Coming back from a five-week hiatus, the Cornell fencing team went 3-3 in its meet at Temple. The Red (13-4) beat Johns Hopkins, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Fairleigh Dickinson, while losing to nationally-ranked teams, No. 8 Temple, No. 10 Duke and No. 4 Northwestern.
Over winter break, all of the fencers returned home where they practiced individually with their respective club teams. According to Whitney, the choice to continue training reflected the personal commitment of the team, since their coach cannot make practicing over break a requirement. Some team members also participated in a competition in January.
“There was a North American Cup in Portland, Ore., and eight of our fencers qualified to go and went,” said sophomore foilist April Whitney. “It was a Division I tournament. This tournament also has the same division that Olympians are competing for in the Olympic year.”
Attending the competition provided an opportunity for the Red fencers to experience tournament play before last weekend’s meet at Temple.
“We had three finishes in the Top-32 and for those eight fencers in particular that was a great way to prepare for this meet,” Whitney said. “We also had preseason training … We conditioned and socialized in between the sessions to raise team spirit and get into the mentality. We fenced really hard and may actually have overdone it — everyone was a little tired at the tournament, but we were very pumped for it.”
The Red has improved since last year and by beating three teams in this bout, has reached 14 wins on the season — surpassing the program record for most wins in a season (13) which was set five times previously. Although 3-3 was the same record the Red achieved at last year’s Philly Invitational, there were marked differences in its play, according to Whitney
“It was definitely our hardest competition of the year thus far, and we knew it was going to be exceptionally difficult,” Whitney said. “We faced three Top-10 teams in Northwestern, Temple and Duke. Temple and Northwestern have amazing fencers. Fencers that are nationally ranked with a great skill level and very competitive coaches as well.”
Although the team may not have achieved the positive outcome it was looking for, the Red saw the weekend as a successful one.
“Temple was really rough, everyone fought really hard but we did lose to them, and they won the tournament overall,” Whitney said. “Northwestern we lost 17-10, so that wasn’t losing by a lot. A lot of bouts we lost by one touch, and one touch determines a full win. So we felt very much on the brink of something much bigger than we [are] used to. This was the same result as last year but overall we won more bouts.”
The Red enters the Ivy League championships on the weekend of Feb. 11-12, where it looks to its top fencers to lead the way — including junior sabers Audrey Spears and Beverly Yang, sophomore epeeist Jennifer Lee and sophomore Christine McIntosh, senior Rebecca Hirschfeld and Whitney for foil.
“I think my goals for this year are more for the freshmen,” Whitney said. “I want them to be immersed in this environment, that is incredibly elite. I want to see people fight for every single touch and have a lot of control over how the bout goes. I want the freshman to get a feel for the climate and competitive atmosphere.”
The opportunities that Cornell’s fencing program offers younger members of the team are unique, according to Whitney
“It’s very different than fencing schools just from the northeast, where they might not practice or train as much and just go to tournaments,” she explained. “These kids practice a lot and are very strict and hard on themselves. What I want is for everyone to see what we are becoming and where we are headed. Although the freshmen don’t start, we want them to have experience. We want them to experience the pressure when other teams are screaming at them and against you. You want them to experience that and know what it is like so that when we are gone they know what is expected of them.”
According to Whitney, it is hard to choose just one freshman who could have the biggest impact on the team going forward.
“The freshmen this year, I really can’t single them out,” she said. ”The way varsity fencing is, it is so much more about the team than the individual. You need to learn to rely on your teammates and you need to take responsibility. When it is 4-4 – four touches each – and you need that one, you have to do it yourself, but you are also relying on the support behind you. The fencers on the team don’t have to be there, but they are all there. All ready to give a lot to the team.”
Original Author: Zach Gayner