Fencing builds interest and works with discrepancies in skill

Since its December 2012 introduction at the high school, fencing has become relatively well-known at PHS, with over 50 active members. However, there is a discrepancy in skill, as some players have played the sport since childhood, while others have just been introduced to the game. This year, current Assistant Coach Sam Blanchard wants to balance talent among the players and focus on their individual growth.

During practice, Blanchard focuses on drilling basic bladework and footwork with players, creating different assignments for the veterans and the beginners.  “I will sometimes assign one of the more advanced fencers to work with [the less advanced fencers] in the drills while I go assign [other] drills to the [other] more advanced fencers,” he said.

As the new fencers practice the fundamental skills, more experienced players also get a chance to develop their techniques through poule sessions—round-robin tournaments that allow players to compete against one another. “[I think] the poule bouts will help them grow in terms of competition experience,” Blanchard said. “[They can get and give] feedback from other team members.”

During poule sessions, players work on a variety of skills that help them discover their weaknesses and improve in these areas before the match. Hannah Semmelhack ’16—a returning foilist—said, “We work on footwork, point control, attack, [and] defense, and we divide up into different blades … to mix it up. We tally up the wins, and we evaluate.”

Beginners also partake in the poule rounds after they accumulate a certain amount of necessary technique. “Regular drills are part of the standard fencing curriculum. Once [they] learn the basic bladework, [they can start] to put those in context and structure drills with other players [and] see a little bit of what the other strip has to introduce,” Blanchard said. He thinks that focusing on a small number of variables each time will quicken the players’ advancements.

This season, Blanchard aims to build a stronger team and to expand current facilities and equipment. “We want all the fencers to grow, and we want to start growing some of the weapons. We had a lot of our top fencers graduate last year, [so] we are in the rebuilding period to see who we got and what we got in terms of talent and experience,” he said.

Additionally, he looks forward to getting invited to freshman and sophomore tournaments that will give beginning fencers opportunities to get on the strip.

photo: Nathan Drezner

Left, Lachlan McCarty ’18, and right, Hermanus Krieke-Martin ’17 work on their saber technique during practice on December 11. photo: Nathan Drezner

Captain of the girls foil squad Architha Sudhakar ’15  wants to see an improved record this year in district and state tournaments. “We want a stronger and better team. This year we are becoming more cohesive as a group. As a third-year team, we are aiming to win more meets and get more points,” she said.

Team Captain Philip Trevisan ’15 wants to attract more interest. “I think [fencing] is a very easy sport to get into. We are just trying to increase the awareness in the school and recruit more members, ” he said.

Trevisan also wants to change the way he manages team practices in order to improve team organization. “I try to have each of my squad captains organize and get them to run the mini-tournaments within each of their events,” Trevisan said. “As the year goes on, I’m going to have more practices organized around specific activities.”

He hopes these adjustments will yield more victories.

To achieve the goal of raising awareness about fencing, Blanchard has initiated summer programs that offer players chances to pursue the sport outside of regular season. He also looks out to local clubs and junior high schools for upcoming talent. Blanchard said, “We are [always trying] to build a lot more interest in fencing.”

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