In her second season as head coach, Daria Schneider is shifting the focus and bringing a little grit to Cornell fencing. A 2007 NCAA fencing champion, Schneider knows what it takes to win and is preaching the importance of not only physical but also mental preparation.
“Last year was our first year here and a lot of the focus was on getting the athletes to become more process-oriented,” she said. “It made a huge difference.”
The team’s progress was obvious last season as it was able to topple Saint John’s, a perennial powerhouse, for the first time since 1992. On top of that, the Red shocked No. 9 Temple, the Red’s first victory over the Owls since 1972.
This new process-oriented approach is only the beginning.
“With that process-oriented approach already ingrained, it has allowed us to go to another level with it,” Schneider said.
That new level is what she calls grit. “We talk about that in regard to everything we do. Whether it’s our strength and condition sessions or in a bout as a whole, we talk about always being gritty, always being willing to put in the extra work and always being willing to come back to that approach no matter what is happening.”
Building this mindset starts in practice. Schneider has added a new dimension to traditional scrimmaging by placing the athletes in challenging situations to simulate the nerves and unpredictability of competition.
“It’s easy to make people sweat and work hard physically,” she said. “It’s harder to make them practice mentally or emotionally.”
Senior captain Luby Kiriakidi added that the grit and the process-oriented approach has already helped the Red remain focused this season, especially given unforeseen challenges.
“We’ve been working hard leading up to our first event and have already had some unexpected challenges and injuries that have tested our grit,” she said. “Our focus on the present moment and what we can control in each situation gives us strength and power as a team. We can handle difficult and messy bouts with calmness and grace.”
The Red will put this new mental toughness and grit on display this weekend at Columbus, Ohio for the Elite Invitational this weekend to fence against some of the best competition in the country, including No. 1 ranked Notre Dame, No. 5 ranked Ohio State and No. 6 ranked Penn.
“There’s gonna be some of the best schools in the country there and that just allows us to hone that skill even more,” Schneider said. “It will also give us a first look at some of the people we’ll be fencing in the Ivy League championship and regionals.”
Cognizant about the future and NCAA qualifications, the Red has put together a challenging schedule in the hopes of better individual seeding in the NCAAs since strength of opposition plays a huge role in the ranking process, Schneider said.
Time will tell what is next for the Red, whether it be NCAA titles or tough learning lessons through bouts against highly ranked opposition.
”Regardless of what happens we’re back to the grind and being gritty every day,” Schneider said.