Fencing team armed for winter season
Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 19:02
On Saturday, Nov. 6, the Blue fencers began their season at Smith College with the 2010 NEIFC Fall Invitational. Imbued with a history of winning and a tradition of excellence, the Wellesley fencers were ready to make the season one of their best yet.
"The team is doing very well," head coach Gamil Kaliouby said. A three-time Olympian with several national and world championships under his belt, Kaliouby brings an impressive range of knowledge and experience to the Blue fencing team. The respect that the team feels for the coach is mutual.
"I like coaching Wellesley women because they're smart," Kaliouby said. "They learn fast."
"The fencing team is the best thing that's happened to me at Wellesley," said Hannah Braaten '11, one of the team's two captains. Her specific fencing specialty is the foil. She missed making the U.S. National team because of a technicality based on her attending a Division III school.
Fencing is a complicated sport—at least compared to basketball, soccer or tennis, which most of us intuitively understand as a result of a lifetime's exposure. There are three events: foil, where the only targets are the back and chest, which you must stab; épée, where you can stab any part of an opponent's body; and saber, where you can not only stab but also slash at an opponent's body. The foil, épée and saber are shaped differently, and are governed by different rules that require different sets of skills. The swords' spring-loaded tips—which ensure that the fencers thrust with enough force to befit the term "stabbing"— and magnetic suits allow for the accurate allotment of points.
"Fencing is a skilled sport—it's unique," said Kaliouby. More than skill, though, fencing takes courage. "You have to have the guts. You have to have the desire for winning."
Wellesley, a Division III school, faces a unique set of challenges at competitions. Because many schools don't have fencing teams, Wellesley competes against not only other Division III schools but also club teams and top-rated Division I schools, including Brown.
"There's a huge range in skill levels in the teams that we face," Braaten said. Kaliouby, while not overconfident, believes that the team's future holds success. "I anticipate that they will do better this year," he said.
That's quite a prediction, considering last year's impressive set of triumphs. The 2010 New England Conference Meet saw Wellesley take home gold in the individual épée championships and nab second in the foil event. Although the fencers' scores are added to determine which school has won a given meet, the fencers have to fence alone. According to Braaten, that combination of individual and team efforts is her favorite thing about fencing.
"It's just you versus your opponent on the strip," Braaten said. "In that moment it's all on you. But you still get the team atmosphere where everybody really likes each other and practices together."
The team, says Braaten, is composed of a "fantastic group of girls." She added, "As soon as you join there's an instant community. You have an instant group of friends."
"It's been such a great experience," Courtney Collins '14, a first-year recruit from New York, said. "I love the break in the day to spend time with such great people, and I'm learning so much more than I ever expected to." Her teammates, she added, are like sisters.
Like all student-athletes, the Blue fencers must fight to overcome the challenges posed by balancing training and academics. The team practices for two hours each afternoon and competes on the weekends, often leaving as early as 5:30 a.m., and sometimes staying overnight.
"Balancing my time is the biggest challenge I face," said Ashley Paquin '11, Braaten's cocaptain. "Both the best and worst thing about being on the team is having two hours and a day when you have to focus exclusively on fencing."
As team captains, Paquin and Braaten are expected to lead, a duty that Paquin feels guides even tiny gestures—such as yawning too much—while she's at practice.
"Slacking off gives everyone the permission to do it," Paquin said.
Although the 2010-2011 season is shaping up to be an excellent one, the future of the Blue fencers does look a little uncertain. Nearly half the team is graduating this spring, which will leave a tremendous gap in not only the team's roster but also its dynamic and cumulative experience.
Wellesley will host two fencing meets, the Wellesley Invitational on Jan. 29 and the New England Conference Meet on Feb. 6.