BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Governor Livingston Highlander Fencing 2019-2020 season is underway!  The Highlander boys came into the season with a deep team with only one senior graduated last year.  They welcomed eleven new fencers this season, including a sophomore and a junior, for a roster of 30: 11 sabers, 9 foils, and 10 epees.  The girls face a season of rebuilding, having lost six seniors to graduation in 2019.  Eight new members, including two sophomores, joined their ranks, bringing the girls’ roster to 18: seven sabers, four foils, and seven epees.

Saber, foil, and epee are the weapons used in fencing. The easiest way for a spectator to tell them apart is by the protective clothing the fencer wears.  A high school fencing meet involves nine fencers, three from each weapon group, competing in three rounds for a total of 27 bouts.  The first team to win 14 bouts wins the meet; all 27 bouts are fenced no matter when a team clinches the win. 

Practices began just before Thanksgiving, giving the teams several weeks to prepare before the competitive season started at West Essex on the evening of December 20.  Friendly faces greeted the team, as fencing alumni home for winter break traveled to this first meet in support of their former teammates.  All seven 2019 graduates cheered and gave coaching help for the first several meets and tournaments this season.

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The boys kicked off their season with a win, holding off West Essex with a final meet score of 15 to 12.  For the sabers, senior Chris Poulos and junior Niloy Choudhury each pulled in two wins, with junior Jayson Cantor adding another.  On the foil squad, junior Sidd Phatak won a bout, senior Matt Man won two, and senior Lucas Piccininni blazed into the season by winning all three of his bouts.  

Epee seniors John Walsh, Blake Januzzi, and junior Chris Zheng each won a bout during the meet.  Walsh’s win in the third round, the team’s 14th win, gave GL the team victory.  New junior epee Nic Martinez subbed in the third round for his first ever competitive bout and scored a 5-4 win, besting West Essex’s top epee fencer who is A-rated, the highest possible rating in competitive fencing.  The Highlanders went wild, celebrating this amazing achievement.

Reflecting on the win, Martinez said, “My goal was to get a few touches. It’s my first meet, I’m not expecting much of myself, and everyone was telling me to go in there and have fun.”  He said coming into a place where you don’t know anything has been easier than expected because the fencing team is a “group of close friends that you know have your back. Everyone here cares about each other.”

The girls competed fiercely trying to start off with a win but fell to West Essex in the 24th bout, with a final score of 13 to 14.  For the sabers, junior Cierra Blair earned two wins, senior Tamar Novik got a win, and freshman Hannah Tao managed a win in her first meet.  The foil squad struggled, with only one win, coming from freshman Waverly Lorne in her third bout.  After losing her first two, she said, “I wanted to win that one.”  She had to adjust to “fencing a lefty.  I’m used to fencing in the middle against other righties, so my target area was covered.”

The epee squad almost swept their bouts, winning 8 of 9.  Sophomore Rachael Prokop was on fire, winning three bouts, and junior Ritika Sinha-Chaudhuri won both bouts she fenced.  Junior Holly Coviello celebrated her birthday with a win in the first round.  New fencers freshman Pavni Bhardwaj and sophomore Ivy Ng inaugurated their fencing careers by winning their first bouts when subbing in the third round.  

Reflecting on her three-bout sweet, Prokap said, “I really wasn’t expecting all three wins, especially because it was my first time starting, but it gave me experience and confidence to preface the season.  Everyone fenced well at that meet, it was a good start to the season for the whole team.”

The teams practiced throughout winter break in anticipation of returning to competition on Governor Livingston’s Super Saturday and getting into the regular season schedule of dual meets most Tuesdays and Thursdays through February.