Club fencing takes first national title

by Josh Koenig | 4/10/14 4:00pm

In a first in College history, the Big Green men and women’s club fencing team won the U.S. Association of Collegiate Fencing Club’s national championship in Knoxville, Tenn., last weekend. Buoyed by strong performances across the board — including a first place finish in women’s foil and a second place finish in men’s epee — the Big Green fencers now answer to a new title: national champions.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” co-captain Scott Brookes ’14 said. “There had been rumors throughout [the last day] that we might have taken it, but we didn’t know for sure until they announced. We were all so shocked, but also just ecstatic.”

The Big Green finished with a combined total of 1,675 points, beating out the second place University of Michigan by 55. The men’s team finished first with 910 points, topping Cornell University by 70. The women finished fourth, 105 points behind the leader, the United States Naval Academy.

The Big Green’s performance is made all the more impressive considering that the fencing club trains without a coach — unlike many other top club teams across the country — and featured a squad at nationals at which over one third of the competitors had not fenced before arriving at Dartmouth.

“We work together and help coach each other,” co-captain Gaby Stern ’14 said. “It’s really rewarding to have won this coming from a team without much prior experience.”

Over 700 athletes competed at the Knoxville Convention Center — representing 40 schools from across the country. In addition to the wins in women’s foil and men’s epee, the Big Green men took home first place overall. Five of the Big Green’s six squads finished in the top five.

“Every single level of the team fenced well above the level we had expected,” Brookes said. “All weekend was a series of unbelievable events I never would have predicted.”

Among the most surprising performances was a stunning upset from the women’s sabre team, which included team members Lindsey Lam ’15, Tammy Hua ’17, Ksenia Ryzhova ’17 and Kristin Nascimento ’17. The squad bounced back from an initial 22nd seed to upset the tournament’s 11th seed, finishing 16th.

Stern and Heather Szilagyi ’15 had pledged each other that this spring season — when both would be on campus together for the first time since Szilagyi’s freshman year — they would win a national title in women’s foil, Stern said. In a dominating final round performance against the University of Michigan, the two achieved their goal.

“It was an incredible feeling to succeed in such a long awaited goal,” Stern said.

Szilagyi is a member of The Dartmouth staff.

The win in Knoxville capped a successful season for the Big Green, which had traveled mostly throughout New England for Northeast Fencing Conference events at Boston College and the University of New Hampshire that included both club and varsity teams. The Big Green finished seventh in the combined NFC standings.

Without a coach, the Big Green fencers make all of their travel arrangements independently, coordinating with the club sports office at the College.

Cecelia Lu ’16, one of the team’s standout performers who is currently spending her off-term in Ohio, had been expecting to fly to Knoxville but found her flight to Tennessee cancelled. So as not to miss the tournament, she hopped a 12-hour bus to compete at the championships, where she helped the women’s epee squad nab a top-five finish.

“Even now when I look back, I can’t believe I rode a 2 a.m. bus to Knoxville,” Lu said. “I just really wanted to be there for the team. When you’re a part of a team, it’s something that’s bigger than yourself.”

Associate athletic director for club sports and intramurals Joann Brislin could not be reached for comment by press time.