While it remains a unified team, the Princeton High fencing team branches into subsets consisting of different types of weapons, each with its own dynamic and leader. Although the team is still relatively new, it has quickly acquired a structured order and process for athletes to choose their events.
The three different types of weapons in fencing are foil, épée, and saber. Although most fencers eventually select different weapons, typically they all start out with the same weapon—foil. Many people decide to continue fencing foil, while others eventually switch over to one of the other two.
“When someone wants to start fencing for the first time, they will take up foil because it teaches them the conventions of fencing, emphasizing personal control,” said Danielle Almstead ’16, a foil fencer.
“On the school team, if you’re a new fencer, you have to fence foil for a set period of time, but usually you’ll see the other weapon practices going on, so if you’re interested in one of the other weapons you can just go up to the coaches and ask,” said Co-Captain Philip Trevisan ’15, who chose to fence saber after beginning with foil.
Determining one’s interest in another weapon is based on personal preference, as each weapon requires a different style and expertise. According to Almstead, standing out in an event takes practice, but in specific categories having certain characteristics can be beneficial. Typically, height is an advantage among épée fencers because the extra reach is most useful in that event, while speed is an advantage among foil and saber fencers.
The division of categories based on weapon within the team also provides opportunities for different fencers to take on leadership roles.“Basically there are six different squads, men and women’s squads for each three events. Each squad has a captain who is responsible for fencing varsity, and they hold poules, basically mini-tournaments, to decide who fences varsity,” Trevisan said.
“The team is structured to provide an opportunity to learn leadership skills with a team captain and each squad having a squad-captain. Because neither myself [nor] Head Coach Varga [is] regular faculty, we rely on the captains to help coordinate the team and to keep team members informed and organized,” said Coach Sam Blanchard.
A focus within the team on improvement led to a new team record, with the girls team placing three fencers in the top ten at Districts. The girls team finished its season 2–3 after beating Princeton Day School and West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School. The boys team finished its season with a record of 0–6, losing three games within a margin of three points. The boys’ last match against Christian Boys Academy was notably close—going into the second round of épée the team was up 9–6. The team failed to keep its momentum with the meet finishing 12–13 after it lost two bouts in a row.
In order to succeed in their events, athletes must commit themselves to practicing and improving on their skills individually, as they are only able to practice as a team four times a week. Team dynamic is important, but once a fencer approaches the mat, the match becomes a one-on-one duel.
“Ultimately fencing is a sport where you stand alone on the strip facing your opponent one on one. Success or failure depends on the work put in,” Blanchard said.