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NYU sabres ruin day for W. Fencing

(02/09/00 10:00am)

When the Penn women's fencing team goes down, it goes down with a fight. For the second time this season, the Quakers were defeated by a single bout, losing 14-13 at the hands of NYU in the third match of the four-match Brandeis Multi-Meet on Sunday. Penn freshman sabre Christina Verigan, who went 1-2 against the Violets, lost both bouts by a single touch and was exasperated with the narrow defeat. "It's frustrating to lose 5-4 bouts because I know I'm on par with my opponents," she said. "You know that you're right there and just can't finish." Verigan, along with senior captain Heba Abdulla and sophomore Abby Lifter, made up the sabre squad that got bested by NYU, 7-2. Determined not to succumb to the Violets, the foil squad of senior Amy Hozer and freshmen Lauren Staudinger and Stacey Wertlieb kept the Quakers in the match with a 7-2 victory of their own. But the Violets escaped victorious with a 5-4 defeat over the Penn epee squad of senior Sandra Yens, sophomore Mindy Nguyen and freshmen Kim Linton and Julia Blank. However, this loss was just a mere blemish on the scorecard as the Quakers were able to defeat Brown and MIT by 15-12 margins in the first two matches and demolish host Brandeis 24-3 to end the day with a very respectable 3-1 record, upping their season record to 5-3. Throughout the day, Penn was led by its foilists. Despite the absence of senior Margo Katz, who was home with the flu, the squad was nearly invincible, finishing the day with 31 bout wins and five bout losses. Staudinger, who went 12-0, raised her record on the season to 20-1 and has now won 16 straight bouts. Fellow freshman Wertlieb lost only one bout for the day, going 11-1. "The foil squad did wonderfully and I was especially happy with Lauren [Staudinger] and Stacey [Wertlieb]," said Hozer, who won eight of her 12 bouts. "We pulled together and with the new sabre team, it is important for us to do well." The Penn epee squad also turned in a good performance, compiling a total bout record of 21-15 on the day. Linton led the way, winning nine of her 12 bouts. "Linton did very well, Mindy [Nguyen] picked it up and Julia [Blank] picked it up," Penn coach Dave Micahnik said. "By the end of the day, the epee squad turned in some pretty good numbers." The epeeists were able to turn in victories against Brandeis and MIT, but came up short against Brown and NYU. Penn's inexperienced sabres did not fare quite as well as the foilists and epeeists. The squad was able to defeat a weak Brandeis team, 7-2, but lost its other three matches, finishing the day with a 15-21 bout record. "We still need a lot of work," said Verigan, who was able to win seven of 12 bouts. "I think we need to fence more like sabre fencers. We're lacking the sabre mentality -- we have to adapt more and learn how to be more aggressive." "The sabres are growing, developing and trying to learn their weapon," Micahnik said. "The effort and the improvement is there, but it's tough when we get up against more experienced opponents." While the sabres have not responded as quickly as the team would have liked, the freshmen have adjusted remarkably to fencing on the collegiate level. At Brandeis, the five Quakers freshmen -- led by Staudinger, who has lost only one bout all season -- compiled 42 of Penn's 67 victories. "The freshmen will be the core of the team for many years to come, and it is a very good sign," Micahnik said. The Quakers will return to action on Saturday when they square off against Harvard, Johns Hopkins and host Temple. The Red and Blue will look to improve on their 5-3 record as they head into the heart of the season. "This weekend, when I go out there, I'm going to be confident and more driven," Verigan said. And the Quakers will not settle for anything less than a sweep. "With Margo coming back and a few good practices, we definitely have a chance of winning all three bouts," Hozer said.


Abdulla shines for W. Fencing

(02/03/00 10:00am)

The Penn senior has fenced using all three weapons in her career. Imagine asking Ken Griffey Jr. to be a pitcher or requesting Shaquille O'Neal to run the point. Absurd, right? But Heba Abdulla, the senior captain of the Penn women's fencing team, has made similar changes in her sport without a single complaint. Abdulla has switched weapons three times in just four short years at Penn simply because that is what the team needed her to do. These actions make Abdulla the epitome of a true team player and her leadership has sparked the Quakers for the last four years. Abdulla got her start in fencing in her hometown of Fairlawn, N.J. Drawn by the chivalrous nature of the sport, she soon fell in love and chose to fence competitively in high school. She then took the next step and decided to fence at Penn, a decision she has never once regretted. "Fencing has taught me about dedication, teamwork and leadership," Abdulla said. "It's taught me how to deal with defeat and rise to victory." A foilist through most of high school, Abdulla switched to epee for her senior year only to switch back to foil in her freshman year at Penn. As a sophomore, Abdulla switched back to epee. She fenced with that weapon for two years before becoming a sabre fencer for her senior campaign. "By switching weapons back and forth, it handicapped her own success," Penn coach Dave Micahnik said. "But she has done a decent job for us and whatever I ask her to do, she's willing to do." Each time Abdulla switched weapons, she thought more about what the team needed rather than her own personal ambitions. "Fencing is fencing -- it's just a different battle," Abdulla said. "Getting used to a new weapon is difficult, but it would be more difficult for the team if I didn't switch." Her unselfish nature and unwavering commitment to the team has made her the ideal captain. But Abdulla knows that this role does not make her superior to any of the other Penn fencers. "My role is not to give orders, but to be a team leader," she said. "I try to motivate and get the team together and be there for all of my teammates. I enjoy being captain and it is a very rewarding position." But the most important aspect of Abdulla's life as a fencer is the team involvement in what many believe to be an individual sport. "I love being part of the team the most. You're on the strip alone, but everyone is with you," Abdulla said. "When one person falls short, someone else steps up. That's what a team is all about. "In life you're a team player. You have to learn how to interact with other people." Throughout her four years at Penn, she has been an active member of the campus and the ultimate "team player" in all aspects of her life. Abdulla, whose parents were born in Egypt, is the president of the Penn Arab Student Society and has been for the last two and a half years. During her tenure, the society was voted into the United Minorities Council in order to interact with other minority groups and has tried to bridge the gap between Arabs and Jews on campus. Abdulla, who returns to Egypt every summer, is a big believer in acceptance and diversity. "I really hope for diversity at Penn," she said. "I really think people should be together and race should not be a factor in choosing your friends." To see how strongly she believes in this notion, one needs not look farther than her own home. Abdulla lives with five of her best friends, and each is a different ethnicity -- Chinese, Italian, Indian, Filipino and Jewish. They all get along great. "I never thought living with five people would be as easy and fun as it is," Abdulla said. In addition to her roles as captain and president, Abdulla is also a member of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, an organization that stresses leadership, service and scholarship -- three qualities that Abdulla clearly possesses. Abdulla also finds time to balance her academics. She has a double major in Anthropology and Biological Basis of Behavior with a minor in Psychology. Very interested in medicine and public health, she hopes to find a position in medical lab research next year before applying to medical school in 2001. The future definitely looks bright for this well-rounded woman. But Abdulla will, without a doubt, miss her four years at Penn once they draw to a close. "These four years have been the best years of my life," she said. "I've had amazing classes and great professors, been involved in wonderful activities, met the most interesting people, have had a wonderful social life and an all-around great learning experience. "I will definitely miss Penn and am very sad to be graduating." One thing is for certain -- Penn will definitely miss Heba Abdulla as much as she will miss it.


W. Fencing beaten once again by Yale

(02/01/00 10:00am)

It has been four years since the Penn women's fencing team was able to defeat Ivy League rival Yale. And after this weekend, the Quakers will just have to wait a little longer to beat them. The Elis defeated the host Quakers, 17-10, at Weightman Hall on Saturday, dropping the Quakers to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Ivy League competition. While Penn and Yale were even in bouts in the epee and foil, the problem for the Red and Blue arose in the sabre, where the Quakers were defeated handily by an 8-1 margin. "The Yale sabre squad was very aggressive and proved to be a very tough match for us," Penn captain Heba Abdulla said. "I thought I fenced well, but they just had a little bit of an edge." The edge was largely due to the fact that the Elis are more experienced than the Penn sabre fencers, who just switched weapons at the beginning of this season. "They've been training a lot longer than us in sabre," said freshman Christina Verigan, who pulled out the lone win for the Quakers sabre squad. "But we held our own and when we meet them again, we will be more prepared." Yale sophomore sabre Helen Liu, sister of Penn men's fencing captain David Liu, knows the Elis were much more prepared for the sabre competition. "It was very iffy at the beginning of the year, because we didn't know what the other sabre squads would be like," said Liu, who went 3-0 for the day. "But we're looking very good so far this season and hopefully we will stay strong for the rest of the season." While the Penn sabre fencers lacked experience, the Quakers foilists and epeeists had no such problem against the visitors from New Haven. Penn's foilists, led by freshman Lauren Staudinger, who won all three of her bouts, defeated Yale 5-4. Senior Margo Katz and freshman Stacey Wertlieb picked up the other two victories for the Quakers. "The foil team came out strong and finished well," Staudinger said. "Yale won the Ivies in foil last year, but we were not intimidated." Another newcomer led the way for the epeeists. Freshman Kim Linton also had an unblemished record on Saturday as the epee squad came up just short, losing 5-4 to the Elis. Sophomore Mindy Nguyen won the other bout for the Red and Blue. "I felt really strong during the meet, and I'm very satisfied with how I fenced," Linton said. "It was really important to win the last touch of the last bout to make up for last week's disappointment against Rutgers. It made the match doubly important." Despite the outstanding performance of Penn's freshmen fencers, who combined to capture eight of the Quakers' 10 wins, the meet was still a disappointment for Penn. "The team overall did not perform as well as it could have, and we did not meet our potential," Katz said. "However, Yale is one of the toughest teams in the league, and when we see some of their fencers in IFAs [Intercollegiate Fencing Association Championship], we'll put them back in their place." Penn coach Dave Micahnik also realized that his fencers did not do as well as they could have. "The sabres need to work, and the foil and epee squads left a couple of bouts on the table," Micahnik said. "We're not far from being a strong team, but we're not quite there yet."


W. Fencing anxious to gauge progress

(01/20/00 10:00am)

After months of hard work and preparation, the Penn women's fencing team will finally begin its regular season Saturday at the Penn Multi-Meet. The home event, which will get underway at 11 a.m., will give the Quakers a chance to square off against Haverford, Rutgers and Duke. While Haverford is a bit on the inexperienced side, the Quakers will have their work cut out for them against top-notch squads like the Blue Devils and Scarlet Knights. Undaunted, the Quakers have their sights set high. "None of these teams are pushovers, but if we take each team seriously, there's no reason why we shouldn't have three victories on Saturday," senior captain Heba Abdulla said. Senior foilist Amy Hozer echoed her captain's confidence. "It will be a tough meet, but I think we have a good chance at doing very well," Abdulla said. The Quakers are coming off a productive winter camp in which they got a chance to give full attention to honing their skills. With lessons every day, Penn made marked improvements and is now well-prepared for regular season competition. "Winter camp was designed to consolidate everything we worked on in the first semester," Penn coach Dave Micahnik said. "The key now is to continue to make progress week by week during the season." "It was intense and was a very good preparation for the season," Abdulla added. Despite the success of practices over break, Micahnik is somewhat unsure about what to expect throughout the course of the season. "The training and effort has been good, but we'll find out how we stand when we face our opponents," Micahnik said. "It's hard to know how good teams are until we see them." There is also some apprehension due to the fact that this is the first year that the NCAA has allowed women to fence sabre, and the Quakers do not yet know how they will respond to the change. "The sabre is starting to get better, but it's all a question of how the other teams have developed sabre as well," Micahnik said. Freshman Christina Verigan, who along with Abdulla and sophomore Abby Lifter switched to sabre to help the team, feels that she is ready both to compete with her new weapon and to begin her collegiate career. "I'm looking forward to the meet and I think it will be a good indicator for the rest of the season," Verigan said. "At this point, I feel that I'm as prepared as I'm going to get." It should also be interesting to see how well the Quakers' freshman class responds to its first collegiate meet. Five of the Red and Blue's 11 fencers are freshmen, but Micahnik is confident that his young guns are up to the challenge. "The freshmen are looking good and their upward flow has been very promising," Micahnik said. "They are mainstays of the team, and they will do very nice." But the true test will come on Saturday when Haverford, Rutgers and Duke step into Hutchinson Gymnasium to face the Quakers. "It is very important to get off to as good a start as possible and get some wins," Micahnik said. "It's good for both confidence and our record." Questions will begin to get answered Saturday as Penn kicks off a season chock-full of both promise and apprehension.


Low turnout does not stop W. Fencing

(12/07/99 10:00am)

The Penn women's fencing team squared off against some of their old friends on Saturday in the annual Penn Alumnae Meet. Although the alumnae turnout was small, nothing could spoil the event. "This year's meet was a little underpopulated," Penn coach Dave Micahnik said. "But the event served its purpose and went very well." Those alumnae who came back to fence the current Quakers were Margo Szabunia, an All-American honorable mention in 1977, and Judy Weitzman, an All-Ivy first-team selection in 1990. Also returning were Olivia Leon, captain of the 1997-98 squad, and Meredith Galto, last year's captain. The two were unable to compete in the meet. Because of the small turnout, some of the current Penn fencers dueled on the alumnae side and there were also some inter-gender bouts. There was no overall score to the competition, but all of the bouts were very close. "All of the matches came down to a tie, or a margin of one," Micahnik said. "It was almost a perfect split." But the final results meant very little. It was simply a day for some old fencers to forget their work, spouses, children and the rest of their daily activities, and to return -- at least for a little while -- to their days competing for the Red and Blue. "The most important thing is to keep coming back," Micahnik said. "The memories of a fencing career may stick with you more than anything else." And according to sophomore epeeist Mindy Nguyen, the day was a complete success. "It was great to see the alumnae and it was a good way to prepare for the season," she said. "I can't wait until I'm an alumna and I get to come back." The current Penn fencers, especially the freshmen and the new sabre fencers, also gained some experience from the meet. "Experience is the only way they are going to improve," Micahnik said, commenting on his sabre squad. "Lessons and drill are in a vacuum -- bouts are where you can really see what you are doing." The sabres, along with many of the other fencers, had to face some male fencers and some outstanding alumnae. While many of them had difficulties in these bouts, the stiff competition should only make them better once the regular season rolls around. "It's good to fence boys because they fence a lot more aggressively," freshman sabre Christina Verigan said. "It makes fencing in other bouts a lot easier." The freshmen were also able to gain some invaluable experience from the exhibition meet. "It was a real breaking-in process for the freshmen," Micahnik said. "They haven't seen the college meet process yet, so a dress rehearsal is a good thing for them." The freshmen, in fact, all performed very well. Epeeist Kim Linton and foilists Lauren Staudinger and Stacey Wertlieb all picked up some wins against the alumnae. "They're mainstays of the team and we expect them to contribute right away," Micahnik said. This being the last exhibition meet before the regular season, the Quakers believe they are close to being ready for action. "I'm looking forward to the season," Verigan said. "I think by the time the season starts, we'll all be ready." "We're not ready for Broadway yet, but we're ready to take it on the road," Micahnik added. That road begins on January 22, when the Quakers take on Haverford, Rutgers and Duke at the Penn Multi-Meet.


W. Fencing to duel alumnae

(12/03/99 10:00am)

The Penn women's fencing team will participate in its annual Alumnae Meet in Weightman Hall tomorrow at 1 p.m. The meet is a warm-up for the team's regular season, which begins January 22. "The Alumnae Meet will be a dry run for our season," coach Dave Micahnik said. "It has nothing to do with our record but there are real officials and it will be a good warm-up." At the meet, the Quakers will be fencing Penn alumnae in a friendly competition. Since many of the former team members have a host of other commitments, it is not yet known how many competitors will make an appearance. But a low turnout won't spoil the event -- fun is tomorrow's primary objective. "It's a social gathering and a homecoming with a reception afterwards," Micahnik said. And the event should not only be a good time for the alumnae in attendance -- the current Quakers should also have a pleasant experience. "I'm very excited because I get to see all of my old teammates," said Penn senior captain Heba Abdulla, who also noted that the old fencers are always surprisingly sharp. "It's amazing how good the fencers are," she said. "They haven't fenced in a while and they come back and they're pretty amazing. They beat us two years ago so we definitely cannot take them lightly." Although the Quakers are not taking their predecessors in Red and Blue lightly, the meet's outcome is unimportant in comparison to the experience some of Penn's current fencers will gain. "The freshmen will learn how we get ready and get pumped up," Abdulla said. "It's also exciting that this will be my first sabre competition." Abdulla, along with freshman Christina Verigan and sophomore Abby Lifter, converted to sabre -- a new weapon in women's competition -- to help the Quakers. This exhibition meet may give those fencers experience with their new weapon and let them see how close they are to regular-season form. But for now, the Quakers just want to see some old faces and have a good time.


Frost boost W. Fencing at PSU

(11/23/99 10:00am)

With the absence of many upperclassmen, a young team of five freshmen and one sophomore represented the Penn women's fencing program at the exhibition Garret Open at Penn State on Sunday. And coach Dave Micahnik was satisfied with the performance of his young guns. "The meet was more important for the freshmen," Micahnik said. "It was a chance for them to fence strangers and bring their game to a higher combative level." The exhibition meet included fencers from several schools, including Ivy rivals Columbia, Princeton and Yale. Despite the fact that the majority of the upperclassmen could not attend due to interviews, sicknesses and injuries, the meet was still a valuable experience for those who were able to make it. Penn's top finisher was freshman Christina Verigan, who placed 14th out of 47 in the sabre. Verigan, who recently switched from foil, was fencing in her first competition as a sabre. "Some people were much more experienced than Christina at sabre," Micahnik said. "But as far as people she is on par or a little behind with, she did extremely well." "It seemed once I started, everything I learned came together," Verigan said. Nevertheless, she hopes to continue to hone her skills and technique. "At foil, I felt I reached my height and wouldn't get any better," she said. "But at sabre, I feel like I'm making constant improvements." In the foil, freshman Lauren Staudinger tied for 18th out of 45 and freshman Stacey Wertlieb tied for 29th. Despite Staudinger's fairly high finish, however, she was disappointed with the results. "I should've done better," Staudinger said. "I didn't perform as well as I should have in the third round and I wasn't focusing enough." The epee competition, which included 58 fencers, saw freshman Kim Linton place 28th, sophomore Mindy Nguyen finish 34th and freshman Julia Blank end at 56th. But for these young fencers, their overall finishes were not as important as the experience they gained. It is only November and there is still plenty of time until the start of the dual meet season. "We got out of the meet what we went to get," Micahnik said. "We got experience and we now know what things need to be worked on." The Quakers are back in action December 4, when they will host the Penn Alumni Meet.


Changes won't blow W. Fencing off course

(11/18/99 10:00am)

the perennial power looks to adjust to new changes this season. With the departure of a strong graduating class, the loss of an All-American and the addition of many unproven faces, it seems that the Penn women's fencing team is off to an inauspicious beginning to their 1999-2000 season. But you won't hear that from coach Dave Micahnik. Micahnik, who is entering his 26th season at the helm of the Penn fencing program, will tell you that his team is once again faced with adversity and challenges that he hopes to overcome. "The women's team has never had a losing season under my tenure and every year it seems hard to keep that going," said Micahnik, who coaches both the Penn men's and women's teams. "But I think we can pull it off again this season." Nine of the last 15 years, Micahnik's women's teams have won the Ivy League title. Since 1977, the Penn women have finished with a top-five national ranking 14 times, including a national championship in 1986. Last year, the women fencers posted an 11-7 record and placed third in the IFA championships. But this is a new year and Micahnik will not rest on his laurels. "Tradition is established, tradition is wonderful, but it doesn't win this year's meets," he said. Many factors will make this season a difficult one for the Quakers. For starters, they will have to adjust to a change in format with the addition of the sabre, a new weapon, into NCAA competition. This means that three of the team's athletes will be forced to switch weapons. "I'd like to say the introduction of the sabre will be fabulous but I'm a little trepidacious," Micahnik said. "It will be hard to tell because we are starting people from scratch and the experience is not great." Among those switching weapons will be senior captain Heba Abdulla. As an epee, Abdulla posted a 23-20 mark last season but was willing to change weapons for the good of the team. "It's a big change and it's difficult," Abdulla said. "But the team needs it and if no one else was going to do it, I felt like I had to step up." Abdulla, who will be fencing with her third weapon at Penn, is hoping the change will work out. But, regardless of the outcome, Micahnik is very fond of the sacrifice that his captain has decided to make. "People who do things because the team needs it are my special people," he said. Also switching to sabre are sophomore Abby Lifter and freshman Christina Verigan. Lifter, who had an outstanding season as a foilist last season, posting an impressive 44-39 record, will be sorely missed at the foil spot. "Abby was really developing as a foil fencer," senior foilist Margo Katz said. "Hopefully she will be equally as good as a sabre." Verigan, one of the many newcomers, is also uncertain about what to expect. "I'm excited to be a starting a new weapon," she said. "But I have no idea what to expect from the sabre and from college fencing in general." To make things harder, Abdulla, Lifter and Verigan -- who are all new to their respective weapons -- will be fencing some women who have been fencing sabre throughout their careers. But only time will tell how much this new weapon will affect the team. While trepidation and inexperience prevail over the sabre squad, there is more stability within the other two weapons. The foil contains a mix of leadership and youth, led by seniors Katz -- who received All-Ivy honors and placed 16th at the NCAA championships a year ago -- and Amy Hozer. Combined with two highly touted newcomers, freshmen Stacey Wertlieb and Lauren Staudinger, the foil should be strong for Penn despite the loss of Lifter. Epee, on the other hand, which was originally thought to be a strong suit for the women, has been recently beset with some key losses. In addition to the loss of Abdulla to sabre, the team will also be without Kari Coley, a two-time honorable mention All-American who finished 12th at the 1999 NCAA Championships. Coley is taking a year off to study abroad. "We have other good epee fencers, but the loss of Coley really hurts," Micahnik said. "The loss of Kari is definitely going to effect the team," Katz added. "But if we all pull together, we should be all right." Without Abdulla and Coley, the team will rely on senior Sandra Yens, sophomore Mindy Nguyen and freshmen Kim Linton and Julia Blank to fence epee. Hurting the team, however, will be the loss of last year's seniors -- Meredith Galto, a captain and a second-team All-Ivy selection, and Agnieszka Gromulska -- to graduation. This, combined with the loss of Coley and the introduction of the sabre, could make this a difficult season for Penn. "There's no question that this year will be a season of development, change and challenge," Micahnik said. "But I believe we will be competitive in the league? not a favorite but dangerous nonetheless." For the Quakers to be dangerous in the league, however, they will probably need contributions from their large freshman class, which comprises nearly half the squad. "The freshmen have to understand that fencing on the collegiate level is different from high school," Micahnik said. "But our young fencers are very good and I expect an immediate contribution." Nevertheless, the Quakers have set their sights set high. "We're aiming for a winning season and hopefully an Ivy ring," Abdulla said. "But we have to take it one step at a time." That first step will be the Penn State Open, an exhibition match, this weekend. "Penn State should be a good indicator which will provide insight into out season," Katz said.