LIVINGSTON, NJ - Governor Livingston Highlander fencers came home triumphant on several fronts from the über -competitive District 3 tournament this past Sunday. The boys' team came within one bout of toppling defending champion Columbia, whose team has held the district title in three of the previous four years. To say this is an outstanding accomplishment is a grave understatement.
According to the Star-Ledger's recap of the event, "Columbia narrowly escaped with the District 3 title after Gov. Livingston gave the defending champions all they could handle Sunday in Livingston. Gov. Livingston clearly announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with, walking away from the District 3 tournament with two gold medals in squad sabre and foil."
With the GL boys' complete domination in sabre and foil a done deal, the boys' épée squad broke out of the shadows to power the team to a tie with Columbia in overall victories, 78-78, and bring home their first district medal in recent memory. The tiebreaker for the overall championship came down to indicators, giving Columbia the slightest of margins and Governor Livingston a second place finish.
As one of the most well-rounded sabre squads in the state, the team of Mark Watson, Danny Marchelitis and Ian Fan claimed their second consecutive district sabre title, besting Columbia with a total of 27 wins and only 6 losses. All three made the individual qualifying round, where Watson broke the previously undefeated streak of Livingston's World Cup fencer Eddie Chin with a 5-3 victory, an act which was immediately replicated by Marchelitis at 5-4.
Over on the foil strip, the dynamo of Sean Li, Alex Ju and Ben Carlick was also laying claim to their district champion title. The foil squad, which was coming off a third place finish at Cetrulos, gave up only 4 bouts. They accumulated a total 29 wins, with Carlick going undefeated in the first round on B-strip. Once again, all three fencers made the individual qualifiers, with Li breaking through to top three and a bronze medal.
The real story, however, unfolded with mens' épée. Relatively unseasoned, and without a weapon coach for much of the season, the team of Andrew Savino, Brandon Donohue and Jake Tyler overcame all odds to win a total 22 bouts and the bronze medal. Together these boys surpassed teams much better known for strength in épée to reach the finish line just behind Montclair, whose epee line was recently described by the Star-Ledger as being in a class by itself. Savino, holding down the A-strip as a first-year starter, went 7-4 for the day. Donohue, who just recently changed weapons from foil, also performed at 7-4, while Tyler rounded out the day with an 8-3 record.
On the other side of the gym, the Governor Livingston women went head-to-head in a hotly-contested battle for the championship against perennial favorites Columbia and Livingston. Leading the pack with a gold-medal finish was GL womens' épée, followed closely by sabre with the bronze. Despite being a rebuilding year for womens' foil, the squad ended up in a dead heat with Livingston at 25 victories each, thanks to Allison Yang (8-3), Zoya To (8-3), and Emily Bittner (9-2). When the dust had settled, Livingston had barely eked out a third place foil win on indicators, leaving the Governor Livingston women to claim the overall bronze medal. The Star-Ledger had this to say about the matchup: "...one thing that seems to be certain is that the district 3 triumvirate of Columbia, Livingston and Gov. Livingston will have a decisive role in determining what teams make the state finals."
The sabre team of Michelle Drobish, Julia Yang, and Chrissy Drobish, got off to a slow start, facing their toughest competitors early on. However, these girls are also 'Lady Highlanders' and they never, ever, give up. The team, which finished with 25 total wins, was the only GL squad to field two qualifiers for the state individuals (Michelle and Julia). Said Drobish about the level of competition facing her and her teammates: "Going into the individuals pool, I was really unsure of myself because the sabre competition in District 3 is intense. I really didn't think that I would place in the top 5, but then I saw my sister, Chrissy, on the sidelines looking at me like she really believed in me. I felt a rush of energy and my will to win could not be knocked down. It was probably the first time that I really believed in myself. I'm also so proud of Julia Yang for qualifying. It's been a long time that two girl sabres in GL qualified in such a tough district. I couldn't be any happier for Julia...everything that we've been through has made me see her like my own sister and I'll still be cheering her on during the state tournament."
The GL womens' épée squad also brought their A-game to the tournament. Alaina Jennings went 10-1 on the A-strip, losing only once to Brianna Valise of Livingston after a 3-3 priority tiebreaker. Emily Xu finished 8-3 and Lauren Gonnelli 9-2, providing the team with a total of 27 wins and the gold medal. The womens' epee, along with the GL mens sabre and foil teams, were three out of only six squads in the entire district to send all three competitors to the qualifying round, where Jennings also qualified for state individuals.
This is the first year for Governor Livingston Head Coach Michael Wang, who said of the team, "When I first agreed to come on board, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. What I found was a team that was driven to succeed and willing to persevere. Coming so close to the district title has lit a fire under us all. We have momentum and I believe that this will be our year as we move into the state playoffs."
He added, "The fact that we only had four individual qualifiers but will be sending all six squads to compete in squad states really speaks to the depth of our team; rather than having a few superstars carry us through, our fencers really demonstrate the team-first mentality they bring to every practice- working together to help each fencer reach his or her utmost potential." This special quality will make Governor Livingston a very strong contender in the playoffs, which begin on Feb. 4 and 5.