Cornell fencing could not have hoped for a better start to its season, leaving its first official competition in over 18 months with a perfect 7-0 record. The undefeated start at the Vassar Invitational is something that the Red expects to keep up, which would put the team in line to cement itself in the history books.
Cornell finished the day with a convincing 180-27 combined record between the three weapons.
“We were dominant in the room,” said Head Coach Ariana Klinkov.
During the 2019-20 season, the fencing team set an all-time team record for the number of victories in a season.
“I think we could be right there at that same level this year or even beat it,” Klinkov said.
The early success is an impressive feat, considering that this is the first time nearly half the team competed at the collegiate level. To gain some experience before the first competition at the Vassar Invitational, the Red made a trip to the Temple Invitational on Oct. 23, a non-NCAA event.
“I realized very quickly that I felt like getting out and competing was going to be a really important factor toward doing well,” Klinkov said. “I felt it was extraordinarily important that the people who are going to compete for us this year just went out and got their feet wet in terms of having competitive bouts before going to meets where it counted.”
Though fencing did not compete last year and had its 2019-2020 season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red has seen results across the board from its first-year athletes to its seniors. Klinkov attributes much of the team’s success to a team culture that advocates for teamwork and support.
“They owe their success as much to their effort, to me and my assistant coach Susan [Jennings] as they do to their teammates,” Klinkov said. “We had a lot of momentum and cheering and energy, great energy. We ended the day with the whole team cheering on one of our athletes.”
Much of the leadership and guidance comes from within the team, especially from its captains.
“Most people on our team had never been to a college competition before,” said senior captain Gillian Harrill. “As a leader on the team, it’s really important to teach them how everything works, how you’re supposed to act. It feels like we had to recreate an entire team culture after not being able to compete for a season and a half.”
Fellow captain Madeleine Nishimura has made a point in successfully fostering a community among her teammates. As a junior whose first and only season to date was cut short, she has still found a way to show leadership and help instill a strong team culture.
“As a captain, our goals are a little bit different than the coaches, in the sense that we have to foster a community by working on the social aspect,” Nishimura said. “I think then we can actually go out there and perform and know that we have each other’s backs.”
According to Harrill, the team culture can be summed up in a single phrase: humble and hungry.
“You think that being humble and being hungry are separate, but they actually work really well together,” Harrill added. “We came into Vassar really, really hungry, but we also had to be humble because we had to walk in knowing that every other team had the ability to beat us.”
Cornell fencing is set to break an all-time team record, but remaining humble remains at the forefront of the Red’s success. Harrill noted that as recently as a few years ago, the fencing team hosted a different culture.
“People wouldn’t come to practice and there wasn’t as much dedication to [the sport],” Harrill said.
Harrill said the attitude has taken a shift, however, as the Red looks to ride the momentum of its undefeated weekend to the end of the season. Up to five practices and two weight-lifting sessions a week ensure that the Red is doing all that it can to remain on top.
Cornell will look to continue its impressive start on Sunday, Dec. 5 at the Brandeis Invitational in Waltham, Massachusetts.