BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - After winter break the Highlander Fencing teams took center stage, literally, on January 3 to host a fencing demonstration and clinic for elementary and middle school students at GL’s Fantastic Friday event.  Team members then assembled the fencing strip on stage for Saturday’s meets.  Highlander home fencing meets usually take place at Columbia Middle School, with the boys and girls competing simultaneously on separate fencing strips.  On Super Saturday the teams fenced one at a time, facing Bernards at Governor Livingston High School on the stage in the Kenneth Stiefel Theatre, the girls at 9 a.m. and the boys at 11 a.m. 

Fencing action takes place on a piste, or strip, about 46 feet long and 5 feet wide.  GL uses portable metal strips which they assemble and disassemble before and after home meets.  At each end of the strip is a reel, a box containing a retractable spooling cable which attaches to a fencer’s body cord: an electrical cord that runs up inside the back of the jacket from the waist to the shoulder, down the sleeve, and emerges at the wrist to plug into the weapon.  The back end of the cord connects to the reel cable and the fencer remains tethered to the reel during the bout.

The reel is electrically connected to the scoring machine, usually positioned next to the middle of the strip, and the scoring machine is electrically connected to the strip.  When a fencer’s blade touches the opponent, the system detects the touch and displays related lights on the scoring machine.  The director (referee) uses this information in awarding touches.

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The Highlander girls struggled to find a rhythm, able to get touches but not managing enough to win the needed bouts.  Junior saber Cierra Blair and freshman foil Waverly Lorne had the only Highlander wins in the first round.  Blair won again in the second round, joined in victory by senior Tamar Novik.  Senior foil Julia Shea scored the remaining two GL victories.  All epee fencers landed touches but unfortunately not enough to win any bouts and were shut out in this meet.  The GL girls fell to Bernards with a final score of 6 to 21.

The boys then stepped into the bright lights.  Saber junior Jayson Cantor won two bouts and senior Chris Poulos got a win.  Senior foil Lucas Piccininni won in the first and second round.  Epee junior Blake Januzzi won his first two bouts and seniors Chris Zheng and John Walsh each added a victory, but after the 22nd bout the score was 9 to 13.  The first team to win 14 bouts wins the meet; the final five GL fencers would need to sweep for GL to win.  Senior Matt Man took the strip in the last round, after losing his first two bouts, and scored a major win, followed by another victory for Piccininni, bringing the score to 11 to 13. 

The pressure was on the three epee fencers to continue the streak to hold off a Bernards victory.  Walsh dominated his bout, winning 5 to 1, bringing GL another step closer to the win.  Asked how he approached the bout, Walsh said he considered the opponent’s techniques against the other GL epees in earlier rounds, “I knew what I was going to do before I went up there.”

Then Zheng got on the strip and alternated touches with his opponent before the three-minute fencing time ran out with the bout tied at 2.  With the flip of a coin, Zheng earned priority in the sudden-death overtime:  if the overtime minute ran out with neither fencer scoring, Zheng would win. 

The Bernards fencer aggressively crowded Zheng down the strip, hoping to score a touch before time ran out.  With less than 20 seconds left, Zheng sprang into a fleche action and landed the winning touch.  When asked about what he remembered before launching into the fleche, Zheng said, “If I didn’t do anything at that point, then it’s all over; I might as well because I have nothing left to lose.”

Finally Januzzi stepped up to the en garde line of the strip knowing the outcome of the meet rested on the tip of his epee.  Januzzi maintained a calm and steady technique under the pressure, while it seemed as if everyone else held their breath.  With less than a minute left on the clock he made his move, attacking in close, fending off his opponent’s blade, and landing the first touch.  The visiting coaches had a heated discussion with the director (referee) and GL coaches, and they then called a timeout which prolonged the tension.

As the bout resumed, the Bernards fencer attacked quickly, pressing Januzzi down the strip, but Januzzi nabbed another touch, sending the team into a frenzy.  The next point came in an almost identical manner: the Bernards fencer rushed to attack as the seconds ticked down, but Januzzi landed his third touch.  Time ran out before the Bernards fencer could attack so Januzzi won 3-0, giving the GL boys team a hard-earned win on Super Saturday.

Reflecting on the whirlwhind end to the meet, Januzzi said, “I had a lot of pressure, but I knew I had to do it for the team and that spirit really pushed me through.”

The Highlander fencing teams compete in dual meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays through February, as well as the Santelli and Cetrulo team tournaments and the upcoming “Frosh/Soph” tournament for individual freshmen and sophomore fencers.

Corrections to the GL at West Essex article:  Niloy Choudhuri’s and Rachael Prokap’s last names were misspelled.