Fencing: Northwestern will send seven freshmen to Junior Olympics


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

A Northwestern fencer duels an opponent. The Wildcats will participate in the Junior Olympics this weekend.

Stephen Council, Reporter


No. 2 Northwestern is coming down to the home stretch.

The Wildcats headed to Duke last Sunday, where NU finished the collegiate regular season with a 3-2 showing. This weekend, the team will send seven freshmen to Denver for the 2019 Junior Olympics, the last chance for the fencers to compete before the postseason.

NU (39-5) took down the No. 6 Blue Devils, Air Force and Boston College in Durham, North Carolina, but fell short against No. 4 Penn State and North Carolina. They finish the regular season 10-4 against other top-10 teams. In the Feb. 8 coaches’ ranking, the Cats kept their best-ever No. 2 spot.

Coach Zach Moss said he was satisfied with how his team fenced at Duke, despite the losses. Not only did UNC catch NU with a bit of fatigue in the morning matchup, the referees didn’t exactly help, he said. After that first match on Sunday, Moss saw his team find its groove in a 14-13 win over Duke.

“We have a good feel for where our team is at, what we need to work on going into the postseason,” Moss said. “Definitely got what we wanted out of that competition.”

Now, Moss will have one more chance to coach at a competition before the Midwest Conference Championships next weekend. The lineup in the Junior Olympics will feature all freshmen: sabre Robyn Song; epées Natalie Kim, Emma Scala and Maggie Snider; and foils Jerrica Liao, Alyssa Chen and Elina Moon.

The meet also presents an opportunity for the fencers to gain national ranking points by finishing in the top 32. Kim, who has fenced at the Junior Olympics since she was 14, said they will receive more personal coaching than a normal match. Moss has to coach the whole team and control substitutions at collegiate meets, but he’ll be able to give more individual attention at the Junior Olympics, he said.

“It’ll be really nice having someone right there the entire time, because then I can talk to him when I’m not fencing, and go over what I’m doing well, what I’m not,” Kim said.

The individual competition also brings a change in format — instead of fencing to five touches like in collegiate bouts, they will play to 15.

Song, laughing, said it will just be more tiring to fence to 15. She took 27th place in Division 1 Sabre at the January USA fencing North American Cup, NU’s last individual competition. Song is one of a few fencers to attend both Duke last Sunday and the Junior Olympics this weekend. With only 15 fencers going to Duke and seven to Denver, much of the team has been getting some needed rest. Those who don’t have breaks power through together.

“It has been tiring to be competing almost every weekend, but at the same time everyone has school too. So everyone gets together in hotels and studies together, or in airports,” Song said. “So you don’t feel alone.”

Those going to Denver, Moss said, will get good practice in the 15-touch format the fencers will need for individual bouts at Conferences. There’s always something to work on, even at this stage in the season, he said. He particularly emphasized the mental game — focus and pre-bout approach.

Moss said the break from fencing for the rest of the team will allow them to situate themselves academically, and get some physical rest.

“The fact that we now, barring the people going to Junior Olympics, alternate on and off weekends for the rest of the season, is sort of nice, for everybody,” Moss said, before joking: “Including the coaches.”

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