Freshmen have high hopes as Junior Olympics Qualifiers come to NU (Fencing)

Lily Leung and Lily Leung

Freshman Northwestern sabreist Jina Bartholomew assures spectators that fencing is a real sport despite its reputation for its “goofy uniforms” and the misconception that it requires little activity.

“Sword fighting is cool,” Bartholomew said. “At first sight it may just look like two people hitting each other on the back with large swords, but you sweat so much when you fence. It gets really technical.”

Fencers who range in experience from nearly a decade to those like Bartholomew, who have only fenced for one quarter, have been sweating and preparing for the Illinois National Junior Olympics Qualifier this Sunday at Patten Gymnasium.

Qualifiers from this meet will advance to the 20-and-under national meet held in February in Cleveland. NU fencers Sharon Sullivan, Emily Pasternak, Christina Wang, Mai Vu and Jessica Florendo, however, have automatically qualified for nationals based on their point standings in the U.S. Fencing Association.

At last year’s Junior Olympics Qualifiers, two Wildcats placed first in their respective weapons. Junior Kelsey Nencheck placed first in epee and sophomore sabreist Emily Pasternak came out on top in her weapon. Schiller said he expects even more fencers to qualify this year, and predicted that freshmen Sophie Eustis and Sarah Pecherak are the team’s best bets.

“They could win in their weapons,” Schiller said. “They are the most experienced out of the group that has not qualified yet.”

Pecherak, who has been fencing for nearly a decade, has qualified in the Junior Olympics three out of the six years she has competed.

“Although it’s a bit of a routine, it’s still exciting to see everyone move in and out of the competition and see how all the fencers are performing,” she said.

Less experienced fencers like freshman foilest Alex Miller said she is still learning the basics when she goes to practice five days a week and just expects to learn more about competitive fencing this weekend.

“I’m doing this more for the experience than for winning,” Miller said. “Fencing’s just an overall fun sport and it’s one of the few varsity sports that allows anyone to join.”

Schiller said a big part of the team’s improvement from last year is due to the new practice format. Instead of spending a lot of time with fencing, conditioning is emphasized, where fencers do competitive bouts inside boxes.

“We’ve been fencing our best in two years,” Schiller said. “We’ve never done what we did to Temple and North Carolina like we did last weekend at the Duals. We shut them up.”