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June 6, 2013

Fencing, a sport most have forgotten about

Fencing team stands face to face against some tough competition

By Patrick Elder

Fencers square off in practice

Cleveland State takes pride in its athletics. Nothing demonstrates this better than the fact that Cleveland State was recently awarded its second James J. McCafferty All-Sports Trophy, presented annually to the Horizon League school with the top overall athletics program.

And yet there is one sport that has gone relatively unnoticed. Ask any student what sports teams Cleveland State fields and fencing is almost certainly bound to be left off the list.

“I would suspect that half of the campus doesn’t even know we have a fencing team,” fencing head coach Andy Tulleners said. “It’s tough, because a lot of the other sports have multiple home meets. We might have one local meet. Everything else is travelling.”

An increase in popularity may be on the horizon, however, as the men’s fencing team is coming off its first winning season in Tulleners’ five years as head coach, finishing at 18-10.

“I expected us to come out with a winning season,” Tulleners said. “I knew we were capable of it and we did it.”

For those unfamiliar, three different weapons are used in fencing: the epee, sabre and foil. The top two overall performers for the men were sophomore Phelan Spence (foil, 86-16) and junior Tom Bienvenu (sabre, 84-19). However, according to Tulleners, this year’s epee squad was a huge reason for the overall team success despite his tempered expectations.

“My whole men’s epee squad really stepped up,” Tulleners said. “I went into the season expecting one guy to perform well, but by the end of the season if one guy was down the other two picked it up. It just depended on the time of day we were fencing, but at any time two of the guys were really on. The whole men’s epee squad really led the team.”

The epee squad, consisting of freshman Paul Duchow (76-23) and sophomores Salih Yasun (69-29) and Levi Young (77-23), not only led the team, but provided them with the most exciting moment of the season when they bested fencing powerhouse Notre Dame in a regular season match-up. The Fighting Irish would go on to place second in the NCAA Fencing National Championship.

“That was pretty significant,” Tulleners said. “I wanted to get a few wins out of nine possible bouts. I was hoping to pull two or three wins and they pulled six out of nine. I was not expecting that result. Not at all.”

“That was awesome to see,” women’s fencer Christine Bocci said. “They were competitive throughout the entire season, so we knew they’d be up there with them. It was going to be close, but it was a surprise to see, that’s for sure.”

The sophomore Bocci (sabre, 39-46) was one of the top fencers for the women’s squad along with senior Amanda Brown (epee, 34-51). The women fought valiantly this year, but were scuttled by a shortage of warm bodies. Bocci and Brown comprised half of the entire women’s fencing team for Cleveland State this year.

“We were a little short on girls,” Tulleners said. “What I really looked for from the girls was to see them develop a better understanding for the sport and to focus on their individual performances. We used this as a building season moving into next season.”

“Having such a small women’s team was definitely a challenge,” Bocci said. “Even if we won all our bouts we’d still end up losing as a team. Having a small women’s team was definitely our biggest obstacle, but that’s about to change.”

The reason for this expected change is an influx of fencers to next year’s team. That, combined with their losing only one member to graduation, is the cause of much excitement and optimism.

“I think next season will be the best year in my nine or 10 years I’ve been around the team, to be honest,” Tulleners said. “We have a lot of additional girls coming into the squad with various skills and experience.

I think we’ll probably have the overall strongest women’s squad we’ve fielded in my time on the team.

Our men’s squad is only adding strength. We’re not losing anyone, so we’re only building from there. I really think we’re going to see another winning season from the men’s squad. And it will be tough, but I think we might see a winning season from the women’s squad as well, which I think would be the first one in my time at CSU.”

“I think it’s going to be one of the strongest squads we’ve ever had,” Bocci said. “With our recruits and how strong our team was this year, I think we’re only going to get better. Once our team grows and we keep improving like we are it will get better and better. My first year it seemed like nobody even knew that fencing existed, but this year we got more people checking it out and looking into it.”