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Fencing: An in-depth look

November 10, 2011

By Roman Verzub

Mentioning Cleveland State athletics usually brings up images of the school’s ever-successful basketball team, or any of the various other programs for which CSU has been known.

Indeed, last on many sports fan’s ideas of excitement is fencing, but this need not necessarily be the case. Cleveland State’s fencing program has been going strong for years and is only getting stronger as its players, advance in skill level together.

Some students, like sophomore Marie Blatnik, who studies physics and electrical engineering, happened upon the team completely by accident.

“I was in an elevator one day in Fenn Tower,” she recalled, and upon inquiring about the bag the team member was carried she was encouraged to look into the fencing team.

Though she had no prior experience, the team welcomed her with open arms.

“It’s been so amazing,” she said. “We travel to different schools, we compete against other teams, we use everything we learned in practice, and it’s just been so amazing.”

“I’ve never been a student-athlete before,” she noted. “And even though fencing is an Rock Hallindividual sport we support each other, help each other grow as fencers and as people.
We unite together.”

Blatnik was not the only player who happened upon fencing by accident, or perhaps, luck.
In 2004, the Athens Olympics introduced sophomore and international relations major Salih Yasun to the game.

Previously a soccer player, Yasun, after viewing fencing, thought it was “a really cool sport.”

“It’s been six years since I did that,” he recalled. “And I still go to the fencing club.”
Student athletes drive for success and push themselves. Yasun is no different.

“I believe that tomorrow I can be better,” he said.
Fencing has taught him important life skills as well.

“I should not underestimate my opponents,” he said. “Every opponent is a struggle, just like life. Every opponent is a different struggle, so passing through these struggles means a lot to me.”

Other athletes, including freshman Phelan Spence, who has been fencing for seven years, share Yasun’s sentiments.

“I started out in... high school,” he recalled. “I just wanted to try it.”

The feeling of competing, and “how fun and exciting it is when you’re behind a mask” are what drive Spence to his craft.

“I really get a strong sense of excitement,” he said.

Team captains bear important responsibilities.

Foil captain sophomore and mechanical engineering major Anton Griepp has fenced for 10 years.

“One of my good friends was a fencer in high school,” he said. “And I just wanted to join to see what it was about.”

Griepp, the senior fencer, said that his attraction to the sport is the one-on-one competition, which he prefers over the team sports and “having to rely on other people.”

The foil historically has been primarily a training weapon in fencing.

A member for the last two years, Griepp has seen the team change dramatically.

“They’ve really grown,” he said. “Last year the team was smaller and there were less-experienced fencers on there. This year we definitely have a lot more experienced fencers and [the team] is a lot larger.”

This trend, Griepp says, will continue this year.

“I see the team getting a lot stronger and taking on some of the big schools as we get more fencers,” he said.

Right now, a torn ACL has Griepp on the sidelines for a year, but after that, Griepp looks forward to further representing CSU in competition.

Patrick Weber, a junior studying film is the team’s épée captain. The épée has a long history in fencing, and serves as the primary dueling weapon, Weber said.

Having fenced for the last 7 or 8 years, Weber recalls what sparked his interest.

“I was looking for a sport that was different and unique,” he said. “And I found fencing.”

A film enthusiast, the silver screen was the initial pull.

“I always liked people sword-fighting in the movies,” he said. “I thought fencing would be like that.’”

Fencing was not like that, but Weber enjoys it anyway.

Weber predicts a positive year for the team.

“We seem to be doing better and better,” he said. “We’ll likely be sending one or two
kids to nationals.”

For the last two years the team has sent one athlete to the national competitions, “so it’d be nice to send two people instead of just one,” Weber said.

Weber is also excited for the progress and new talent on the team.

“We’re really starting to develop,” he said. “We have a lot of new talent.”

The final captain on the team is eight-year fencing veteran and environmental science major sophomore Tom Bienvenu.

“I started fencing because a friend of mine started doing it,” he recalls. “I wanted to find a sport and wasn’t very good at soccer or basketball, so I tried fencing.”

He did not fall in love right away.

“At first I didn’t like it,” he said. “But then I tried it again in sixth grade and since then I’ve stuck with it.”

Bienvenu is the team’s sabre captain and he likes the team’s course this year.

“The team’s going in a good direction,” he said. “We have a good plan for the team.”

No team can be complete without dedicated staff to train and oversee practices. For the fencing team, it was assistant coach Nick Marion and head coach Andy Tulleners coaching the 20-to-25 student-athletes in the sub-basement of the Physical Education building.
Though it is Marion’s first year as assistant coach, he has plenty of fencing experience, having fenced since high school, as a result of a friend of his.

“His father was a fencing coach,” he said, who took him to a fencing practice and he’s “stuck with it ever since.”

Marion got involved in CSU’s fencing team through head coach Andy Tulleners who he’s known for several years.

“When the need arose for additional staff,” he recalled, “we talked about it, and decided that it would be fun.”

And fun it has indeed been.

“It’s been a blast,” he said, “I’ve really enjoyed working with the team.”

Head coach Andy Tulleners has been involved with the team for eight years, and this is his fourth year as head coach.

“I got started with the team years back,” Tulleners said. “And the need arose 4 years ago when the late-coach had health issues and had to resign, and it was a choice of me stepping in as head coach or the team folding.”

Having been involved in the sport since grade school at the YMCA, Tulleners brings the years of experience and enthusiasm for the sport needed.

Fencing is a very technique-oriented sport. It requires a lot of stamina, and boasts the least amount of injuries of any sport. The team coordinates and moves seemingly as one unit, in perfect form, as the captains explain every move, every push, and every muscle movement.

The CSU fencing team is not necessarily the first team that comes to mind as the team for the sports fanatic to follow, but a sport as exciting and fast-paced, with so much history and tradition deserves to not have to sit on the sidelines.