Men’s and Women’s Fencing Teams Kick Off Season

by Emma-Li Downer

6 mins read

Drew’s men’s and women’s fencing teams had a short season last semester due to the COVID-19 restrictions. It lasted only 10 weeks with four weekends of competitions, less than half of their typical season, and all the meets were hosted in the Simon Forum. Despite the challenges, both teams made a good showing against mostly Division I opponents like Sacred Heart, St. John, NJIT and Wagner. The men’s team also sent six fencers to the NCAA Championships. 

In the postseason, Head Coach Vincent Paragano and Assistant Coaches Michael Bindas and Keri Ecker were recognized by the United State Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) with National Coach of the Year Awards for Division III teams. Paragano conveyed how immensely grateful he is for Bindas and Ecker. “There was no playbook, no plan on how to approach last season,” he said. “It took everything, and I don’t know how anyone without their level of experience could have done it.”  

Caira Blake (’24) faces off against an opponent. Photo courtesy of Drew University Athletics Department.

During the postseason, several players from both teams also received academic honors for their efforts in the classroom. A total of 34 fencers were selected for the USFCA All-American Award for maintaining a GPA of 3.3 or higher in season, and 17 of them were also honored as Scholars of Distinction for having an in-season GPA of 3.7 or better. Both teams also received the Northeast Fencing Conference Academic All-Conference Team Award for a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher.

This October saw the start of the current season for both the men’s and women’s team. Saturday Oct. 23 was the annual alumni meet in conjunction with the men’s team intrasquad meet. Of all the alumni who returned to the Simon Forum, the most impressive was foilist Bruce Littman (‘65) who showed up and fenced several bouts with fellow alumni and current players. 

The women’s team officially kicked off the season on Sunday, Oct. 24 at LIU Brooklyn, traveling for an away meet for the first time since the pandemic hit. While they went 1-5 for the day, there were several close matches with LIU (13-14), Wellesley (13-14) and rival team Stevens (10-17). 

Notably, saberist Olivia Yepez (‘22) reached her 100th career win at the meet. “I’m grateful to hit 100 wins before I graduate,” Yepez said. She expressed her excitement to see her teammates reach this milestone in the upcoming weeks. For the rest of the season, Yepez wants to keep improving and make the most of the time she has left with the team. 

Sunday Oct. 31 saw both teams fence at Drew for the Ranger Invitational. The men’s team had their first meet.They had an impressive showing, going 10-2 for the day after splitting into Blue and Green squads. They took on teams like Army, Navy, Vassar and Stevens, only dropping close matches with Vassar (12-15) and Stevens (11-16). The women tightened up their game for their second meet, going 5-2 for the day. They beat opponents like Division I Fairleigh-Dickinson University (FDU) (20-7), Army (18-9) and Navy (17-10) but struggled against Wagner (10-17) and LIU (8-19).

The second half of the Ranger’s Invitational happened Sunday Nov. 7. The meet drew in a diverse set of opponents from Princeton University, Ohio’s Denison University and University of Florida to rivals FDU, Stevens and Wagner. The men’s team, split once again in squads, went 1-26 and 3-24 against Princeton, narrowly losing against Stevens (13-14). They won the rest of their matches, going 10-3 at the end of the day. 

The weekend also saw epeeist Joe Storey (‘22) reach his 100th win. “I’m grateful, and I feel happy,” he said. Storey was unaware of having met this milestone until Paragano informed him after the meet. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” he continued, talking about the rest of the season. “If I’ve reached this point, that means I’m doing something right.”

The women’s team also faced Princeton (3-24), and had decisive victories over FDU (19-7), Clemson (20-7), Denison (21-6), Yeshiva (22-5) and Army (21-6). Their losses came from Stevens (9-18) and Wagner (13-14) for a record of 5-3. 

Notably, Paragano also achieved his 400th career win last weekend. “I didn’t think I would get four wins, much less 400 wins,” he admitted, especially since he had to build the program from the ground up when he stepped in as the head coach part way through in 2014. He is thankful for the players and their hard work. He is not thinking about future wins, but it “would be nice if he makes it to 1,000.”

This upcoming Sunday, Nov. 14, the men’s team, as Blue and Green squads, and the women’s team will travel to Vassar in Poughkeepsie, New York. For many players on the men’s team, this will be their first collegiate away meet.

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