With the new collegiate rankings coming out this past Wednesday, the Penn State men’s fencing team finds itself in a familiar spot — No. 1 in the country. This is a result of its impressive wins against five top ranked schools in the team’s last meet.
Both the men and women’s squads are looking to continue their successful seasons during this weekend’s meet at Duke, where the Nittany Lions will also square off against MIT, Air Force, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
The meet starts on Saturday and continues through Sunday, but because of the long distance, the Lions will be leaving State College at 9 a.m. on Friday.
The toughest competition for the Lions will be Notre Dame, which currently sits at No. 2 in the men’s standings and No. 1 on the women’s side.
Though most of the team’s focus is on the Fighting Irish, coach Emmanuil Kaidanov is not taking the other teams in the meet lightly either.
“In addition to Notre Dame there is Duke, a team which is full of surprises,” Kaidanov said. “A couple of years ago they beat us badly at their place…so we have to be careful and respectful.”
Despite earning the coveted top spot in the country, the Penn State men are not letting it get to their heads.
“It’s just a stat and it can easily change,” senior Miles Chamley-Watson said. “We want to use that number one seed as motivation to win the national championship, but we know as a team we still have a ways to go.”
The statistic for the men that is more impressive than their ranking is their season record, which currently is undefeated with only two meets left before Regionals.
Chamley-Watson said he definitely expects the team’s undefeated mark to continue through this weekend’s meet and that he feels it can be undefeated all the way to Nationals.
This undefeated mark can be credited to the type of mental philosophy Kaidanov imparts on his team for these meets, where head-to-head team competitions are decided in a best of 27-point format.
“We start with the score already 27-0 not with the score 0-0, so we our not starting from scratch and collecting [points] one by one,” said Kaidanov. “We assume that we’re supposed to win all bouts.”
As for the Nittany Lion women, they head into the meet as the No. 5 team in the nation.
For many schools, this would be considered an accomplishment, but for a perennial national contender like Penn State, this is an area they feel needs improvement.
“Everyone is really putting in a lot of effort…and proving that we can move up and our boys have already done it,” senior Margherita Guzzi Vincenti. “Just for the girls we need to probably try to fence a little bit better, but we are there and we can for sure get higher in the rankings.”
Guzzi Vincenti will travel with the team this weekend, but she will not be able to compete after fracturing her right pinky finger this week.
This puts the women at a disadvantage, especially when they try to avenge their 18-9 loss to Notre Dame that happened just two weeks ago at the St. Johns Invitational..
After going through its toughest meet of the year two weeks ago, where virtually every team was in the top 10 rankings, this meet features just one other ranked team in Duke, with the exception of the Fighting Irish.
Even though the intensity might not be quite the same for this competition, the Lions are confident that they will not experience any sort of letdown in performance this weekend.
“I don’t think we really think about that,” Chamley-Watson said. “Any team we compete we want to beat, so I don’t think we’ll be thinking about the different type of skill levels.”