Fencing makes strides at national competition

By Kate Fratar

Wrapping up the season in style this weekend, Chicago’s fencing club showed that it’s still one of the University’s finest programs.

At the Club Fencing Championships (CFCs) hosted by Smith College, the Maroons took a fifth-place overall finish in a field of 35 schools. Top individual performances on the sabre by second-year Talia Hurwich for the women and by fourth-year Will Claybaugh for the men added to the squad’s high standing in the tournament.

“This is definitely a whole lot better then we did last year,” third-year team president Gabriella Grisotti said.

In the 2007 CFC, the club placed 14th overall. This spring the Maroons rose in the rankings in seven categories, with the greatest improvement coming in the women’s foil, where the Maroons climbed ten spots from 21st to 11th.

The strong showing at Smith came on the heels of the team’s sixth-place effort in the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships at Notre Dame February 23–24, an event that featured D-I programs. Women’s épée set the standard for the club as a whole in Indiana, taking fourth and leading a women’s team that finished in the top 10 in all three weapons.

One-upping the performance at Notre Dame, women’s épée claimed bronze at Smith and was matched by its counterparts in the sabre. Hurwich took fifth in the individual sabre competition, the highest finish of any Maroon.

“Sabre is probably our strongest weapon considering men and women, but if you look back to our February MFC results, you’ll see that women’s épée has consistently done just as well, if not better,” Grisotti said.

The sabre collected top honors on the men’s side too, with the club coming in fourth overall and Claybaugh placing seventh in solos. With its roots in cavalry fighting, the sabre is the only weapon where fencers are allowed to slash and thrust, and its target area is entirely above the waist.

Both Claybaugh and Hurwich qualified for the individual competition based on the outcomes of their initial pools, where 10 to 12 fencers face off. From the individual matchups, the top 14 fencers from the three weapons for each gender advance to cross blades. Team rankings are based on points earned by individual fencers and the weapons squads.

With finals and spring break between Chicago’s last competition and the CFCs at Smith, getting everyone in top form was a tough task. Club members either worked out together in Hyde Park or found ways to train at home. Once back on the South Side, practices at Henry Crown focused on preparing for tournament rather than growing the team as a whole.

“It’s kind of like cramming for an exam,” Grisotti said. “The last few days won’t severely impact your performance, but you want to be mentally and physically prepared.”

From here fencing will go into postseason mode, working with beginners and hosting Northwestern for an individuals’ scrimmage. A few athletes will up their game and compete in bouts at United States Fencing Association tournaments.

“This is a great time for fencers to maybe try a new weapon or play around with their techniques and to experiment–a luxury that’s a little risky during tournaments,” Grisotti said.

And at the beginning of May, 13 fencers will bring their skills to a whole new arena. Taking to the stage in UBallet’s production of Le Corsaire, they’ll be spicing up the choreography of the pirate ballet’s fighting scenes.