Fencing season ends following NCAA Regionals in Poughkeepsie, NY

Senior épéeist Annie Alaya lunges at an opponent at the Northeast Fencing Conference Multi-Meet hosted by Boston College on Jan. 28, 2018. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily Archives)

The Jumbos wrapped up their 2018–2019 season on Sunday in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where they participated in the NCAA Regionals hosted at Vassar College. None of the fencers that represented Tufts in Poughkeepsie qualified for the NCAA Fencing Championships, ending the team’s season.

“We were a little short-staffed this season … because we had a lot of injuries,” senior co-captain Zoe Howard said. “It was kind of a rocky season, but the [first-years] fenced their hearts out and it was really great to watch them grow. I think I’m leaving this team in good hands.”

Six different women from all four classes represented the Jumbos in competition on Sunday: one senior, one junior, two sophomores and two first-years. Two fencers represented Tufts in foil: first-year Allison Cheng from Palo Alto, Calif. and Howard, who suited up for her final competition for the Jumbos. Three of the 39 competitors in saber were Jumbos: sophomores Lillie Ahearn and Subin Jeong were joined by junior Elliot Pavlovich. Alone in the épée bracket for the Jumbos was their sixth and final competitor, first-year Hannah Fruitman.

Fruitman led the way for the Jumbos in épée, finishing No. 23 out of 48 different competitors. Entering as the 35th seed in the competition’s division, Fruitman proved to be better than her seeding suggested. In the opening round, the first-year from New York City, N.Y. dropped her first match but came back to win the final three matches in the round, advancing her to the quarterfinals. Fruitman’s day came to an end in the quarterfinals after she won just two of her six matches, putting her two spots shy of the 21 fencers who advanced to the semifinals. Her quarterfinal grouping proved to be a talented one; two of the seven fencers in her pool ended up finishing in the top seven after all matches were completed.

“She fenced well, only missing out on the third round by three touches. She still has three more years ahead of her,” coach David Sach told the Daily in an email.

Tufts’ three fencers in saber struggled on Sunday, finishing in the bottom five of the 39 women in the division at the competition. Although the three Jumbos came in as the last three seeds in the division, Pavlovich was able to advance into the quarterfinals after winning two of her first four matches. Pavlovich did not find the same success in the quarterfinal, though, as she dropped all six of her matches. Unlike Pavlovich, her teammates, who were making their NCAA Regionals debut in the saber division, were unable to advance to the quarterfinals, as Jeong won only one of her four matches and Ahearn left the weekend winless.

The Jumbos came into the meet on Sunday with their highest seeds in the foil division. Going into her third and final NCAA Regional appearance, Howard was seeded 25th, good enough for a bye in the opening round of competition. Cheng, at the 29th seed, missed the cutoff for a first-round bye by only three spots. That didn’t prove to be an issue for Cheng, as she won all four of her opening round matches. Despite the Jumbos’ success in the opening round, they only collected one win in the quarterfinals between the two of them. Cheng won only one of her six matches, while Howard was unable to win any of her six matches, resulting in their 31st and 33rd place finishes, respectively.

“As a [first-year], Allison [Cheng] fenced well all season [and] should be pleased of what she achieved during her first year,” Sach said.

Sunday’s meet marks the end of the season for the Jumbos and the official end of two collegiate fencing careers for senior co-captains Howard and Annie Ayala.

“I’ve seen the team grow a lot over the past four years,” Howard said. “It’s been a really incredible experience to be part of it. It’s been a major part of my overall Tufts experience … I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Excluding Sunday’s meet, the Jumbos finished 8–13. The future looks bright for Tufts as the team is expected to return 10 of its 12 fencers next season.

“We have a lot of new recruits next year, which is exciting. But also [we] also lose two amazing seniors in Zoe Howard and Annie Ayala,” Sach said. “Overall I think that the recruits next year will have a positive impact on the squad and will give us much needed cover in some weapons.”