Fencing faces tough opening day

Georgia Kollias, '21, fences foil against Wellesley College on Dec 5. (Courtesy Lillie Ahearn)

The Tufts fencing team is looking to build on its positive momentum from the end of last season as it enters a new campaign. In their first events of the season on Tuesday, the Jumbos came away with two losses. The team will not be discouraged, however, as its two opponents — Harvard and Wellesley — are some of the toughest it will face all season.

Last year featured plenty of obstacles, such as turnover — including a midseason coaching change — and an early-season losing streak. The Jumbos stayed resilient, though, rattling off five wins in six matches leading into New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference (NEIFC) Championships, where they placed an impressive fourth out of 14 teams.

“We would all individually like to do better,” senior co-captain Julia O’Gara said. “If that pushes the team up to third place, second place, that would be amazing, [as] we’re in a super competitive region. Seniors like myself, Bridget Marturano, Natalie Bettez and Grace Tellado [would all like to qualify for nationals].”

The Jumbos sent seven competitors to last season’s NCAA regional tournament, including graduates Juliet Hewes (LA ’17), Anna Gooch (LA ’17) and Chandler Coble (E ’17). Current seniors Marturano, Ajaz and Tellado joined junior Zoe Howard to round out the bunch.

O’Gara and Tellado will assume the captain roles that Gooch and Coble held last year. With this position comes new challenges and responsibilities, according to O’Gara.

“[My goal is] trying to be as responsive to the team as possible,” O’Gara said. “Before I was a captain, one of the things that was the most important to me was the whole team culture: we support each other, [and] we take care of each other.”

This attitude trickles down to the team’s four new members as well, with whom the team’s upperclassmen are very impressed so far. The three first-year Jumbos are sabre Lillie Ahearn and foils Georgia Kollias and Susan Wang. In addition, sophomore Julia Kissel has joined as a sabre. She and Kollias both have prior fencing experience.

Practices have not been few and far between. Fostering a communal atmosphere comes from spending time with the team and is, of course, heightened by the start of the season. For the seniors, the routine is more set, and motions are more fluid.

“Because of the speed of the sport, having the muscle memory and spatial recognition for what you should do in a particular situation makes a huge difference,” O’Gara said. “That being said, we have a lot of fencers who started fencing in college who do fantastically and compete as a starter at events … that we consider to be competitive.”

In addition, Tufts works hard to breed success across all three weapons, exemplified by the fact that it sent fencers to NCAA regionals in foils, epée and sabre.

O’Gara stressed that she expected Tuesday’s competitions to be two of the team’s most competitive all season.

“We [were] really trying to make sure we [had] a good ‘right of way,’” O’Gara said.

The Atlanta, Ga. native’s prediction was correct. The Jumbos fell 21–6 to the Harvard Crimson, who boasted a 14–8 record last season. Despite the loss, there were some highlights. In the sabre competition (historically, the team’s strongest weapon), the Jumbos won 6–3 thanks to a trio of fencers. Ajaz, Marturano and Kissel each competed in three matches during the competition, coming away with two wins each.

“All three weapons are important to win matches,” coach David Sach told the Daily in an email. “Saber has a more experienced squad, and some of the foil and epée squads are still coming to grips with competitive college fencing.”

Despite 9–0 losses in both the epée and foil matches, the Jumbos were not discouraged by the result. The Harvard event marked Kollias’ collegiate debut, and she scored five touches in the opening round. It is rare for first-years to compete so early on in the season, as the majority of them have little or no experience.

“Most of the first-years this season attended the meet for experience and didn’t actually compete,” Sach told the Daily in an email. “Georgia Kollias was the exception. This was her first college fencing meet, and she worked hard throughout.”

Later on Tuesday, the Jumbos faced the Wellesley Blue. Despite the team losing again (17–10), it earned victories across the board, rather than solely from sabre. Tufts won the sabre matches 5–4, while the epée and foil squads came away with 7–2 and 6–3 losses, respectively, an improvement on the shutouts they experienced earlier in the day.

In foil, Howard defeated all three of her opponents, while sophomore Brie Gates and junior Annie Ayala recorded two epée victories for the Jumbos.

Tufts now has a long stretch until its next competition, as it will have to wait until Jan. 28 before competing on the strip again. The team will have the opportunity to face a range of opponents, however, given that the Boston College Multi Meet will be attended by six other schools. Despite a difficult opening day, the team’s mix of experienced rookie fencers and strong leadership among its seniors has it optimistic about the rest of the season.