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En guarde! Fencing takes aim in 2012

Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletic Department

The Ohio State men’s and women’s fencing teams opened their season in a winning fashion after competing in the New York University Invitational and St. John’s Invitational on Jan. 21 and 22, respectively.

At the St. John’s Invitational, the No. 5-ranked men defeated Columbia, No. 3 Harvard and No. 1 Penn State, schools that have traditionally strong fencing programs.

The No. 6-ranked women faced their fair share of strong competition, defeating No. 7 Harvard, No. 5 St. John’s and No. 1 Penn State.

Results from the teams’ trip to the Northwestern Duals in Evanston, Ill., this past weekend had not been posted on Tuesday, but despite the strong showing at NYU and St. John’s, coach Vladimir Nazlymov said the weekend was “not exactly great.”

“We have some problems, but for sure much better than last season,” he said.

Nazlymov was referring to the men’s and women’s teams’ combined fifth place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships. He said he and the team were unhappy following the finish.

He attributed some of the struggles last season to the team’s overall inexperience.

“Our freshmen this year are a little bit better,” he said. “They have international experience and they’re good kids.”

He said the team also struggled with injuries and academic eligibility issues last season.

There are three events in fencing: epee, foil and sabre.

In foil, the fencer is only allowed to strike the torso and use the tip of the weapon. Any touches that land off target are not scored and the action is stopped.

In sabre, like foil, any touches outside of the target area are not scored, but action is not stopped. However, the fencer can strike anywhere on the upper body and is allowed to use the point and blade of the weapon to make contact.

Epee has the fewest restrictions. The fencer can strike any part of his or her opponent’s body, but is only allowed to use the point of the weapon.

Senior sabreist Max Stearns discussed fencing on a more intricate level.

“It’s a sport that uses a lot of physical capability. You need to be explosive, you need to be strong, you need to (be) fast, you need to have all those elements that all sports have in addition to an incredible amount of strategy,” Stearns said. “It’s kind of nicknamed the sport of chess.”

Despite Nazlymov’s conservative analysis of the opening weekend, Stearns said he feels much more optimistic about the team’s chances for this season.

“I think expectations are pretty high, even before the season started we have one of the most complete teams in the NCAA, I think, across all weapons and genders,” Stearns said. “Expectations on the team are very high. We’re working towards bringing back a championship.”

Sophomore epeeist Katarzyna Dabrowa said she had similar expectations for the upcoming season.

“I’m preparing to win NCAA’s this year, because I think I can do it this year,” Dabrowa said. “Last year I got third, and I think I’m prepared to win this year.”

Along with preparing for a strong NCAA finish, Dabrowa, a native of Wroclaw, Poland, and Stearns, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, hope to represent their homelands in the upcoming summer Olympics.

Stearns said he is hoping to qualify, but since Canada is “fighting right now with the United States,” it’s going to be a difficult task.

Fencing is not a sport that your average child takes interest in.

Stearns and Dabrowa said they had similar experiences that led to their involvement in fencing.

Stearns said his interest was sparked after his father took him to see the Pan American Games as a child.

Dabrowa was also introduced to the sport by a family member.

“My grandpa watched the Olympics and encouraged me to try it,” she said.

The team is set to host the NCAA Championships at French Field House, their home facility, this March.

“I think some people might think that when you’re at home and you have your friends around, and family, you know the pressure’s on, but I think for a lot of people on the team, it’s really a benefit more than causing anxiety,” Stearns said. “We get to wake up in our own beds and, you know, come to our home and really defend our own territory.”

Stearns is most excited about the prospect of winning an NCAA Championship at home.

“I don’t think many people are worrying about it being at home, I think more people are excited that we might be able to bring it home here,” he said.

Stearns encouraged anyone interested in fencing to come watch an event.

“The best way to get people to understand it is to come watch,” he said. “It’s not the easiest sport to understand, but at least if you watch it you can get a better feel for it. It’s exciting.”

The men’s and women’s teams continued their respective seasons Feb. 17 at the Junior Olympics. A location and start time for the event is still to be determined.  

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