The Swarthmore Fencing Team hosted the US Association of Collegiate Fencing Clubs (USACFC) National Championships this past weekend. The USACFC nationals is the largest college fencing event in the world: over 700 athletes compete, representing 41 colleges and universities from all over the nation.
In addition to providing the venue and hosting the fencers and referees, Swarthmore Fencing Team members competed in this tournament. The team was fairly successful, with the Women’s Fencing team winning 7th overall, the Men’s winning 23rd overall, and the Combined team winning 14th overall out of 41 teams.
Swarthmore was officially selected to host this event in 2008, only one year after the establishment Swarthmore’s fencing team. Bruce Capin, president and founder of USACFC, thought Swarthmore had all the assets of a great nationals host, including an appropriate venue, the support of administration and athletics, and responsible students, according to Head Coach Marshal Davis. After Swarthmore won the bid, Davis and student fencers immediately started the process of intensively planning and organizing the event.
To prepare and execute a successful nationals tournament, the fencing team had a large set of tasks before them. Quang Huynh ’10, captain of Men’s Epee and vice president of the USACFC Board of Directors, explained, “We needed to provide the competition and office space necessary for all the logistics and the manpower to get it done. We were also in charge of most hospitality matters.” These tasks included setting up fencing strips, hiring staff, ordering enough food for 700-plus people, finding off-campus parking, and negotiating hotel rates.
Furthermore, Davis explained that the Swarthmore Fencing team had “double the responsibilities” because Davis and Quang had to host the tournament as well as perform their duties as Chief Legal Counsel and Vice President of the USACFC Board of Directors, respectively.
Booking the appropriate venue was the largest challenge for the team. In 2008, the team reserved the Fieldhouse for Easter Weekend, based on the date that USACFC suggested. However, due to concerns of fencers dropping out over the holiday, USACFC decided to shift the date to the following weekend, leaving the fencing team scrambling to change their booking less than a year in advance.
Several other challenges included the small manpower of the team and limited facilities in comparison to the large competing universities. Fencing team co-captain Natasha Tonge ’10 elaborated, “Swarthmore isn’t a huge campus, we don’t have multiple gyms or any permanent fencing location, and we were preparing to add about 700 fencers to the mix on top of it being Parents’ Weekend.”
However, overall, both Davis and fencing team members consider nationals a successful event. “Nationals was a huge undertaking and I believe we rose to the challenge of hosting such a large tournament,” Tonge said. Several thousand people, including Swatties’ parents and local spectators, spectated the tournament, according to Davis.
Currently, the fencing team is composed of 30 regular members, with 10 to 15 members who occasionally drop by at practice. Despite competing against teams that have been established for decades, and despite that Swarthmore is the smallest school in USACFC, the fencing team has done well these past three years. For instance, in 2007-2008, the first full season of fencing, the team went to the South Atlantic Conference championships and traveled to UCLA to compete in national championships.
In addition to good individual performance, the team has won many championships, including Men’s, Women’s, and Combined on the Conference level. Davis elaborated, “We went from not existing in 2008 to, less than three years later, completely dominating the conference.”
If you ask team members, one of the keys to the Fencing team’s success these past few years has been a skillful application of intellect to the art of fencing. For instance, fencing requires a great deal of strategy, according to Tonge. “Fencing is a very mental sport; athletic ability definitely comes second in terms of success,” she said.
According to Christopher Geissler ’13, one of the main organizers of Nationals, “We’re a very intellectual bunch, and that means that we can absorb strategy fast and quickly combine it with the physical aspects of fencing in order to become very competitive in a very short time.”
Both Tonge and Geissler also attribute Swatties’ success to Davis and his dedicated effort and talent. Tong enthused, “Our coach, Marshal Davis, has really been putting a lot of effort into the team and is largely responsible for turning basically nothing into a major power in the club fencing world in almost no time.”