Fencing prepares to foil opposition’s hopes this year

Senior epeeist and co-captain Annie Ayala (right) ripostes a lunge at the Northeast Fencing Conference Multi-Meet hosted by Boston College on Jan. 28. Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily Archives

Entering the 20182019 season, the Tufts fencing team is looking to develop a young roster that can contribute to the success of the program for years to come. This team’s roster is younger than last year’s squad, with two juniors and two seniors, compared to four first-years and four sophomores. The team is divided among the three disciplines of fencing: foil, saber and epee. The three disciplines have different regulations and use three different weapons that vary in size.

Coach David Sach and assistant coach John-David Carroll, who are experienced coaches and fencers, will serve as leaders for this team. This season will be Sach’s second season as head coach and Carroll’s third season with the team. In addition to his position at Tufts, Sach is the director of operations at the Boston Fencing Club and has collected numerous accolades as a professional fencer. Before coming to the United States, Sach claimed various national titles in the United Kingdom, fenced at eight world championships and represented Wales at three Commonwealth Games. His coaching experience extends to the British Olympic saber team and other national championship teams of different age groups.

The team has been working hard in practice with the hope of sending fencers to the NCAA Regionals, which will take place in March. Last season, the team sent seven fencers to Regionals. Among last year’s qualifiers are four returning fencers: senior co-captain Zoe Howard and sophomore Georgia Kollias in the foil division, junior Elliot Pavlovich in the saber division, and senior co-captain Annie Ayala in the epee division. In order to qualify for Regionals, individuals must have fenced in a certain number of bouts and won a percentage of these bouts throughout the season, according to Ayala.

While qualifying for Regionals is a common goal, everyone on the team has their own personal objectives for the season. For Kollias, she hopes to attend Regionals for the second year in a row, and would qualify by achieving a 50 percent win rate this season. In addition to maintaining a high level of performance throughout the season’s meets, Kollias aspires to represent Tufts at a North American Cup, a national competition affiliated with USA Fencing.

Although the team is prepared for a strong season opening, the team will face some inevitable challenges as they adjust to the pace of competition. Ayala said that the team’s schedule is challenging, since meets are concentrated within a short period of time. According to Ayala, the team’s challenge would be to keep its energy sustained throughout the season.

The team will have to undergo some transitional changes this season, since many of the team’s former contributors graduated in the spring. These included Nayab Ajaz (LA ’18) and Bridget Marturano (LA ’18), who both fenced saber, and former co-captain and foil fencer Julia O’Gara (LA ’18) — all of whom represented Tufts at NCAA Regionals.

Our biggest challenge will definitely be having our current members filling in the roles of the seniors that graduated,” Kollias told the Daily in an email.

However, the team’s strong work ethic and dedication to its craft, which Ayala cites as the team’s greatest strengths, will help it contend with the challenges lying ahead. According to Ayala, the team practices at 7 a.m. five days a week and is always willing to put in the extra effort to prepare for an event.

“The team’s greatest strength is that we are cohesive and support each other,” Ayala said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to competitions and seen people who absolutely hate their teammates and refuse to help them or cheer them on in any way. It’s wack.”

Despite the heavy demands of the team’s schedule, Ayala believes that the team remains committed to the sport.

“Everyone on this team is more than willing to put in the work to make sure we do our best,” Ayala said.

While fencing is an individual sport, the dynamic of the team plays an important role in boosting the morale of the team. 

“Even though we do not have more than one fencer on a strip at a time, we are all there for each other and always supporting our teammates, both in practice and at meets,” Howard told the Daily in an email.

Kollias considers the team’s biggest strength to be that members of the team are cohesive and support each other, which helps the team remain dedicated and motivated.

The team’s first event takes place at Harvard at 6 p.m. on Dec. 4. The team will once again open its season by competing against the fencing programs of Harvard and Wellesley. Last season, Tufts fell 21–6 to Harvard and 17–10 to Wellesley in its season opener, but will be looking to start this year on a more positive note.