For Penn State fencing, winning is a ritual.
Looking to re-establish that ritual after a slip-up in 2011-12, the Nittany Lions will play host to a field of the nation’s best fencers this weekend for the Garret Open at Penn State’s White Building.
The long-storied Penn State program has prospered since before 1990, when Emmanuil Kaidanov won his first of 12 NCAA championships.
As recently as 2009 and 2010, the Nittany Lions won back-to-back championships and finished behind just Notre Dame in 2011.
Then, aside from Aleksander Ochocki’s individual national title last season, things fell apart.
After being ranked the No. 1 team in the nation for much of the season, the Lions struggled in the NCAA championship in 2012, finishing in fifth place.
Now, with Ochocki gone, the burden to bring Kaidanov and the program another national title rests on a familiar group, including last season’s women’s captain, Margherita Guzzi-Vincenti.
“We want to absolutely move forward and do better this year,” Guzzi-Vincenti said. “We’ve got a good amount of freshmen, and they look pretty good. Everyone is willing to train hard and put a lot of effort into it.”
Guzzi-Vincenti was crowned as champion of the women’s epee division at the Garret Open last season, a competition she said she won with a broken finger.
Now healthy, the senior is anxious to repeat last year’s result, while newly appointed men’s captain, Adrian Bak (saber), looks to improve on his 11th place finish at last year’s Garret Open.
Bak, a junior, said he expects all Penn State divisions — saber, epee, foil — to do “really well” this weekend. He added that the Garret Open is likely to go a long way in determining who will be some of the most important pieces for the team this season.
“Honestly, every spot is wide open,” Bak said. “There’s no guaranteed spots this year. We’ve had a couple tournaments already, and the coaches have a better sense of how the team is looking, but every tournament is just [everyone] fighting for the two spots.”
Unfortunately for the Lions, 2012 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson will not be participating in the Garret Open due to a conflict with his academics.
“I think any one of our guys could do well [this weekend] — David [Willette], Jeremy [Goldstein], [David and Daniel] Gomez-[Tanamachi],” Chamley-Watson said. “I think if they want to win, they can definitely make it to the finals.”
Looking ahead, Chamley-Watson said he definitely thinks his team is a championship-level team, a statement likely not echoed by Kaidanov, who has now been at the helm for 30-plus years.
Kaidanov, a one-step-at-a-time coach, said his focus is on this weekend before all else.
“The goal of this tournament is to [find] as many as possible competitive parts,” Kaidanov said. “It’s a competition where people are getting sharper. We have most of our main opponents at this tournament, except Ohio State and St. John’s, but it’s a very formidable group of teams coming up here.”
The Garret Open will begin at 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday, and among the teams coming in are Notre Dame, Harvard, Princeton and Pennsylvania.