Dartmouth fencing takes home eight titles in championship

by Samantha Hussey | 4/13/18 1:30am


This past weekend, the United States Associate of Collegiate Fencing Clubs hosted the 2018 USACFC National Championships, in which the Dartmouth College Fencing Club took home a total of eight titles from the team and individual events, earning the overall combined championship title. Unlike most sports which require teams to earn bids for Nationals through regionals or other qualifying tournaments, all collegiate club fencing teams are automatically eligible to compete in Nationals. 

According to James Wen ’19, a member of the men’s foil team, while any collegiate club team can go to nationals, clubs are usually selective and only send their best athletes, and high costs often prevent teams from traveling and competing in Nationals. For Dartmouth, 24 total athletes travelled to Knoxville, Tennessee to compete. 

“Once you’re at Nationals, each team ranks their fencers A, B and C, so A being the top fencer and C being the third best fencer,” Wen said. “[At Nationals], all of the As fence each other, all of the Bs fence each other and all the Cs fence each other. Based off of that, a certain number of As, Bs and Cs then qualify for the individual rounds.”

The women’s team dominated the competition by taking first in women’s sabre ahead of the United States Naval Academy, second in the women’s foil after rival University of Michigan and fifth in women’s epee. The women ultimately finished first overall, besting next competitor, Michigan, by 160 points over three forms. 

The men’s team, equally matched, finished first in men’s epee, beating Cornell University out by 15 points. They also came in 10th in men’s foil and 11th in men’s sabre. Consistency was key for the men as they were able to edge out the competition for a spot in third place overall behind the men of Cornell and Michigan. 

Through the combined efforts of both teams, the Big Green, for the first time since 2014, took home the overall combined championship over defending champion Michigan by a mere 15 points. For most team members, this win was monumental as the Big Green has come in second place to Michigan every time since it last won the overall title in 2014. 

“[The win was] absolutely awesome,” co-captain Raphael Hviding ’18 said. “Along with my squad, we got to beat Cornell for first place in men’s epee, I got to help coach women’s epee to fifth place and we took home the most important trophy right from under [Michigan]’s nose. It felt great.”

In addition to such team success, the Big Green added two individual titles to its arsenal. Cindy Shen ’21, in her first collegiate season, walked away with first in the women’s foil individual competition. For her, the individual title served as the culmination of her entire year. 

“The team works really hard and we always put in a lot of effort to do well, but you don’t really see how much time you’re spending doing something and what it is producing until you really go to Nationals,” Shen said. “There are other competitions, but they are not of the same sheer number of people and caliber. The feeling of winning really felt that everything I had done throughout the entire year had actually paid off.”

Co-captain Kaleigh Mentzer ’18 also capped her collegiate fencing career with a first place finish in the women’s sabre individual championship, defending her four-year hold on the title.

“This weekend was the perfect ending to a Dartmouth fencing career,” Mentzer said. “This is actually my fourth consecutive individual win, so I really wanted to win all four years since I won freshman year. It was really excited to see that come to fruition.”

Mentzer, who started fencing in high school, had an interesting beginning to the sport when she found she had been cut from the varsity hockey team. 

“[My high school] had a sports requirement so I had to pick up another sport,” Mentzer said. “A few of my friends were doing fencing so I thought I’d try it for a year and then go back to hockey the year after that. That year I finished sixth in the state and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this,’ and ended up continuing fencing.”

While plans to compete in fencing at the varsity level pre-Dartmouth did not pan out, Mentzer added that after graduation she plans to attend graduate school at Stanford University, and is hoping to fence on the varsity team there since she has not used up her NCAA eligibility.

Dartmouth Fencing Club’s history goes as far back as the 1920s. Practices for the squad run five days a week for two hours each day and involve warm-ups, conditioning, stretching, footwork and scrimmaging one another. While the club is officially under Coach Scott Brookes ’14, who is a graduate student at the Thayer School of Engineering, much of the logistical planning and small tasks are student-run, usually spearheaded by the two co-captains. 

“[Brookes’] involvement [is] usually dedicated almost entirely to improving the fencing of our members, rather than handling logistics,” Hviding said. “It’s definitely a ton of work. I worked more on fencing than one of my classes this past winter in our main competition season; it really is like taking a fourth class.”

Mentzer agreed, noting that serving as a captain for the team has been one of the most educational experiences for her at Dartmouth and taught her what it meant to take on a leadership role. 

“[Captains] are responsible for everything from running practice to dealing with personal conflicts within the team to organizing transportation to tournaments to making sure we pay dues for all of the weeks we are involved in, so it has been a lot of responsibility,” she said. “I think with that comes great reward in the sense that this [success] is something that we [as captains] made possible.”

Shen also notes that heavy involvement by captains and other team members contributes to the dynamic team chemistry and gives even freshmen and individuals with no experience various opportunities to provide input into how things are done. 

“I think a [traditional] coach would detract from the sentiment that the team has: that we’re like a unit and we have to rely on each other to make each other better and hold each other accountable,” Shen said. 

For many team members, the club has provided a sense of community on campus in addition to high-level competition.

“I think what’s nice is that throughout my time here at Dartmouth the team has maintained a strong competitive program, and that’s definitely one of the reasons why I stayed,” Wen said. “I think what is also nice about the team is that [even with] people graduating and people coming in, we have always been able to maintain a nice environment [in] which people with experience or without experience really come and work together.”

Shen notes that the team has helped her transition to life at Dartmouth and is something she is excited to pass along to the freshmen and new members next year. 

“It is a really stressful time to come into a new school and not know anybody,” Shen said. “To have this solid group of people to really turn back to and rely on, not just for fencing, but for life advice, choosing classes, facing Dartmouth and navigating what this place is [has been really helpful].”

Overall, the past few years of remarkable sweeps and national recognitions point to a promising future for the Dartmouth Fencing Club.

“I hope it doesn’t alienate people who are new to fencing, but rather encourages them to be a part of a team that can make them National Champion material,” Hviding said.