MHS junior Maria Linietsky stepped in for an injured Clara Mendoza against Montgomery during the Mounties’ NJSIAA semifinal meet on Feb. 20, 2020.

by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School girls fencing team’s run at a state championship came to an end last Thursday, Feb. 20, when they fell to a tough Montgomery team, 15-12, in the semifinals of the NJSIAA team tournament.

While the loss certainly stung the group, which was eager to get another shot at Ridge the team which beat them in the finals last season, head coach Ed Chang was still very pleased with the way his team performed.

“So basically, the takeaway from all this is the same thing we’ve been talking about all season,” Chang said after the meet. “We always feel the loss worse than anything else but the idea here is, we didn’t get blown out. The girls fought their hardest, every bout. And that’s everything that we ask of them every time they get on the strip. So, we’re immensely proud of what they’ve done and they know that they have our support any time they do anything.”

Not that Thursday’s loss was the Mounties’ last chance at glory in 2020. 

All three girls’ weapons squads, along with the boys épée unit, took part in the NJSIAA Squad championships this weekend.

The girls fared well on Sunday, with the sabre squad taking second place in the state behind Bernards by two points, the foil finishing in sixth place and the épées landing in ninth. 

Boys épée was shorthanded on Saturday, with one starter was injured and another sick, giving several less experienced fencers a chance to step onto the strip against some of the top épée fencers in the state, and in some cases, the country. While the boys fought valiantly, they finished in 19th place.

The girls’ team was back in action Wednesday night, as they took on Morris Hills in the NJSIAA team tournament third-place match after press time.

And MHS has qualified six fencers — Georgia Chen, Liyan Cheung, Grace Edgington, Amira Mutakabbir, Ethan Phillips and Grace Van Atta — who will compete at the NJSIAA individual weapon championships this Sunday, March 1, at Livingston High School.

MHS senior captain Grace Van Atta (LEFT) is one of six Mounties fencers competing this weekend in the NJSIAA Individual weapon championships on March 1, 2020.

Like boys épée on Saturday, the girls had some injury issues against Montgomery, with épée Clara Mendoza out due to a wrist injury sustained during the previous round’s win over Columbia, forcing junior Maria Linietsky to step in.

“She did a great job,” Chang said. “Clara was out with her injury and Maria stepped up. She could have crumbled, she could have been scared or nervous or whatever. But regardless of however she might have felt, she fought so hard. Just like every other girl who went out there today.”

Chang has talked all season long about the importance of building a well-balanced, determined and unselfish team. Any fencer of either gender is ready to step in whenever they are needed, and there is no drop-off in effort or fight from one fencer to another.

It may not always be obvious from reading a box score, but even when they lose a bout, each Mounties fencer fights tenaciously for every point.

“That’s what it is. It was 100 percent fight,” said Chang. “And at the end of the day, it’s not going to matter what their names were. The stats are going to go in there, but it’s never been about one girl or the other girl. There are standouts sometimes, but in the end the score is a team score and they all stepped up to the challenge.”

MHS sabre Grace Edgington lunges at her opponent during during the Mounties’ NJSIAA semifinal meet against Montgomery on Feb. 20, 2020.

While the girls are battling on the strip, they’re getting support from the boys as well, as the guys cheer loudly, wave pom poms and generally cause a ruckus to try and get the girls going.

Chang said it’s part of the “whole team mentality” the coaching staff has worked to build over the years.

“It’s definitely important. The boys bring that extra energy, [and] get just as pumped, they get so excited. It’s important to us that they’re that involved because that shows us how important the whole organization is,” Chang said. “And yeah, the last few weeks have been about the girls. The boys didn’t make the playoffs, but even so the boys were right there to support them and the girls would have been right there to support the boys too had they made it. That’s the whole thing, right? Overall it’s about the whole team.”