By ANDREW GARDA
garda@montclairlocal.news

With all the youth on the Montclair High School girls fencing team, the expectations of head coach Donovan Holtz and his staff for the Mounties at the NJSIAA District 3 and 4 Tournament on Sunday, Jan. 30, were that they work hard, stay focused and compete no matter what the score was.

To say, then, that the first-place win by the girls saber team of Sela Feig, Addie Goodspeed-Moses, Gabriela Kaplan and Olivia Law exceeded expectations would be an understatement.

"They were excellent," Holtz said. "They were excellent, and I'm happy about it."

Girls saber won all eight of their matches, and only dropped three bouts, compiling 21 overall victories while scoring 51 more touches on opponents than were scored on them. 

That means that MHS girls saber will join the whole boys team, boys foil and boys saber, as well as individual fencers Alex Brown (foil), Charles Moroze (foil) and Mitchell O'Keefe (saber) in the state tournament on Feb. 26 and 27. The girls also will send Nile Brunson (epee), Sela Feig (saber) and Gabriela Kaplan (epee) to individuals. 

Moroze's addition to the individual state tournament came at the very end of the district tournament, just before the medal ceremony, in front of an entire gym full of fencers and family, as he and his opponent had to fence a bout to break a tie and decide who would go to states.

MHS senior foil Alexander Brown delivers a touch against West Essex. Brown is 28-6 for the season, and will represent the Mounties at the New Jersey Interscholastic Fencing Association’s Individual State Tournament. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
MHS senior foil Alexander Brown delivers a touch against West Essex. Brown is 28-6 for the season, and will represent the Mounties at the New Jersey Interscholastic Fencing Association’s Individual State Tournament. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
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"That was really, really exciting," Holtz said. "And that's a lot of pressure because all nine schools were sitting there waiting to hear who did what, and he fenced off in front of everybody. That [happening] was probably the biggest shocker for the whole afternoon."

Boys foil also has Caleb Blim on the squad. 

The saber unit, which finished third at districts, is made up of Lucas Gilson, Mitchell O'Keefe and Sam Zichelli.

They will be joined for the team tournament by epees Jordan Sawadogo, Alejandro Kaplan and
Simon Garda.

The team tournament begins next week, with the opponent for the MHS boys still to be decided, with squad and individual tournaments coming at the end of the month.

Girls foil — made up of Anna Bauer, Sophie Miller and Jenna Uthman — finished the day in fifth place, as did the girls epee squad of Brunson, Cecilia Martinez and Kali Tolles.

Both foil and epee had their final bout on Tuesday, Feb. 1, against crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy, resulting in a 17-10 win, their fourth in a row to close the regular season. 

Montclair High school saber fencers Mitchell O’Keefe, left, and Gavin Burr discuss tactics during a recent meet against West Essex High School. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
Montclair High school saber fencers Mitchell O’Keefe, left, and Gavin Burr discuss tactics during a recent meet against West Essex High School. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
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On Monday, Jan. 31, the girls beat Kent Place, also by a score of 17-10. They finished the season with a 4-5 record. 

The boys closed their regular season facing MKA as well, finishing with a win by the score of 18-9 and a 7-5 overall record. 

Holtz was proud of all his fencers, advancing or not, especially given the rough circumstances of the last two years.

Last year saw a shortened season, and while this year was closer to normal, limited spectators and the cancellation of the Cetrulo and Santelli tournaments — two big individual competitions that have not been run since the year before the pandemic — still kept the season less than normal.

That’s one of many reasons Holtz was especially appreciative of his seniors, the second group to finish their Mountie careers under these circumstances.

"What they do is very important,” Holtz said. “I would even say [it was] critical to have them come back because they're kind of, even more than me, the gatekeepers of the tradition of what makes us so strong and so special."

Holtz said that the younger fencers, especially the freshmen, need an example to lead them going forward as they learn what it is to be Mountie fencers.

He says the seniors, especially captains Brown, Bauer and Zichelli, have been a resource and great examples for the younger fencers, and the team looks up to and believes in them. 

The Montclair High School Fencing teams gather together before a recent meet against West Essex on Jan. 20. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
The Montclair High School Fencing teams gather together before a recent meet against West Essex on Jan. 20. (MHS FENCING BOOSTER CLUB)
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"They need someone to look up to," he said. “I can talk to them until I'm blue in the face, but [it doesn’t matter as much] until they actually see like people like Alex [Brown], Sammy [Zichelli] and James [Visconti] and Anna [Bauer] and Sophie [Miller] and the rest of them, just getting up and going to clubs and just kind of reaching out and giving up their cellphone numbers. They [think], ‘Oh, wait, there's actually somebody who's keeping me accountable’ — someone they're going to see in school, someone to make sure they're working."

The team celebrated the seniors in a ceremony before the boys faced St. Peter's Prep and the girls took on Oak Knoll, both of which were home meets on Jan. 25, with the senior fencers passing under a tunnel of raised swords.

Along with the captains, the Mounties bade farewell to Alejandro Kaplan, Jordan Sawadogo, James Visconti, Ava Ianuale, Cara Ianuale and Sophie Miller. 

The squad and individual state tournaments will take place on Feb. 26 and 27. 

 The author of this article, Andrew Garda, is the father of fencer Simon Garda.