, the Red and Blue failed to hold on as the Lions closed the matchup with four straight wins enroute to a 14-13 win. Fortunately for Penn, Columbia picked up a loss of its own on the first day against Princeton that kept the Quakers alive in the hunt for a share of the Ivy title.

“We can't treat any school as an easy win, even if we [have] beat them in the past,” freshman Victoria Kuznetsov said. “We obviously knew that Princeton was going to be really hard, but we [also couldn’t] underestimate Harvard … [and] Cornell. We definitely put our all into everything, because we already have one loss and another would mean we can’t win.”

Heading into day two, seven Quakers were sitting in the top 10 of their respective events. Kuznetsov led the team, sitting at second place in the épée while freshman Grace Hu and sophomore Elizabeth Wang (women's épée) were tied for fourth. Cho and Proestakis Ortiz sat at third and fourth in the foil, and junior Hailey Lu and Vivian Lu at fifth and sixth in the sabre.

“It’s very intense compared to our other tournaments,” Kuznetsov said. “We heard that it was intense, but nothing can really prepare you until you're [there] … The other tournaments were definitely full of emotions [but] nothing really compared to how it feels to actually be Ivies.”

The key contest of the day was against No. 4 Princeton, who entered the matchup undefeated at the championships. In order to stay in the race for a piece of the title, it was a must-win situation. After previously taking down the Tigers two weeks prior, the Quakers proved that their victory wasn’t a fluke, pulling out a 14-13 win. With Princeton, Columbia, and Penn all tied for first with one loss each, the path to the title was fully within the team’s control.

Entering the final contest of the championships, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. A win against Cornell would mean that Penn would win its first share of the women’s fencing title in two decades. The team left nothing on the strip as the Red and Blue won 16-11. When the bout that sealed the deal was won, the Quakers celebrated as the significance of their achievement dawned on the team. 

“It’s a surreal feeling to win the Ivy League championships for the first time in 20 years, and on the 120th year anniversary of Penn fencing,” Vivian Lu said. “We gave it our all and I am so blessed to have been able to work with everyone to achieve this.”

Seven fencers from the women’s squad ended the championships in the top ten of their events. Cho and Proestakis Ortiz finished at third and fourth place in the foil while freshmen duo Hu and Kuznetsov tied for sixth place in the épée. Junior Justina Lam (women's foil) ended the weekend in seventh place, while freshman Katherine Andres and Vivian Lu finished ninth and tenth respectively in the sabre. 

“I think it's a compilation of all our hard work,” Andres said. “The teamwork aspect was really a surreal experience.”

Penn women's fencing has one more invitational left on its schedule, taking place much closer to home at cross-city rivals Temple University. Beyond that, members of the team have their eyes set on making the NCAA Regionals, which are set to take place in Madison, N.J. on March 9. For a team that has seemingly hit its stride at the right time, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Penn to be sending several fencers to the NCAA Championships in late March. 

“The hard work isn't done yet,” Hu said. “We’re happy for this, but everyone’s still pretty much on a grind-set until the NCAAs.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Wharton junior Vivian Lu is not an all-Ivy first team honoree and that 2023 College graduate Chloe Daniels did not represent Penn in the championships. The DP regrets these errors.