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With eye on record 17th national title, Penn State fencing brings in talented recruiting class

Penn State vs Columbia

Head coach Wes Glon instructs Matthew Lewicki before the game against Columbia at White Building on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Penn State men's fencing upset Columbia 14-13.

In the Penn State fencing room, the expectations to compete for a record 17th national title are omnipresent.

But after failing to qualify the ideal maximum of 12 fencers to the NCAA finals in 2017, paired with the notion of Penn State hosting this season’s finals in March of 2018, there is an even greater pressure.

With the new season on the horizon, coach Wes Glon has learned from last year’s disappointing conclusion.

“I think the team spirit was not there,” Glon said. “I think they didn’t believe it. They’re used to being on top, they just all kind of were flat. I can’t really pinpoint what happened. I think the psychological preparation was the issue.”

While six of the 10 Nittany Lions who fenced in last year’s NCAAs have returned to the team, this year’s freshman class of 20 is expected to make an impact right away. Glon said the group of newcomers might grow also, as a few international fencers who are currently encountering unspecified complications with joining the team are still expected to arrive by the start of the season.

For now, the rookies are becoming acclimated to new training regimens and teammates.

“I was overwhelmed at first, just transitioning to college in general,” said freshman sabruer Zara Moss. “But my teammates have been great with helping me. Everybody has made it smoother. It’s always going to be a little challenging, but I think I’m definitely settled in now.”

Glon singled out Moss and foilist Isabella Zuzulo as two freshmen who will quickly become important pieces of the team’s success, so getting them accustomed to the program and collegiate fencing early is crucial.

“We have a few upcoming stars, we will very much count on them to step into the lineup and by the end of the year be strong members of the team,” Glon said. “I know that they’re young, but they have experience behind them and really have a lot of success behind them.”

Because four of the six female fencers who qualified to last year’s championships have since graduated, there are already definite openings at all three weapons.

As the freshmen prepare to make their marks on the group, returning fencers are guiding them along the way.

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“I would love to share my experience of fencing in NCAAs the last two years with all the freshmen, and push them harder during training,” said saber captain Karen Chang.

The Nittany Lions will have their first competition of the year on Saturday and Sunday when they host the annual Nittany Lion Cup Open in the White Building. Although it is an individual competition and doesn’t count toward NCAA standings, the tournament will be the first time the freshmen don blue and white.

“I’m a little nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Moss said. “But I’m very excited. I haven’t competed since the middle of July, so I’m excited to get back on the strip and finally be a Nittany Lion when I compete.”

For Zuzulo, the change in team doesn’t mean a change in foe.

“[I’ll fence] people that I’ve fenced before in regional tournaments and stuff, so there’s going to be some pressure to do better than them because it’s going to be here so there’s the expectation to perform,” he said.

After four weeks of training, there are still three months before NCAA competition starts and Glon has to make decisions regarding who will be in the starting lineups.

But for now, the Nittany Lion Cup Open will be his best gauge for how the youngsters will fare with the next level of competition.

“Now it’s how they handle the pressure of collegiate fencing,” Glon said. “Sometimes it takes time, sometimes they like the environment of extra pressure.”

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Matt Lingerman is a junior studying Broadcast Journalism with minors in Psychology and International Studies. He covers Penn State football and men's basketball and is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at The Daily Collegian.

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