BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston's fencing team has faced its share of challenges, not the least of which has been three head coaches in as many years. Additionally, the girls team graduated its championship fencers Vivian Chu, Kara Fan and Brittin Boenning last year, leaving very big shoes to fill.
With new head coach Michael Wang in place, along with stalwart coach Ellen Hewett and former GL fencer Kevin Jow also on board, the team is set for another season.
The Highlanders took the quad meet by storm, closing with a 5-1 meet record, which bested even Star-Ledger favorite Bernards 4-2 finish. The boys team swept the day, going 18-9 against Chatham, 14-13 against Bernards, and 14-13 against West Windsor/Plainsboro South. The highlight of the boys' day was Brandon Donohue's decisive 5-2 clinch over WWPS's Rex Chen. Donohue, who is normally a foil fencer and fenced foil in the season opener the day before, subbed in for epee in the final bout of the meet and came through in a big way. The order to sub in came to him as a complete surprise:
"I had just come out of the bathroom when I was told to get my gear on. I originally thought we had clinched until I finally got on the strip. There was a lot of pressure on me, but [volunteer coach Brendan] McNelis has an expression: "One touch at a time." When I got the first touch, I got excited. I could actually win this. The other team immediately took a time out after my first touch. I knew I had to keep better distance and I couldn't try my zany foil attacks. One by one, keeping my distance, I won the bout. The entire team surrounded me to the point where they were told to let me get off the strip. From there, I couldn't go anywhere in the gym without someone congratulating me."
This accomplishment was closely matched by Ian Fan's 5-4 victory over world fencer Stefano Lucchetti. Fan, who was initially afraid to face Stefano Lucchetti and his teammate Kevin Gao due to their reputations, realized that Lucchetti "had the speed but he really did not do any complicated actions, only straight attacks inside the box. So that is how I got the last two touches with a parry riposte," much to the chagrin of Lucchetti, who very nearly also lost to GL senior Danny Marchelitis in an extremely tight 4-5 bout. Meanwhile, over on the foil side of the house, new GL recruit Sean Li proved himself by going undefeated at 8-0 for the day on Saturday.
The Lady Highlanders beat Chatham, 19-8, then took a hit from Bernards at 8-19 before coming back to defeat West Windsor/Plainsboro South at 17-10. Despite an uphill battle against Bernards, Alaina Jennings on epee and Zoya To on foil did beautiful work under pressure by winning priority matches with single light touches in upsets against Bernards squad leaders Ceara Sweeney and Caitlin Kotz. The GL foil squad, having been hit heavily by graduation losses last year and missing starter Allison Yang, did their best but was not able to overcome the strength of Bernard's foil lineup. However, sisters Michelle and Chrissy Drobish contributed heavily in sabre, with each having an opening weekend record of 7 and 3, and Julia Yang rounded out the sabre lineup with a record of 7-4. Freshman fencer Chrissy in particular excelled in the potentially clinching bout with Bernards. With the score 13-7 in favor of Bernards, Chrissy stood firm against Bernards captain Jenna Barton and refused to concede the victory.
The girls were coming off a victory in the Friday night's season opener against Millburn on Thursday night, going 21-6 and clinching at 14-3. The epee squad, fronted by Jennings, Lauren Gonnelli and Jacelyn Greenwald, turned in a star-studded performance going undefeated at Millburn, with sabre and foil taking six wins each. The boys team narrowly missed a win at Millburn but more than made up for it the next day.
Both the boys and girls teams have a season record of 3-1 so far. The boys sabre lineup, fronted by Mark Watson, Daniel Marchelitis and Ian Fan turned in a winning performance over the weekend with a 28-8 record. The boys foil squad performed at 23-13, despite having two starters missing from the opening meet with Millburn. Junior Andrew Savino stepped up on epee and contributed four victories. At one point, being down 1-3 in a bout against WWPS, Savino fought his way back to a priority minute by forcing double touches and never giving up. Throughout the weekend, the starters graciously stepped aside to allow some of the newer members to make a showing, and they did not disappoint. Amy Liu subbed in for epee with a 4-1 record. John Hanna, James Mezzo, Alton Grossman all contributed wins in foil. Colin Hegarty went 5-0 against Chatham.
Squad leader Emily Bittner said of Saturday's events, "It was a long day, but we kept our hopes and our performance up. I think we owe this to [team captain] Michelle Drobish for not giving up hope and being the cheerleader for the girls team."
"I was really impressed on how everyone [on our team] improved so much," Fan said.
The team's next big event will be a fencing-in-the-schools clinic with Olympian Tim Morehouse over winter break, followed by the Santelli/Cetrulo fencing championships the weekend of Jan. 4-5, and a regular season meet against last year's state champion, Columbia.