November 19, 2003

Fencers Building Phair-er Future

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For years, the Ivy League has been known to feature some of the best collegiate fencers in the collegiate. Unfortunately for Cornell, it hasn’t enjoyed the same type of elite status as its Ivy foes. That, however, began to change last season. This season, the Red looks to build upon the foundation that it laid a year ago.

“This should be an exciting year,” said head coach Al Peters. “At last as good as last year.”

The Red’s recipe for success includes a returning All-American and nine talented and experienced newcomers.

Last year, sophomore Meghan Phair earned All-America honors in the epee category. She was the first member of Cornell fencing to earn this honor in 26 years.

“She is the most remarkable [fencer] in 25 years,” Peters said of Phair. “And there is no reason she will not be at least as good as last year.”

Phair is a standout in a team of strong contenders. Eight freshmen and one transfer student bring fresh enthusiasm and impressive skills to the team. More than half of the team is comprised of newcomers.

These fresh faces are also the most experienced incoming class the Red has seen. Each new athlete has at least three years of competition under her belt, and most have been fencing for four or five years.

The rookies will learn fast from the hardworking and tested upperclassmen.

“They know what it means to win,” Peters said of his returning athletes. “The captains are very positive, hard workers in and out of [the practice] room.”

Under the leadership of the team’s three captains, practices have been going well. The team is concentrating on getting in as much competitive practice as possible.

“Regardless of how hard you train,” Peters said, “the more people you practice against, the better you will develop tactical skills.”

Tactical skills are crucial in each of the three categories of fencing competition.

Senior Valerie DeRose is the captain of the team’s foil competitors.

The foil is the original category of fencing competition. The blade is used as a thrusting weapon, and opponents are allowed to hit each other only with the point of the weapon on the front or back of the torso to score in a match. Competition is ruled by conventional rules, with a referee determining right of way.

For the team members competing in the saber category, senior Erin Conroy will lead the way. The saber is used as a cutting and thrusting weapon, meaning that competitors can score by hitting each other with either the point or blade of the weapon. The target is the entire body above the hips, including the arms and the head.

“It should be very interesting this year,” Peters said of the prospects for the saber competitors.

The freshmen look to have the greatest impact in the saber category this year. Peters noted that the newcomers have already proven eager to challenge the upperclassmen in practice.

The Red has the largest contingent of upperclassmen returning in the epee category. Senior Erica Wilhelm captains this part of the team.

The epee category uses the blade in the traditional dueling style. The blade is used as a thrusting weapon, and there are no conventional rules in competition. The entire body is a target, from head to feet.

Epee looks to be the Red’s strongest event, mainly because it is the event in which Phair competes.

“The people behind Meghan are very strong,” Peters said of the epee athletes. “Epee has been the strongest the past few years.”

“Every year is a wonderful opportunity,” Peters said of the team’s expectations for the season.

The team is hoping to improve upon last year’s Ivy League performance, which did not include any team victories.

“We’re not ready to challenge for the title yet,” Peters said.

However, the large group of newcomers could lay the foundation for a team with title potential in the years ahead.

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer