Big Green fencing team takes championships
By Jasmine Sachar, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Dartmouth club fencing team finished in first place this past weekend at the New England Club Championships, hosted by the University of New Hampshire. The women’s foil, women’s saber, men’s saber and men’s epee squads took gold medals, while the men’s foil squad took silver and the women’s eppe finished fifth. Heather Szilagyi ’15 and Gaby Stern ’14 placed first and third in women’s foil, respectively. Stuart Ghafoor ’14 placed second in men’s foil, and Peter Horak ’14 took third in men’s epee. Captain Tommy McQuillan ’13 notched a first-place individual finish in the men’s saber. “We definitely reasserted ourselves as the dominant club team in New England,” McQuillan said. Since fencing is a club sport at the College, they lack varsity perks like new equipment, a coach and the ability to recruit athletes.
While there is an ongoing dialogue about the team becoming varsity, captain Scott Brookes ‘14 said it is unlikely to happen soon.
Dartmouth is the only Ivy League school without a varsity fencing team. There are, however, benefits to being a club sport. Practice hours are more flexible to accommodate schoolwork, and the team faces few restrictions. The varsity disparity is apparent at competitions where both club and varsity teams compete with each other.
Schools that have accredited varsity teams, such as Brown University, Boston College and Sacred Heart University, travel in luxurious travel buses, while Dartmouth has to rent vans and drive themselves.
“It’d be easier if we could sleep on the ride there,” Brookes said. “I envy the resources of varsity schools, but at the same time, I probably wouldn’t be starting at a varsity school.” The team manages victories against varsity teams nonetheless. The team defeated both Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology varsity teams in men’s saber at the Northeast fencing conference in January. Brookes likes the combination of strategy and physical prowess necessary to succeed in fencing. “Some people call it physical chess,” he said. Since the team does not recruit, about half of the fencing team has had prior experience fencing, while the other half joined as novices, Brookes said.
Lindsey Lam ’15, who won her first medal this weekend in women’s saber, just began her fencing career last year, when she and a floormate decided to try the sport. “The team culture sunk right in,” Lam said. “We gained a whole new group of friends and learned so much from the upperclassman that we were able to compete really well against club teams in the East and nationally.” In the absence of a coach, unusual even for a club team, upperclassmen run practices and sign the team up for competitions.
Each squad is led by a more experienced fencer who guides the rest of the squad through pertinent drills. McQuillan said that though he only started fencing in college, he became a leader on the team his sophomore year, after being coached at home the summer after freshman year. The team competes in four events during the winter, culminating in the National Club Championships, which will be held at the University of Michigan, East Lansing in April.
The fencing team returns to the competition as reigning champions and hopes to defend the title. Nationals have a different feel than other competitions, McQuillan said.
For East Coast matches, the team must wake up early and drive long distances, while nationals is a two-day competition that the team flies to.
East Coast teams have become familiar with each other’s fighting styles, but different teams at nationals introduce unknown variables into competition.
“It’s all about adaptability,” McQuillan said. “We love the challenge.”