The Tufts women’s fencing team broke out of its early-season slump in emphatic fashion while hosting a Northeast Fencing Conference meet in Carzo Cage on Saturday. Despite losing their first eight matches of the year, the Jumbos, buoyed by a strong all-around effort that highlighted their depth, won five of the six contests in their final competition of the regular season before next month’s New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference (NEIFC) Championships.
“We fenced all of the toughest schools [earlier in the season],” junior sabre fencer Bridget Marturano said. “This [meet], we came in with a lot more confidence, knowing that we had gotten those schools out of the way.”
The team began the day with three consecutive victories over BU (16-11), UMass (20-7) and Smith College (19-8) before being edged out by a talented, second-ranked Sacred Heart team (14-13). But Tufts immediately bounced back with a 23-4 thumping of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and a narrow 14-13 victory over its rival, Wellesley College, to end on a high note. The five victories vaulted the Jumbos to ninth place in the conference standings.
In a promising display of balance, every weapon had a winning record in the meet, led by the épée squad’s mark of 40-14. Junior épéeist Grace Tellado led the way with 12 individual victories — with a consistent 2-1 record in each of her six match-ups — while senior co-captain Chandler Coble added 10 wins, including 3-0 sweeps against BU and UNH.
“We’re strong across all three weapons,” Tellado said. “[The épée] squad only lost to one school by one bout. It was really competitive, and that was [while] rotating in [first-years] who have only fenced for a couple months.”
Almost as impressively, the foil team recorded 37 victories in their 54 bouts, 13 of which came via the blade of sophomore Zoe Howard. Senior Juliet Hewes tacked on another 10 wins to pace the Jumbos. Howard’s performance improved her overall record to 21-11, which places her 11th in the league’s individual rankings.
Finally, the sabre team posted a 28-26 record on the day, led by Marturano’s 12 victories. The Malvern, Pa. native’s 23-7 record for the season (.767 winning percentage) makes her the highest-ranked Jumbo in the league (eighth) across all weapons.
Tufts’ successful performance could not have come at a more critical time, as the team was looking to rebound from the previous week’s tough 25-2 loss to Harvard and 17-10 loss to NYU. The meet also represented the final opportunity to qualify for next month’s NEIFC Championships, and seven Jumbos took advantage of the chance to qualify.
The championship tournament, which is comprised of 14 New England- and New York-based schools, will be held on March 4 at the University of Vermont. While the team had originally hoped to have at least nine members qualify to field a complete team, Howard — a first-time qualifier herself after having been knocked out of contention last year due to a bout of mononucleosis — still believes having seven Jumbos qualify is a success for the program.
“It took us a little while to get our footing throughout the season,” Howard said. “But as a team, we always have a positive mentality.”
However, the team’s success on Saturday has potentially larger implications than just qualification for the postseason — it justifies more recognition for a sport that is typically on the periphery of Tufts athletics, according to Tellado.
“We float in this in-between world,” Tellado said. “We are a varsity team, but we’re thought of more in line with the club teams. [This meet] shows other teams, as well as ourselves, that we are competitive with varsity programs that have a lot more funding and a longer history of recruiting.”
As the team progresses to the regional championships, the early season struggles seem to have been left behind.
“We’re going in with a really positive mindset after this last meet,” Marturano said. “It’s not our typical format … but I think we’re going to have a fun day [without] too much pressure.”