Fencing: After getting edged out, Wildcats take new stab at one-touch bouts

Jonah L. Rosenblum

When Northwestern competes in this weekend’s USFA North American Cup, it will have one objective: Improve its performance in the clutch.

At last weekend’s Philadelphia Invitational, the Wildcats lost a number of bouts that came down to the last touch.

Associate head coach Ed Kaihatsu said NU’s sabre squad lost 3-of04 one-touch battles to Temple. Although the sabre squad ultimately won 5-4 and the Cats beat the Owls 16-11, the performance was far from perfect.

“There were a lot of things we could have done to improve how that turned out,” Kaihatsu said. “Our sabre team really needed to step it up. We had a couple of close bouts that we didn’t end up converting.”

In team practices, one-touch duels have been a point of emphasis, along with mental conditioning. This year’s team has stressed an inside-out philosophy, concentrating more on the mental aspect of fencing.

“This season, we have lost a few fights that have gone into overtime,” senior epeeist Joanna Niklinska said. “During practices, we really want to focus on situation bouting. Hopefully in the next one, we won’t lose any 5-4 bouts, and we won’t even allow the score to be that close.”

About half of NU’s fencers will get to compete this weekend in San Jose, Calif., as a certain ranking is needed to qualify.

Seniors Christa and Kayley French will lead a team of 10 epée fencers in the Division-I competition, while sophomore stars Devynn Patterson and Camille Provencal will lead a group of six foilists.

Four sabreists will travel to San Jose as well, including freshman standouts Chloe Grainger and Alicia Gurrieri, whowill compete in both the Division-I and junior sabre competitions.

Last season, NU had mixed success at the USFA North American Cup, led by then-senior Sam Nemecek and current senior Christa French. The foil team was by far the strongest in last year’s tournament. In addition to Nemecek’s powerful fifth-place finish, Patterson and Provencal placed 10th and 29th, respectively.

On the other hand, the sabre team struggled. No NU sabreist finished higher than 86th in last year’s event.

Individually, the stakes are high. Fencers who finish in the top 32 of their weapon group earn national points that could lead to a spot on the national team.

“For the athletes, this could be a confidence builder or a reality check of where they are and what they need to work on,” Kaihatsu said.

For Patterson, it’s a chance to work on her game. Although she finished 10-4 last weekend, she said she was not pleased.

“I was actually quite disappointed with myself,” Patterson said. “Against the competition we faced, I hoped to go undefeated and was definitely capable of doing that. But I think it was mostly a mental thing, and I will certainly work on that for future competition.”

Even though fencing is mostly an individual sport, NU has plenty to gain as a team. The Cats have a chance to showcase their program for younger fencers participating in the event who might be interested in coming to NU. Once the competition is over, the coaches can try to recruit prospective athletes.

The North American Cup also debuts a new junior fencing team competition. NU is currently the top seed in the junior women’s sabre and foil and third in the junior women’s epée.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Kaihatsu said. “This year, I hope, is different than all the other years. We’ve been plateauing, we’ve been hitting the glass ceiling, and it has to be a mental thing. We’ve been working very hard on that every day, every single day, and it’s started to make a difference.”

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