Fencing: Northwestern blows by competition in Colorado

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Northwestern travelled to Colorado this weekend looking for no big surprises, and the team got its wish. But the Wildcats’ performance was far from flawless.

NU entered Saturday’s Western Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colorado, 12-0 in dual matches for the season and kept its undefeated streak alive, taking down all seven of its opponents on the way to the event crown.

In the process, coach Laurie Schiller captured his 1,200th career win at Northwestern.

Schiller was appreciative of the honor but said doesn’t take too much stock in numbers. His team, though, puts a great deal of value on his success.

“We are really glad to be a part of that,” junior foil and Daily columnist Jen Yamin said. “We are proud of all of his accomplishments. His 1200-plus wins is truly remarkable.”

At the Western Invitational, the Cats never experienced any real thoughts of losing. Against a solid yet underwhelming slate of Brandeis, UC San Diego, Air Force, Florida, Stanford, Caltech and Duke, NU’s closest matches were 18-9, 19-8 and 20-7 victories. The Cats didn’t shut out anybody but did pummel two opponents by the score of 26-1. There was no doubt throughout who the best team in the building was.

But Schiller anticipated all of this. His expectations remain high for his squad, which means this weekend’s performance was serviceable yet worthy of improvement.

“I felt we exposed a few things that we need to improve on a little bit. I think there was some bouts that we could’ve won that we didn’t win,” he said. “We will have to fence at a little higher level next week if we want to beat some of those top 10 teams we’re going to have to fence.”

Schiller has spoken about maintaining balance between the epee, foil and sabre departments of the team, and all three did show pretty well out west. The holes the coach pointed to had to do with some sloppiness in certain matches. The Cats lost 5-4 in epee in their 19-8 victory over UC San Diego, and narrowly won 5-4 in both epee and sabre in an 18-9 win over Duke.

The foil department, while not perfect, may have been the most impressive of the three. This group suffered no serious disappointments and came up big with 7 points against UC San Diego.

The most important contribution came against Duke. The Blue Devils were the Cats’ toughest competition and final opponent on a long day, and foil showed up with an 8-1 demonstration in subduing Duke right away.

“The foil squad definitely performed really well,” Yamin said. “Going into Duke we knew we had to come out strong and get the most wins because Duke’s epee and sabre squads are really strong. So we did what we had to do.”

Aside from foil success, NU could revel in its ability to have its athletes in prime shape so early in the winter season.

Staying in shape can be a difficult task with a long break in competition — the Cats had last competed in November before Saturday’s event — but apparently NU has mastered the potential pratfalls of that gap.

And it served as an advantage this weekend.

“I think everybody but Air Force was affected with the altitude a little bit,” Schiller said. “We’re pretty well-conditioned. We still had energy going into the Duke match, I still think our conditioning is working well.”

Schiller and others noted that they will look back over the film from the event to figure out potential improvements to help NU to stack up with some of the country’s best squads in the Cats’ next set of events this upcoming weekend.

But NU isn’t fretting. It was a fruitful opening weekend and the Western Invitational played its role perfectly: a set up for bigger and better things.

“It’s pretty lucky to have the Western Invitational come (first),” junior epee Juliana Barrett said. “It allows our fencers to work against some good but not impossible teams and get us prepared for the most challenging squads next week. It helped us get back into the performance mindset and get us more prepared for taking on teams that are more difficult for us.”

Email: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19