MAPLEWOOD, NJ— In a game of “physical chess,” the Columbia High School boys and girls fencing teams are checkmating all challengers.
Both teams are undefeated and are ranked as the top teams in New Jersey by nj.com.
Coach Daryl White said that the team definitely has to be physically ready in the waning weeks of the season, but the mental aspect of the sport is also key.
“This is a physical chess,” White said. “It’s a physical sport, but it’s definitely a mental sport also.”
The pressure of being regarded as a top-tier team hasn’t gotten to White, who said both team are well aware of their standing.
“I try to explain to them that we’ve got a target on our back,” White said. “Everybody that comes to fence us gives us their best shot because we’re where they want to be. We’re looked at as a good program, and they want to be where we are. If they knock us off, it could make their season.”
Pressure, though, is nothing new to either squad, as the boys and girls teams have won a combined 16 team state championships. The girls have 10 championships, with the last title coming in 2012. The boys are six-time champions, capturing three of the last four and are the defending state champions.
“One group pushes the other group,” White said. “We support each other 110 percent. The girls are happy for the guys and the guys want to be happy for the girls. It’s not like a competitive thing. It’s a thing where they drive each other to do the best that they possibly can do.”
Senior Jared LeBron said that pressure is nothing new to the team.
“We’re used to the pressure by now because we always set high expectations for ourselves,” he said.
On Sunday, both teams won gold medals at the NJSIAA District 3 tournament, earning the top seeds in the team state championships in the process. White and his fencers know this is not time to become complacent.
“We don’t like to peak too early,” White said of the boys team. “We’re progressing in the direction that we should be progressing. We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’re definitely trying to work towards that goal.”
The girls won the Santelli tournament earlier this month, which White described as a good measuring stick of where teams stand against the rest of the state.
“The girls are in good shape,” White said.
Senior Najiyyah Clark said that the team still has to work to prove they are the best in the state.
“Just because we have the top spot doesn’t mean we have to keep it,” she said. “There’s always a team that could beat us.”
Since 2010, Columbia fencing has a championship from either the boys or the girls, but this year, a sweep of the state championships is at least on Clark’s mind.
“Both squads want that state championship,” said Clark. “We want to win together.”
Senior Max Gould, who captured the No. 1 overall seed for the epee state individual tournament, said that the team wants to win the state championship.
“We really do want it this year, probably more than any year before, especially because a lot of us are seniors this year,” Gould said. “We want to end our high school career with a state win.”
White said that coaches don’t want to make predictions but also said that both teams are in a great position to win another state championship.
“If they do the right things, we’ve got a good shot for both the boys and the girls,” he said.