Only four years after its creation, the PHS fencing team must face some of the best programs across the state in its district. In the past, the younger team struggled to match the experience other schools had, but the captains encourage members to focus on the future.
“We are still a new team and trying to get everything to work properly, but I feel like in the future we will be competition to reckon with. As of right now, we are still getting there slowly,” said Saber Captain Jackie Hua ’17.
With six captains—one of each gender for each of the three types of weapons—the team has a wealth of experience to develop a competitive program. For the first time in the team’s history, seniors have been with the program for their whole high school careers, whereas in the past, the team used to rely on mentors bringing experience from club teams in order to improve.
“During the tournament, I’ll try to coach [new members] while they are fencing. I’ll give them tips … to just give them a better experience and … help them get better,” Hua said.
The team competed at Districts on January 30 at North Hunterdon High School. The tournament included every school in the district and featured three weapons: foil, épée and saber. After several rounds, the top eight in each weapon competed individually for ranking. After the individual rounds, the top three in each weapon moved onto states.
The open challenge was set during the tournament with several teams being the top in the state.
“The district that we are in is actually the most challenging one in my opinion. We have the strongest competition,” Hua said.
While no Little Tigers made it to states, Hua advanced to the top eight in saber. The team remained positive in spite of its result at districts, and it stressed the importance of learning to fence as a team rather than as individuals. In club teams, coaches and players emphasize winning for themselves whereas on school teams, wins contribute to only team points.
“Spirits were still pretty high leaving the competition,” Hua said. “Even though it’s a competition, it’s good that we all took it as a learning experience.”
As the season ends, players like Hua look to upcoming juniors and sophomores to take the reins and continue the team’s improvement in the coming years. For Hua, that starts with the right attitude.
“An unconfident mindset already guarantees less than spectacular results, while overconfidence is also deadly,” Hua said. “I think that finding the balance between the two … is
one of the biggest challenges in such an erratic and dynamic sport.”
While fencing at PHS continues to grow as a program, it faces obstacles in its growth. The team does not yet have a proper facility in which to practice,and, on certain days, has been forced to use the cafeteria.
“[The linoleum floors are] a dangerous surface to compete on. I’ve had fencers slip, fall, and hurt themselves,” said Head Coach Phil Dershwitz.
Because the team does not have a facility to practice in, practice takes place in alternate locations around the school. The team practices in the school gyms on Mondays and Wednesdays and in the cafeteria on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
A potential temporary solution was proposed by PHS Athletic Director John Randis to practice at other schools in the Princeton area on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, the idea has not worked out so far.
“We … do not have the ability to [travel]; that’s something the athletic department has to do,” Dershwitz said.
Despite these obstacles, the coaches of the fencing team stay focused on what they believe is the main goal of the sport at PHS— to educate students about fencing.
“Our mission is primarily educational,” said Coach John Blanchard. “The more we can capture the hearts and minds of the students, the more dedication we can build and what they put into the sport is what they’re going to get out of it.”
Blanchard continued to emphasize that fencing provides a new learning opportunity. “It’s a very rewarding sport. It’s very educational for the kids [and] it’s a gateway sport for a lot of people who haven’t enjoyed sports in the past,” he said.