FENCING: After Beanpot, Fencers Look To Fadner's Steady Guidance
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 12:02
To the untrained eye, last Tuesday’s fencing tournament in the Plex was a confusing barrage of unfamiliar sights and sounds. The tennis courts were covered over by makeshift fencing strips supported by masking tape, as fencers clad in hefty jackets and harnessed to electrical machines lunged, attacked, and parried with vigor. The sounds of clashing weapons, electrical beeps, and referees forcefully delivering calls were punctuated by fencers’ boisterous screams of excitement or frustration after almost every touch. And all of this was going on simultaneously across eight strips, for roughly four hours, as Boston College faced rivals MIT, Brandeis, and Harvard in the sixth annual fencing Beanpot.
Amid all of this simultaneous action, though, one moment stood out to cast a shadow over the event. About an hour into the tournament, senior Olivia Curry took a long lunge, twisted her knee, and fell to the ground. As athletic trainers, concerned fellow teammates, and even athletic director Brad Bates came to her side, the reality soon became clear: Curry would be incapacitated for the rest of the night. That left a gaping hole in the women’s sabre roster, and it left head coach Sydney Fadner with a sudden choice: who could fill her senior fencer’s shoes?
The answer was Amy Berarducci, a fellow senior whom Fadner praised for her competitive toughness and reliability, describing her as “someone you can count on to go out and fight.” Berarducci did just that on Tuesday, but she entered the fray with a significant handicap: she was a member of the foil squad with no sabre experience.
The distinction is not a minor one. Fencing’s three weapons—foil, epee, and sabre—differ in much more than appearance. They can arguably be seen as three separate sports, each carrying dramatically different rules and requiring starkly different strategies. Foil is based on the principle of right-of-way, and touches can only be scored on the opponent’s torso with the tip of the weapon. Epee is a more cumbersome weapon, but its rules are more flexible: touches may be scored anywhere on the body using the tip, and both fencers can score touches simultaneously. Sabre is another beast entirely, introducing the new territory of cuts and slashes in addition to the usual thrusts.
It was this last weapon that was unexpectedly thrust into Berarducci’s hands after the injury—but if she or her coach were phased by the sudden change in plans, it didn’t show. Even with Curry’s injury, the women’s team managed to win their first round, defeating MIT 14-13. Subsequent rounds against Brandeis and Harvard did not fare as well, while the men’s squads suffered losses against all three schools. But considering the circumstances, the Eagles held up under pressure.
“The matches against Brandeis and MIT were wonderful,” Fadner said, “they came down to one bout.” Fadner was also pleased with how the men’s epee squad performed against Harvard, winning its last three bouts and losing narrowly on three of them, with four touches to Harvard’s five. Three more touches for the Eagles and Harvard’s victory would have been much narrower.
The results are all the more impressive when considering the nature of the fencing team. Unlike many sports programs at BC, fencing does not offer scholarships. Indeed, many of the team’s fencers come as walk-ons with little or no experience. According to Fadner, 10 years ago the team was more highly skewed toward walk-ons, but even today there is a mix of seasoned fencing veterans and relative rookies.
“Now a higher percentage of our fencers have prior experience,” Fadner said, “and they range from fencers who are national finalists in their weapons to fencers whose primary experience was with their high school fencing teams.
“There are a lot of unsung heroes out there,” Fadner said of the latter group. “We’ve had fencers who’ve come in with minimal experience who turn out to be much more competitive than you expected them to be—like Marney Krupat, one of our freshman women’s sabre fencers: primarily a high school fencer, some USFA experience, but she’s got a good career in front of her.”
With such a broad range of experience, and a team so naturally divided into different weapon categories, there exists the potential for separation. But Fadner—who has coached the BC team for 22 years, since the program’s inception—sees it as an essential part of her job to reinforce a team mentality. “One of our tenets in our team rule book is that it should be every fencer’s goal to help their teammates share success,” Fadner said.