Fencing: Sabre squad bouncing back from string of bad luck

Matt Forman

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With players that have struggled with bad knees, academics and oncoming traffic, it’s been a difficult season for Northwestern’s sabre squad.

While the once-strong unit hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations, the Wildcats’ sabreists hope to respond and perform well this weekend at the Temple Invitational in Philadelphia.

NU went 5-1 in the six-team pool at the Temple Invitation last season, losing its only match to the University of Pennsylvania. This year the Cats hope to sweep the competition, head coach Laurie Schiller said.

“The epée team is the same as last year and is very strong,” Schiller said. “The foil team is missing one person from last year, but I think we’ve filled that spot well. So if sabre has some trouble, and hopefully they don’t, epée and foil can pick up the slack. The key is winning 14 of the 27 bouts; it doesn’t matter where they come from.”

But winning those 14 bouts has become tougher with the problems facing the sabreists.

“We lost some people on the sabre squad, so we’re not at the level we’d like to be,” Schiller said. “We had three freshmen who came in. Unfortunately one quit school, and one left the team; she won’t be competing this year. The third one was hit by a car crossing Sheridan Road and literally shattered all the little bones in her left shoulder. In addition to that, the sabre captain Gina (Annunziato) just has bad knees and she’s going to have to fight through it.”

Annunziato, a senior, finished last season with a career-high 51 wins. Annunziato earned second-team All-Midwest Conference honors as a sophomore in 2006. But after years of high-level fencing competition – including qualifying for the Junior Olympics in both the U-17 and U-19 divisions – Annunziato’s knees have taken a beating.

“Right now I have tendonitis in my right knee,” said Annunziato, who went 3-0 against Temple University last year. “I just had knee surgery on both knees in March and May. It’s hard because I thought with the surgeries I would be back for this season, and now I have a brand-new knee injury.”

As for her treatment, Annunziato is going to physical therapy after each practice and is concentrating on resting and icing her knees. The injuries have limited her in practice, but she said pain medications and a cortisone injection have helped ease the pain.

Regardless of the situation, Annunziato said she thinks she and the rest of the sabre squad will be able to turn in a strong performance this weekend.

“As an athlete, you learn to tolerate your pain and deal with the pain levels that you are given,” Annunziato said. “It’s difficult, but it’s something I have to do. As a team, it’s basically keeping morale up. We try to let everyone know that we’re here for them. It’s going to be tough, but I think if we stick with it, it’s going to be a very good season.”

Reach Matt Forman at matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.