February 7, 2012

FENCING | Team Focuses on Technical Work in Preparation for Ivies

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Cornell’s fencing team is wrapping up one of its strongest season ever after setting a record number for wins, 13. However, the Red (13-4-0) is not looking to stop there. This weekend marks the first round of the Ivy League championships, where the Red faces stiff competition from Princeton, Harvard and Penn.

The No. 2-ranked Tigers (12-3-0), No. 7-ranked Crimson (8-4-0) and the No. 9 Quakers (11-4-0) have impressive resumes this year and will pose a challenge for the Red, according to junior co-captain and saberist Beverly Yang. However, the teams are not unbreakable.

“I think for the past 10 years Cornell has never done better than fifth or sixth. I think maybe 20 years ago, we may have gotten fourth or third once,” she said. “My freshman year, the only school we beat was Brown. Last year we beat Brown and Yale and lost by one bout to Penn. This year we are looking at Penn and I know we can do it. I think if we go in there and are confident, I think we can easily beat out those three schools and that will be the first time in a while, so it is another record for us to set.”

The three opposing schools offer their fencers certain benefits that Cornell is unable to provide, Yang said.

“Columbia has the attraction of being in New York City where a lot of fencing clubs are, Harvard is in Boston and the University of Pennsylvania is in Philadelphia,” she explained. “It is a lot easier to train in the city, which is why Cornell is at a disadvantage being where it is. We aren’t really close to any big cities and that has limited us a little.”

The Red does not want to be unprepared for the upcoming Ivy championships, so the team changed its preseason and regular season workouts in an attempt to take its game to the next level, according to Yang.

“We worked on many different aspects,” she said. “The first was conditioning. We intensified it so much this year — our preseason was the roughest that I have ever experienced. We just tried to make that better, to make us overall more fit. During the preseason we all lifted more and really worked hard.”

Cornell was able to focus on the finer points of the game, which according to Yang could be key in the upcoming tournament.

“We have definitely been doing a lot more technical work,” she said. “It used to be just a lot of bouting and sparring practice but now we do a lot more exercises to build it into your muscle memory so that when you do compete it comes easier and more naturally. We spent a lot of time devoted to small details and developing game plans, which separate you from the competition.”

Yang has made significant contributions during her three years at Cornell that helped advance the Red to where it is today. The team has changed a lot, she said.

“First, the fencing team has grown in size. Freshman year I think we had 16 or 17 people, and now we have 22 girls on the team, which is great,” Yang said. “Other than that the level of fencing has increased so much more. We are getting recruits that are higher in the national rankings each year. Also, everyone’s level is consistently going up. We aren’t falling back, which is probably the biggest improvement we have had.”

While Yang stands out as one of the fencers to watch after the Ivy League championships, when individual play starts, the Red is looking to send the maximum number of fencers, nine  — two from each event, along with an alternate — to nationals this year.

“Foil is our strongest weapon and all three of our starters — sophomore April Whitney, sophomore Christine McIntosh and senior Rebecca Hirschfeld — have a great chance of qualifying for NCAAs,” Yang said. “The problem is that we are limited to two fencers per weapon.”

Last season the Red sent the maximum number of fencers to the national tournament.

“Last year we had two foils go and one was an alternate so it was the maximum we were allowed to send,” Yang said. “I am pretty sure that it is going to be the same thing this year.”

The three event groups have given strong performances over the season, so choosing who to send will not be difficult, according to Yang.

“In epee, we have three people that could easily do it — it just comes down to whether or not they are on their game and how everyone else is doing,” she said. “Jen Lee, a sophomore, Olivia Weller, a freshman, and Christie Robinson, a junior, are young but they are very strong fencers and they definitely have a good chance. On the saber side, I would probably say that Audrey and I are the strongest fencers. Last year I was an alternate, I just missed it, so I am looking forward to competing this year.”

Although the NCAA championships is one of the highest levels of competition many fencers will  see, Yang says that a high school experience was one of her defining moments as a fencer.

“When I was going into my junior year, I participated in a nationals tournament which they hold every summer,” she said. “I was in Division III … [which] is actually the lowest level of fencing. I had only been fencing for two years and I went to [nationals] and I won. That was my moment where I realized that maybe I was good. It was my first step up in a big competition … That for me was the moment where I realized that I was going to stick with fencing and that I had something there.”

This weekend the Red will travel to New Haven, Conn., where it will enter the first round of the Ivy League championship.

Original Author: Zach Gayner