Yale Geared Up to Fence

Nov. 19, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - With the Penn State Open behind them, and the Dernell Every Open a success, the Yale men's fencing team is looking forward to the next challenge. The team hopes to build on the success of last year as it opens its season with the Brandeis Open on Dec. 12.

The Bulldogs are lead by captain Michael Pearce. The San Francisco, Calif., native posted the highest winning percentage last year of any Bulldog, male or female, 78.5% (33-9). Coming off of a fourth-place finish in the individual epee event at the IFA Championships, Pearce claimed second at the NCAA Northeast Regionals. He then finished 13th at the NCAA Championship. Pearce has had a distinguished career at Yale and hopes to lead the team to more victories.

"I think this season is a turning point for the team. We have the highest number of returning, highly experienced fencers in recent history," noted Pearce. Having three times made the trip to the year-end NCAA Championships, Pearce has been a stalwart for the Bulldogs epee squad. His freshman season yielded All-American recognition when he took fifth place at the NCAA Championships. He also served as the team's manager in 2007-08.

Last year, two juniors, John Gurrieri and Andrew Holbrook, and sophomore Nathaniel Botwinick claimed the Little Iron Man Trophy at the IFA Championships for their win in the team foil. The trophy dates back to 1894, making it the oldest trophy in collegiate sports. All three are returning in what promises to be a strong year for Yale's foil squad.

Holbrook, who is the current team manager, noted, "We have what looks like it could be the best team we have had in a while here at Yale. It's going to be a tough season as other teams also improve, but we've been working very hard and are looking forward to improving on last year's record."

Holbrook's foilist teammate, current sophomore Nathaniel Botwinick, will also be someone to watch this season. The New York, N.Y., native had an impressive freshman campaign. With an overall record of 30-14 (68.2%), the foilist qualified for the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships where he claimed eighth. The eighth-place finish allowed him to advance to the NCAA Championships. Botwinick took 20th in the foil at the year-end event.

Fellow foilist John Gurrieri from Medford, N.J., compiled a 35-12 record (74.5%), the best among any Bulldog with more than 45 bouts. He also led the powerful Bulldog foil attack that also featured Botwinick and Holbrook, and for first among all foil squads at the IFA Championships (winning the Little Iron Man Trophy).

Gurrieri's individual accolades are also numerous. He too qualified for the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships, where he finished fourth. He then took 13th in the foil at the NCAA Championships.

Along with the rest of the upperclassmen, these members are joined by a group of talented freshmen fencers. Holbrook noted, "I'm very excited about the freshmen class. They bring a lot of experience and enthusiasm and are great additions to the team."

Pearce added: "This strong returning squad is augmented by a large, experienced group of freshmen, all of whom will be immediate contributors to our line-up."

After the Brandeis Invitational on Dec. 12, the Bulldogs head to Vassar on Jan. 17 for their first one-on-one competition. The following weekend sees the team heading down to the NYU Invitational in New York City. On Jan. 31, the Bulldogs take on Sacred Heart at home. This will be their last competition before the Ivy South Competition on Feb. 8 hosted by Columbia. This competition and the Ivy North Competition in Providence, R.I., on Feb. 22 will be the most important team competitions. Between the two Ivy competitions, the Bulldogs will send individual fencers to compete at Junior Olympics from Feb. 13 to Feb. 16.

Yale's fencers finish out their season as a full team with the IFA Championship in Walthman, Mass., on Feb. 28. Although the IFA Championships are separate from the NCAA schedule, they are a premier fencing tournament and the oldest collegiate championship in the country. They also serve as an important tune-up for the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships.

The NCAA Regional Championship will take place on Mar. 8 in Cambridge, Mass. The NCAA National Championship will occur Mar. 21-22 in University Park, Pa. Fencers who win 25% of their regular season matches qualify for Regionals. To qualify for the NCAA Championships, fencers must finish in the top 8. The team is optimistic about seeing Yale fencers in both of these events, in what it hopes will be the end of a great season.

"The team is developing physically, mentally and socially as a result of our focused training and this cohesion will be apparent in our performance this year. I believe that we will be able to qualify more fencers to the NCAA Championships and that we will hopefully be able to break into the top 10 at the event in March," said Pearce.

Report filed by Dominique Fenton '10, Yale Sports Publicity