Fencing: Northwestern faces top competition out east

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor


In its first event of the winter last weekend, Northwestern took on seven squads and crushed the underwhelming group into submission.

It may not have been a challenge, but the move was strategic. That event was the warm-up; the Cats’ second set of contests is the gauntlet.

The No. 9 Wildcats will travel east this weekend, first to Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Invitational on Saturday and then to Jersey City, New Jersey, for Sunday’s NYU Invitational. And it will be a doozy of a trip.

Over the two days, NU will take on 11 squads, with five among the nation’s top 10. That includes Notre Dame and Columbia, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the rankings.

The Cats walloped their competition at the Western Invitational, capturing all seven matches by at least 9-point margins.

But coach Laurie Schiller expects a higher level of play from his squad this weekend, or NU will be left in the dust.

“If we fence at the level we fenced at last weekend, we’re going to lose some of those matches,” Schiller said. “We fenced well enough to win the matches, but we needed to be sharper and have a little more energy and not make the little errors.”

The road ahead is certainly a daunting task for NU, even for a squad of its caliber.

Last season, NU came out of this weekend a solid 7-4, a mark that Schiller hopes to bypass this time around. The list of teams on NU’s slate includes Cornell, No. 10 Temple, No. 6 Penn, Sacred Heart and Johns Hopkins in Philadelphia. On Sunday in New Jersey, the group will be Yale, No. 5 Ohio State, Wayne State, NYU and the aforementioned top two.

In the Cats’ favor is a deep and balanced group among epee, saber and foil. And if the team is looking for an edge over what it produced in this testing set last year, there’s another important factor.

“I think we’re a lot stronger and more experienced than we were last year,” sophomore saber Alisha Gomez-Shah said. “At that time, the majority of our squad was freshmen.”

Indeed, in saber alone, Gomez and last year’s freshman standouts Cindy Oh and Ania Parzecki can boast an improved game based on a year of experience.

The Cats are also clearly not complacent, closely studying film on the flaws they noted from last weekend’s bouts.

“Looking at these videos, we can tell that we have to tone it down a little bit when we’re attacking, sometimes we’re rushing too much,” Gomez said. “That is something we are emphasizing in practice, just really be patient and be fully in control no matter who your opponent is.”

Schiller also pointed to that impatience as a key source of improvement. But at the same time, he wants his team to attack. Schiller hopes to put other teams in the uncomfortable position of falling behind in matches and having to make risky maneuvers to attempt to rise back up, rather than NU falling into that trap.

NU isn’t afraid of any team it faces. So this weekend may be a gauntlet, but the Cats embrace it.

“We want to win all (of our matches),” Schiller said. “And realistically we can win them all.”

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