Club fencing team hosts first tournament since 2008

by Emily Wechsler | 2/10/15 6:01pm

After a day of competition, the Dartmouth club fencing team placed first among club teams and eighth overall.
by Katelyn Jones / The Dartmouth

The men and women’s club fencing teams hosted their first tournament since 2008 this Saturday on the Alumni Gym basketball courts, the last of three Northeast Fencing Conference tournaments for the 2014-2015 season.

The tournament was attended by 10 colleges, including both student-organized club teams and NCAA varsity fencing programs. After the tournament, Dartmouth was named the top club fencing team in the league, both overall and individually on the men’s and women’s sides.

For all the fencers on the current team, including captains Adam Omar ’15 and Heather Szilagyi ’15, it was their first home tournament.

“I think everyone who came was really excited,” Szilagyi said. “At least everyone I talked to had never seen fencing or anything like it before, they’ve just known it was this thing I’ve done for the past four years. They all said it was a lot more exciting than they expected it to be.”

From taking initial measurements of the gym to see if there was adequate space to host a tournament to driving around West Lebanon looking for some elusive gaffer’s tape at the last minute, hosting the tournament posed a series of challenges, and much of the responsibility for planning the event ultimately fell on Szilagyi and Omar’s shoulders.

“It was a lot of work prepping for this tournament — it’s a small space and we had a lot of people coming out, but I think everything went as well as it could have,” Omar said.

The tournament finished early, which Szilagyi said is an extremely rare occurrence in the fencing world.

Dartmouth’s fencing club first learned of the opportunity to host the tournament last spring when Scott Brookes ’14 was in his second year of captaincy and attended the conference coaches meeting. Now a student at Thayer School of Engineering, Brookes has kept up with the team and made hosting the tournament possible for the Big Green, Szilagyi said.

“They were looking for someone to host it, and Scott said, ‘Well, we haven’t hosted it in a while, we’ll give it a try if you still need a space,’” Szilagyi said. “He talked to us about it as incoming captains, and we said ‘Yeah, we’d like to take that on.’”

The team needed Brookes to be the point person on the day of competition, allowing Szilagyi and Omar to focus on fencing.

“I was glad to be someone who wasn’t competing,” Brookes said. “The captains of the team, in general, do a ridiculous amount of stuff...because we have no coach on the team. To be in charge of this event that’s at Dartmouth while you’re still competing would just have been impossible.”

Having Brookes still on campus was what made the fencing team agree to host, Szilagyi and Omar said.

“It helps to have someone who has been a part of the league for years and been captain of the team beforehand and knows all the coaches and the facilities well,” Omar said.

Other than Brookes, the team did everything themselves, associate director of athletics for intramurals and club sports Joann Brislin said.

“They gave me a list of things they needed, and our ground crew — which is maybe the most awesome staff at Dartmouth — handled getting everything they needed,” she said. “But again, these are student run. They do a tremendous, tremendous job, so I tip my hat to them. I give all kudos to them. I might have to sign a form, I might have to give them a keycard, but they’re doing the work.”

The team captains refused to take all the credit, instead citing Northeast Fencing Conference commissioner Taro Yamashita and a number of younger fencers who took on leadership roles to help make the event possible. Every member of the team helped with set up the night before.

Club fencing treasurer Phoebe Liang ’17 helped organize the layout of the tournament, one of the team’s biggest issues. The space in West Gym was not enough for the 18 required “strips,” the boundaries in which each bout takes place. The captains took measurements and secured an additional multipurpose room for three strips, as well as space for teams to store equipment.

Lily Ma ’17 took charge of another committee, which provided food for the referees, and fencing secretary Cecilia Lu ’16 headed another. The team has more fencers than spaces to compete, so athletes that weren’t fencing helped run the event throughout the day.

The event wasn’t without its challenges. Some schools wanted to bring their “grounded” metal strips, glare came in through the windows in Alumni gym and the gaffer’s tape — for taping down strips and wires — wasn’t available in West Lebanon.

“It makes you appreciate how much effort goes into setting these events up because the slightest thing like tape can lead to just hours of stress, but it ultimately worked out,” Omar said. “It was quite the process, though.”

The captains were happy with the way things went Saturday and said they’re hopeful that the team will be able to host again in the future, noting it will be easier having done it before. Despite the challenges brought on by hosting an event for the first time in nearly seven years, Szilagyi said that the experience was worth it.

The Big Green fencing club has shown its capabilities in the past. With a mix of experienced and rookie fencers competing against recruited varsity squads, the team still continues to win matches and ranks as the best club team in the nation.

Last year, the team was collectively awarded Women’s Team Coach of the Year by the NFC, sharing the award among each of the team’s members since there is no official coach for the club. The men’s team earned the Men’s Coach of the Year award in 2012, the earliest year available on the NFC website.

“Every year in the spring there’s a meeting with all the coaches, and I’ve been to two of them now, and we don’t have a coach, and we’re in a league with many varsity teams that have professional, full-time coaches, so when I sit down with them, it’s a little weird,” Brookes said. “Over the last few years, Dartmouth fencing has been separating itself from the other club schools as really on par with these varsity schools. We’re very competitive when we fence against them. This [tournament] just adds on to that image that Dartmouth has just raised the bar a little bit higher, that we are sort of a legitimate program, despite not having a coach and being completely student-run.”

While they finished as the top club team at the tournament, Dartmouth finished as the eighth overall team, placing behind several varsity programs. The men’s team finished seventh, and the women’s team claimed ninth.

“Most of the experienced fencers I talked to were happy with how the day went [and] happy with what they did,” Szilagyi said. “There were also notable standouts among the rookies, which was great.”

She cited the performances of newcomers Alexandra Berman ’16, Julia Decerega ’18, Jerrel Catlett ’18, Manuel Figueroa ’18 and Allie Fudge ’18 in particular. The team prides itself on training new members quickly so that they can take a team that is comprised of one-third newcomers to nationals and succeed, Szilagyi said.

“It’s always exciting to see the newest fencers come together and just pull off victories, but also just have fun and enjoy learning from each other,” Omar said.

The fencing team will head to the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference Championships on Feb. 21 at Vassar College. Dartmouth was the top club fencing team at this tournament last year.