Penn State entered this weekend with the chance to qualify 12 fencers for the national championship, but the team qualified just 11 fencers — six men, five women.
The Nittany Lions are entering familiar territory, as they were in the same situation last season, when they finished fifth with 11 competitors.
Before last season’s championship even started, coach Emmanuil Kaidanov already sounded defeated in an interview with The Daily Collegian, as he said, “We’re already down.”
But despite a burden being placed on this year’s men’s team, some of the most important pieces of the men’s and women’s teams, ranked Nos. 1 and 6 respectively, say they aren’t worried about the early disadvantage.
“I think that when [the women] see how well we’re doing, they can get pumped up and hopefully handle round two,” said senior and 2012 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson (men’s foil).
Chamley-Watson, who finished first in men’s foil competition, said the biggest difference maker could be the men’s team providing a cushy lead before the women even hit the mat.
“I think we can definitely give them a good lead with us going first,” said Chamley-Watson, whose men’s team will compete on March 21 and 22, while the women will compete on March 23 and 24.
Women’s captain Jessica Russo (women’s saber) is optimistic the men can provide a lead for the women to work with, but said she also trusts her teammates on the women’s side.
“[We] did qualify five pretty strong fencers, so it’s not like we’re worried,” Russo said. “… Even with that missing person, I feel like we have a very strong team and can at least — if not win — get the top three.”
One of the strong fencers Russo talks about is Margherita Guzzi-Vincenti (women’s epee), who battled off injuries toward the end of the season and finished the regular season 37-5.
The Italian finished fourth in women’s epee qualifying, making her the lone Lion in that weapon category to compete in the championship.
While Guzzi-Vincenti is a former national champion, several fencers will be debuting on the big stage, including freshmen Shaul Gordon (men’s saber) and Clarisse Luminet (women’s foil).